Magazine I by I 29.03.24


Audiovisual pioneers Kristina Karpysheva and Alexandr Letsius on creating colossal, mind-bending installations. have become an underground phenomenon with immersive architectural installations, a debut album and now a forthcoming computer game all on their CV. They are like artists who would emerge in a William Gibson novel — avoiding the focus on the individual, constantly in search of the new and darkly original.

The duo describe their meeting in unromantic terms.“ We met at the digital-artgallery, decided to make an installation together, and never separated ever since,” they recall. They created their collaborative name with almost nihilist intentions. “ is a renouncement, ‘nothingness’. It is abandonment from society and withdrawing from nonstop consumption—from everything that is breaking this world,” they suggest. “A friend of ours interpreted 404. zero as nothing with zero excess. That’s exactly what it is — nothing at all.”

This feature was originally published in Fact’s A/W 2020 issue, which is available to buy here.

Pinning down is not the easiest thing to do. The Russian duo have been strongly affected by lockdown this year. “It’s been pretty tough the last four months, since we almost had no ongoing projects, and we’ve been staying in one country for a really long time,” they note. For the past four years, the pair have not stayed in a single country for more than three months. Technology was against us so we had to communicate by email, but perhaps with Karpysheva and Letsius that is apt.

Concepts were the beginning of everything. “If we come up with an idea of installation, but there’s no space or money for implementation, then we just make a 3D concept and share the video on our social networks,” they explain. “When we began doing this, people started messaging us—they asked for our contact details to recommend us to people who could help with implementation — they were eager to see and experience the installation live.” They were greeted with some anger from other artists, as impossible to implement hype. Their first project, Arrival, changed people’s minds.

“We decided to create a project regardless of the budget or space measurements and simply developed what we wanted. We posted a video on Instagram, and about a minute later everyone seemed to go crazy.” They followed up with Facebook and had 780,000 views and 15,000 shares. Social media was a driving force for their work. “We were immediately bombarded with requests, questions, invitations, and weird offers to buy our idea (that is, to give up a concept in favour of some other artist, the kind of offer we always refused). When people heard the production budget, they would either stop texting or disappear.” Nonetheless, they realised it in New York. Futuristic and heavy, the architectural project was like stepping into a synthesiser and being consumed by lasers and bass.

Another render concept led to more international requests, in Russia and Los Angeles. The transition from rendered idea to installation is fascinating. The former has a sense of intention, but nothing can come close to the immersive layers of sound, space and utter drama of the real thing. 8.0 is filled with shuddering bass generated with modular synthesisers and eight laser projectors, driven by random algorithms. Here sound and light, sculptural space and digital process all come together in a fresh way. As they often note on their social channels, “No samples, no loops. Pure math, code, and electric signals.”

JetLag was their first time doing it live. The AV installation consisted of a four-by-eight-meter LED screen, sound system, modular synthesisers, real-time graphics driven by random algorithms. It went from New York, to MUTEK in Montreal and Mexico, before ending up on the giant, building-size screens at Times Square.

Architectural space is fundamental to what the duo create. Their projects address how we experience space in different ways, and how the structure of a building or an interior relates to the human body. “Architecture should be visually and conceptually pure,” they consider. “Our installations need air just like humans. We like large old spaces with high ceilings, abandoned warehouses and factory buildings. They were originally built for machines, not people — and they suit us very well. It’s not easy to find a large building that is still secure enough to hang the light and sound equipment. We actually live at the factory ourselves,” they note wryly, “there’s probably not much human left in us.”

There is no separation between sound and visuals in’s work. The visual, however, comes first in the process and fast. Some of their concepts take 30 minutes to create. “Sound came later. It is the result of some action — falling, light, and so on,” they explain. In fact, they are hyper sensitive to sound. “We deliberately avoid noisy places in our daily life. We find it tough to listen to chattering, cars, electric saws, lawn-mower buzzing, etc. It would be great if we could just turn all this noise off—it would save us from pain. We’re only talking here about the noise created by humans,” they point out. “We really like the sound of whales or the ocean.” It is an interesting contrast to the intensity of the sound they create.

Much of projects is not preplanned, instead using sensors and reactive technology to help create what they do. However, they are not in awe of their media. “Sensors and everything alike are still quite primitive. If there was a sensor that would identify if you’re evil or funny, that would be cool …” they suggest. They would love to work with nanotechnology. Their take on technology is specific, almost a highly original take on the neo-gothic. “[A] whole new visual aesthetics emerged in generative art, something we can call dark generative art,” the notes. They are not looking at outside influences. “Maybe we influence ourselves. We are driven by the interest in the uncreated,” they suggest.

Their latest project is a game based on the idea of imaginary worlds. “We developed a game using the Unreal engine, which is an absolutely new creative chapter for us. We simply opened the program and started doing something randomly, and in a while nothing could stop us,” they enthuse. The first part is complete, but is waiting for release as they work out how to optimise it for PCs and smartphones. “This is a game about our dream world. We started developing and building installations in nonexistent places, galleries and apartments. In Search of the Right World is a door to the world where time doesn’t exist.”

They namecheck Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead as an influence on how to consider that relationship. The controversial book, which praises individualism over the collective, is based upon the architect protagonist Howard Roark, a modernist who refuses to compromise innovation with the establishment. are not interested in compromise. Innovation is fundamental to their motivation, as they note: “Everything new is genuinely valuable. We like noticing it. Creating something purely new is better than money, fame or anything else.”

Technology and tools are the driving force in their work. “We need new toys to play with,” they highlight. They have been using TouchDesigner for all their projects from the very beginning. “It has a vast range of opportunities for visual content creation, control and operation of any device, be it lasers or strobe lights.” Their enthusiasm for the software is unending. Many of their projects have used algorithms. Here the creative process away from the cult of the individual or the artist. “We try to leave a human component out of our projects,” they point out. “Mathematics is everything for us. Maybe it’s even too much.” There is no logic to their titles for example, which they would love to be self-generating.

The pair released their first album, 404.0, in June 2020. Consisting of entirely new tracks, it was recorded at the studio of Iceland’s Bedroom Community using modular synthesisers, Eurorack and Buchla. Björk and Brian Eno have all worked in the same space in the past. Mystical, abstract and with some of the depth of people like Sunn O))) or Autechre, the one-hour release managed to be one of the big releases of the year. A perfect echo to the mental isolation of lockdown.

Although the duo are not interested in looking at their work in an art context, there are elements of the aesthetic that are vital here. Their palette is restricted, largely emerging in black, grey and red, with some exceptional elements in extreme, kaleidoscopic colour. Much of their visual work feels very textured, or rather resembles textures. Somehow they manage to create things that feel tactile or have a sense of graininess. It is something they are aware of but unsure of how to explain. “We created a texture that never existed in this world on any surface or object,” they point out. “In fact, if you ask yourself where you’ve seen it, you won’t be able to answer. You haven’t seen it anywhere. Not many people gave it a thought. You can launch an AI that will generate similar textures based on pictures of the surface of Mars or Jupiter, or photos of animals, people, and so on — at the very least. But it’s kind of tainted.”

An awareness of nature is surprising considering the digital media and focus on technological tools in their approach. However, the human perception or lack of perception of nature is fundamental to their thinking. “This is what we deserve. By killing the planet, we also destroy ourselves mentally, physically,” they highlight. They describe their work as a fantasy about our perfect world. “The world without loud and foolish people, without consumer masses, without plastic and oil. The world in which technologies protect our planet, in which children at schools are taught to make up for planet resources and learn about the steps humanity should take to reach the next level of development. The world with no corruption or presidents, no banks and mortgage loans, theft or violence. The world in which you learn sciences, physics, chemistry and maths. The world, in which whales, dogs, mice or any living creature is no longer considered to be food. The world without visas and passports. The world of endless meditation and calmness. Inner and outer self-development. Basically, the awesome world we will never see.”

This feature was originally published in Fact’s A/W 2020 issue, which is available to buy here.

WORDS: Francesca Gavin

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