Gabriele De Santis

October 22th octobre - November 21st, 2015.


We’re short a guy


How will 2015 be preserved and then portrayed by time? What will remain of its language, its symbols and its aesthetic? Howwill the filter of time represent this historic transition? These are all questions that are hard to answer today. We lack thenecessary critical detachment, for we are too closely involved in the creative and constructive process to understand whatmight become iconologic. Yet Gabriele De Santis’ vision appears to insist on these themes, with no fear of directconfrontation with the present and with its consequent reinterpretation. The artist does not take from the past, nor does henostalgically quote from existing sources, but rather adopts the lexicon that accompanies us all, every day, and creates asubtle, alluring portrait of the contemporary world. Gabriele De Santis questions the codes of a fast-paced society that isconstantly forced to perform demanding success, giving space to a translation of a system, the construction of acontemporary iconography and of an aesthetic of the present.

SOCCER – A Forceful Representation

Children brought up in the 1980s-early 1990s might befamiliar with Captain Tsubasa, a cartoon created byY􀊨ichi Takahashi focusing on the adventures of aJapanese youth soccer team and its captain TsubasaOozora. Along with Genzo Wakabayashi, Taro Misaki, RyoIshizaki, Kojiro Hyug, he played acrobatic actions in (very)slow motion, on what seemed to appear as huge fields,violently kicking a steaming ball which ended up burningthe net, smashing the bleachers, bruising the goalkeeper.The matches seemed to be endless and children’sexpectations rose at every episode, while they craved forthe next.The first lesson we learned from Captain Tsubasa was toplay together, relate to our peers, encourage them orargue with them. Our ambition was to imitate ourcartoon idols. Soccer matches were improvisedeverywhere and there were infinite debates on which character each child would play. After a few matches we also learnedthat Tsubasa’s and his gang’s tactics and technical abilities didn’t belong to a world in which the force of gravity existed, yetwe choreographed incredible actions making believe we were able to replicate boomerang shots, overhead kicks, somersaultdribbles, spinning balls. Our colorful imagination gave us the chance to play, feel brave and love our teammates, even thosewe weren’t friends with. Of course I can’t deny that we also wanted to win. Some healthy competition was part of the game.The awareness of interaction, rivalry, training, action and outcome, began to shape in our young minds.The second lesson we learned was that sport was made of agony and pain. It was a serious issue, or better a heroic one.Captain Tsubasa’s trail and sacrifice to soccer was representing the struggle of an individual towards success. We were thewitnesses of how a simple character could turn into an icon. Yet the individual was part of a team. As all real heroes, heserved a shared cause. Perhaps, as kids, we still weren’t critically mature to understand the concept fully, yet unconsciouslywe had an idea of what fatigue, concentration, performance, interplay and its results meant.In sum, soccer was a magical game, which became part of our lives through a cartoon that gave us the excuse to playtogether using our imagination, feeling part of team, however it was obvious that leadership and success derived fromsacrifice and concentration. Soccer players, whether manga characters or those belonging to the team we supported, wereheroes who deserved to stand in their role and position. Careful: they were heroes, not stars, yet.


Powerful single talentMichael Jordan and basketball go hand in hand. Probablyhe is the only player that non-basketball fans, such asmyself, happen to know. However I did grow up in theU.S. during the 1980s and 1990s and do vividly rememberhoops placed in backyards, in public parks, in school gyms.Basketball was the sport par excellence, the mostdemocratic, pluralistic, accessible and popular game in thecountry and it couldn’t be completely ignored. Bouncepasses that became chest passes that then finished up inslam dunks could be seen at every corner. Like it or not,everyone knew its basketball ABC.My imagery of the sport today is probably embodied bySpace Jam (1996), one of those movies that adults of acertain age now hold with nostalgic reverence: a classicgenerational touchstone. In Space Jam Bugs Bunny and hisgang challenge to a basketball game the Nerdlucks, alienswho want to kidnap and export the Looney Tunes in orderto animate their amusement park in outer space. Only triumphing against the Monstars team, composed of space creatureswho absorbed the talents of top NBA professionals can the Tunes keep their freedom. Having no chance against the speedy,powerful, monstrously gifted alien-players, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck recruit Michael Jordan who takes on the monumentaltask of helping them out. At a certain point of the tournament when, despite the loony actions, everything seems lost, theTunes team becomes short a guy. Bill Murray steps in coming to its rescue and the game is won thanks to Jordan’s talentenhanced by cartoon physics. Only a star power, disguised as a heroic act, saves the Loony Tunes from their plight.Space Jam was quite a brilliant comedy, encompassing a hopeless optimistic and light hearted American attitude. The portraitof basketball presented by the film was that of a friendly and entertaining sport in the hands of single-powerful-talentedplayers.Where had the training, sacrifice, concentration, interaction, collaboration and team spirit gone? Space Jam gave us almostnothing of the team practicing, preparing a strategy, or deciding its roster. Jordan’s pregame speech recited: “Let’s just goout and have fun”, and when the Tunes were down 77-76 with 10 seconds left, Jordan called timeout and gave the followinginstructions: “Somebody steal the ball, give it to me, and I’ll score before time runs out.”Basically what gets through is that the individual makes its way before the group: a symbol of how an NBA team is oftenhostage to the best player in the lineup whose actions are beyond reality. A marketing of individuals over teams, highlightclips over plays. When playing, upper echelons of talent determine a hierarchy within the group and its representation: singlemen who want to score, with big egos, aware of their power. The star system appropriated basketball in a child’s imagerybefore time.

SOCCERBASKET – The revelation of a self

The two representations mentioned above, according tosports sociology give us the picture of how culture and values influence sports, and how sports influences cultureand values in different societies. The representation of thetwo sports evidently occupies opposite poles.Now: Gabriele De Santis, is challenging us to a new gamein which soccer and basketball share a field. On one side,we’re Captain Tsubasa on the other we’re Michael Jordan.Entering the gallery a locker room greets the spectators. Itis a threshold and a gateway: a space in which to getready, to concentrate, to get excited. Shall we act as starsor work as a team? However, another question surprisesus. Here, surrounded by A.S. ROMA (it couldn’t have beenany other soccer team in the world) jerseys of disappearedtop conceptual Italian artists-players, we actually beginasking ourselves the deeper meaning of a player within a system. Boetti, Burri, de Dominicis, Fontana, Manzoni, Merz. Topstars or heroes? Individual players or manufacturers of a shared discourse? If they were presented with the chance to playtogether as team, what kind of interaction and result would have been produced? The move of associating milestones of anexclusive cotemporary intellectual visual cultural system with a popular and apparently anti-academic one could seemthoughtlessly irreverent, however they have much more in common than what seemingly one thinks. Artists and sport playersare associated in their philosophy of life as well as in their iconic representation.We’re ready for the bizarre and schizophrenic match. The bleachers are crowded and supporters, fans and flâneurs raucouslycheer, roar and encourage us with explicit text messages. Only on the combine-field will we decide which position to assume,perhaps consequently revealing something about ourselves

Ilaria Gianni

curator, writer, A.S. ROMA fan.