Gabriele De Santis
Born in 1983
Lives and works in Rome, Italy.
Developed through a multiplicity of media including painting, installation, video and environment, Gabriele de Santis's work explores the channels and vehicles of the globalised collective imagination. He does this from a point of view that combines his Italian roots and his position in art under advanced capitalism. His works often operate like slogans or catchphrases promoting a certain meaning of mobility, speed and ascension—like his paintings and pedestals wearing roller-skates or handlebars, his works activated by being thrown on a trampoline, his slide installations, the recurring icon of a suspended Michael Jordan, or the semi-fetichised figure of the skateboard. This momentum, or state of weightlessness, is characteristic of contemporary forms of communication and existence, in keeping with what Baudrillard called “the ecstasy of communication”. It also evokes the consumption movement that cultural signs are designed to trigger, the state of ascension being shown outside of every “possible fall”: the physical “reminder” principle that De Santis has fun with in his trampoline installations, through which viewers experience that every high (being “tops” physically or socially) is subject to the laws of gravity. In a updated way, the trampoline and the fleeting moment of fulfilment in Gabriele de Santis's work seem to echoed to what Jeff Koons has defined as an “intense desire for social mobility” modelled on “the tragedy of unattainable states.”
Through the constant use of sports allegory, De Santis also examines the mythology of the artist through that of the competitor, the athlete, and treats the exhibition space as a codified, euphemised social space. The artist also sees this “signage” as the principle of the constitution of a “personality”. Each sign or object is understood not just as a “vehicle” of social, even national identification (football or basketball teams, the theme underlying his new exhibition at Valentin gallery, in a kind of Italy vs USA match, or even skate culture), but also as a sign of the globalised world of entertainment.
In De Santis's attention and recurring references to contemporary signage (emoticons, hashtags, punctuation marks) and to the mobility of the mediums it is written on, these works evoke an ever-fluctutating referent. These signs taken from social networks, De Santis brings into tension with stabilising elements that are supposed to represent cultural rooting: the “painting” sign, the marble or the column. If the marble and the column refer to slow, verticalised methods of shaping culture, to its intrinsic conservatism (and also to its “foundational” Italian identity), these signals deal with the immateriality of virtual language, its instantaneousness and pervasive horizontality.
By questioning these notions of boundaries and demarcation, particularly through the image of the playing field, De Santis explores performance values and the desire for identification by re-situating them in the context of art. These elements also constitute signage, enabling marked-out circulation that questions the standardised behaviour of a viewer who is often invited to participate. On the walls, outside the codified performance space, one finds “non-players”, painting-“heads”, ghostly figures that double the viewer. Characters that, not taking part in the game, have instead come to watch the tightrope walker, hoping he'll fall off his rope.
La comedia dell'arte (the comedy of art), echoed by numerous references to the character Arlequino, the archetype of the Italian “trickster” but also a schematised reference to Picasso's legacy, also serves to examine the comedy of the play of society and the play of art. Often anthropomorphised, the objects and signals in Gabriele de Santis's work seem to interact in order to construct something of a meeting scenario: two pink and blue bags sticking together fraternally, two plinths sharing a drink at an exhibition opening.