Quiet Ensemble explores the natural and the artificial in technology through design

The Italian duo of Fabio Di Salvo and Bernardo Vercelli speak about their video and sound installations that investigate the bounds of synthetic technology in the realm of the natural.

by Girinandini SinghPublished on : Jul 16, 2021

Quintetto, meaning a goldfish orchestra, makes for a strange spark of an inspiration for a design house, and yet this spark led to the establishment of Quiet Ensemble, an Italian design collective founded by creators Fabio Di Salvo and Bernardo Vercelli. The duo met around 11 years ago, and found common ground in their collective inspiration from nature, technology and the underlying principles which tie the two together. “We understood the great interest and potential concerning the field of nature, it was as if a great universe opened up to us, we started exploring nature and technology. We would find ourselves working together with snails and Arduino, lights and leaves, water and electricity; a very interesting universe to explore indeed and to be part of,” says Vercelli, recollecting the establishment of the studio.

Liberato | Quiet Ensemble | STIRworld
Liberato Image: Courtesy of Quiet Ensemble

An integral part of Quiet Ensemble is perhaps this penchant of bringing the universal into their design aesthetic, which is known to marry natural elements with the synthetic realm of technology, providing a seamless unison to the dichotomy of opposing forces. “I think for us it is about awakening the childish wonder that is dormant within us, bringing to the fore the invisible, the soul of things. The greatness of the microscopic can evoke another world leading to the realisation of the magnificence within which we live,” says Vercelli. The curiosity at the heart of some of the light art and tech-based installation coming out of the collective are in fact the celebration of the spectacular that surrounds us, it moves from the microscopic beauty of say a falling snowflake to the tremendous awe of perhaps a waterfall. Creation for the duo, then becomes much about keeping an awareness of the natural world and the world around us. The process, which has gradually fallen into place, began predominantly in nature and somewhere along the way it encompassed even the man-made, as much an inspiration was to come from a falling leaf was to also come from the flicker of light bulb, a puddle’s shimmering reflection of light, the sound of birds against the sound neon tube breaking through the darkness. It was truly a marriage of the natural and the man-made via design.

Mechanical Ballet | Quiet Ensemble | STIRworld
Mechanical Ballet Image: Courtesy of Quiet Ensemble

Nevertheless, bringing together the dichotomies of the two worlds in a medium as concrete as a visual installation, is certainly not the easiest of tasks. “Visual installation could be the right theme for what we do, I find it a little restrictive considering that some of our works are also sound-based or experiential or simply conceptual. First we get an idea,” explain the designers, “It is an invitation to pay attention to the small things, to the silent or quiet elements.” There is certainly a multi-dimension facet to the creative practice flourishing out of the studio, namely a degree of the performative in the work, engaging and interacting with their audience. Experiential is in fact a significant part of the installations, where looking at the specific one also experiences the varied elements it embodies.

01 min watch Unshaped | Quiet Ensemble | STIRworld
Unshaped Video: Courtesy of Quiet Ensemble

For instance, in the work Ephemeral, the audience crosses a cloud-like experience which is all-encompassing in that they breathe in the water vapour and are dazzled by stroboscopic thunderstorms. Similarly in Unshaped, a plastic sheet takes on different shapes, the work plays with materiality and the meaning that one takes back depends entirely on the perspective of the one viewing it.

Unshaped | Quiet Ensemble | STIRworld
Unshaped Image: Courtesy of Quiet Ensemble

“The reactions of the public are manifold,” says the duo. “There are those who are fascinated by aesthetics while there are those who understand them and are therefore able to “listen and see” the quiet. The emotional power is in our gaze, wherein each object is a potential subject of the drama.” The “quiet” that he mentions here implies the silent multitudinous elements of a work of art, the layered reading it provokes. It is not so much the creation of a specific emotion for the audience, rather it is the process of creating an emotionality – a more inclusive essence. Sometimes this is done through contrasts that arouse different responses in the viewer, generating a question, hinting towards a doubt, tickling a desire or instigating a curiosity towards the ordinary.

Bernardo Vercelli and Fabio Di Salvo | Quiet Ensemble | STIRworld
Bernardo Vercelli and Fabio Di Salvo of Quiet Ensemble Image: Courtesy of Quiet Ensemble

“The playful in art is created with a very delicate balance, because it can happen to contaminate the basic experience by diverging the viewer’s attention to something else completely, and this could compromise the entirety of the work,” says Vercelli. This perhaps best comes through the nature of participation with the works, which are never of an active variety even though it is a form of interaction on the part of the viewer.

02 mins watch Sole | Quiet Ensemble | STIRworld
Sole Video: Courtesy of Quiet Ensemble

Many of the works bring in technological elements or machine collaboration, at times blurring the line between human effort and a mechanic effort at least in the context of creativity, it is then necessary to understand the role of the artificial as tool, collaborator or medium? “Technology in our work is always a means to show or listen to otherwise invisible or inaudible elements. Through it our works become possible, but technology is rarely the object of investigation.”

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