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Quayola visualises some ways in which machines might see art at Modena

Upon returning to Italy after 18 years, the visual artist presents computational perspectives of art history at his first retrospective in his native country.

by Jones JohnPublished on : Dec 03, 2020

Davide Quayola’s exhibition Ultima Perfezione at the Palazzo Santa Margherita in Modena, which is the artist’s first exhibition in Italy after his return to his native country from London, might appear as an enigma to most. Though familiar in its apparent appropriation of iconic historical artworks, it escapes easy comprehension in how they represent these artefacts and it is in the resulting rift that the enquiry from whence these contemporary artefacts have been unearthed, in a manner of speaking, might be understood. “My work in general talks about these computational methods and these kinds of processes. It really talks about how we interact with machines and the relationships between us and machines, and how such relationships and such kinds of mediations are changing the way we perceive the work. But I explore these topics by looking at the past, by looking at some sort of historical traditions, historical masterpieces and I try to sort of look at them, analyse them or perhaps get back to some practices that can be considered sort of  historical but I do that with a very different technological apparatus and a very different pair of eyes. So, I develop specific systems and software to be able to engage with these kinds of discovery processes in this kind of study of the past”.

Strata #4 after Peter Paul Rubens | Ultima Perfezione | Quayola | STIRworld
Strata #4 after Peter Paul Rubens Image: Rolando Paolo Guerzoni, Courtesy of Fondazione Modena Arti Visive

These explorations include the study of classical iconographies by exploring historical paintings with computer imaging systems to extrapolate data from such paintings to generate new iterations of the pre-existing work, which, while containing visual similarities, presents itself in an altogether novel language. Specifically talking for a series of works that reinterprets some of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures using industrial robotics, Quayola elaborates on what kind of relationships interest him when approaching historical bodies of work: “These objects became very unique because somehow they don’t talk so much about the figure he was trying to sculpt but rather about the process of sculpting itself, somehow about human nature trying to carve form out of matter”. In his work, which in the algorithmic logic of its conception moves away from the chiselled or painterly aesthetics of his sources, emphasis is placed on how a machine sees and reinterprets these art historical artefacts and the processes by which it might achieve this.

Artworks based on the subject of Judith and Holofernes in the Iconographies series | Ultima Perfezione | Quayola | STIRworld
Artworks based on the subject of Judith and Holofernes in the Iconographies series Image: Rolando Paolo Guerzoni, Courtesy of Fondazione Modena Arti Visive

Through a series of disparate approaches and media, the works presented at Modena all stem from Quayola’s interest in particular historical artworks and have been produced over the last ten years. Apart from a series of sculptures, which takes inspiration from Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s The Rape of Proserpina in a similar manner as the ones mentioned above, there are a series of six large digital prints images that were borne from the analyses of Perter Paul Rubens’ Tiger Hunt, a video diptych called Strata based on a series of altarpieces, again by Rubens, which are housed at the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, a series of computational drawings etched on sheets of aluminium which are based on the theme of Judith and Holofernes through ten variations of the subject as they have appeared across art history and a set of nine frames containing a description of Sandro Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi in computer code juxtaposed against a description of the same painting from Giorgio Vasari’s seminal text, The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects.

Iconographies #81-20 Adoration after Botticelli | Ultima Perfezione | Quayola | STIRworld
Iconographies #81-20 Adoration after Botticelli Image: Rolando Paolo Guerzoni, Courtesy of Fondazione Modena Arti Visive

The last work in particular, which meets the viewer at the entrance of the exhibition, lucidly elaborates the underlying commentary that is embedded within Quayola’s practice, i.e. investigating how machines are shaping us through our everyday interactions and how the constant engagement with digital technology might result in new models of perception and understanding. Apart from the deconstruction of specific masterpieces, he also achieves this through the reinterpretation of some general historical traditions or topics. An example of this is the video installation titled Jardin d’Été, which was on view at Art Sella in Trentino, again in Italy, which is unlike the works mentioned above in that they do not take after any pre-existing artworks but rather result from viewing the same landscapes that inspired the Impressionists through a more contemporary, and increasingly non-human lens. Indeed, Quayola, in his practice, is not dissimilar to these 20th century masters, in that his is an attempt to redefine the lenses through which art might be perceived and in doing so makes his audiences more conscious of certain aspects the techno-cultural revolution that might have otherwise stayed hidden from plain view.

An installation view of the exhibition at the Palazzo Santa Margherita in Modena | Ultima Perfezione | Quayola | STIRworld
An installation view of the exhibition at the Palazzo Santa Margherita in Modena Image: Rolando Paolo Guerzoni, Courtesy of Fondazione Modena Arti Visive

(Davide Quayola’s exhibition ‘Ultima Perfezione’ is on display at the Palazzo Santa Margherita in Modena, Italy, until January 10, 2021)

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