"RGB: THE JUNGLE" Carnovsky's design project uses colored lights to reveal hidden images on SPACE Gallery's wall.
As one of its most brilliant venues celebrates its 10th anniversary, Portland is treated to one of the most colorful and engaging art shows of the summer. In "RGB: the Jungle," the mysterious Italian art and design duo Carnovsky have fashioned enormous, radically complex wallpaper reproductions of jungle life from natural history engravings. Their drawings are rendered in multicolored inks according to a unique thematic system and layered congruently in complex kaleidoscopic textures, wilderness scenes quite literally in each other's midst. The result is surreal and dizzyingly evocative when viewed under conventional lighting, but the individual scenes take on haunting dimensions when viewed under filters and colored lights, with elements vanishing and appearing under each setting.
While some might find these chromatic obsessions little more than a fun house gag, "RGB" is about much more than what meets — and eludes — the eye. Its unorthodox methodology so has its way with the viewer that to some extent the show is about focus, patience, and disorientation. SPACE's four light settings are set to timers of about 15 seconds apiece, so a thorough examination of even the smaller circular designs on the gallery's east wall takes considerably longer than, say, the five second average visitors spend observing a painting in a museum.
Carnovsky — namely Francesco Rugi and Silvia Quintanilla — receive the bulk of their attention from international design and lifestyle journals and their wallpaper is commercially available at their website, suggesting the whimsical world of European design might be their "proper" home. But not even the boldest interior design choices require numerous, specalized, and temporally ordered light bulbs and settings in order to appreciate. Carnovsky's work changes a fundamental piece of its viewing environment, a trait which gives it the stamp of installation work. At SPACE — a nontraditional gallery but a white box all the same — the "RGB" drawings pass remarkably well as traditional museum fare: large, flat, optically engaging and richly figurative drawings which more or less engage any gallery visitor's reflexive appreciation for formal sensibility.
While the group's standing in the greater art spectrum is a slippery one, this sort of art production schizophrenia is one we might do well to embrace. The obvious solution is to observe all three of Carnovsky's aesthetic selves at once. Their multipronged identity makes a nice conceptual parallel to the haunting, oneiric collection of jungle scenes the duo have fashioned for the gallery walls, where teeming hordes of woodland creatures dissolve into loping vegetation before vanishing into formidable towers of piggybacking mammals, then back again.
Conceivably, Rugi and Quintanilla could draw anything according to the RGB method — their possible subjects are seemingly limitless in the disjointed, quasi-narrative juxtapositions of three vanishing scenes. So it's revealing that they deal almost exclusively in the kingdoms of living things. The plants, animals, insects, and humanoid figures contained within Carnovsky's wallpaperings awakens an awareness of the density and interconnectedness of our own ecologies, representing not only the inhabitants of our natural environment, but of our domestic, aesthetic, and psychological ones as well.