BY Jenni Sorkin in Reviews | 03 MAR 02
Featured in
Issue 65

Francesca Gabbiani

Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, Los Angeles, USA

BY Jenni Sorkin in Reviews | 03 MAR 02

Some people love them, but ten minutes of Poltergeist (1982) at the tender age of eight kept me away from psychological horror flicks for a long, long time. Then I discovered a solution: if you already know what is going to happen, watching scary movies for a second or third time can become a satisfying experience. It can offer you a false sense of control over what you may see or feel: the partially opened door, the gold mirror, the hallway receding endlessly into the distance. It is these minutiae that Francesca Gabbiani re-creates in her colourful, meticulous collages.

Producing a sense of familiarity without awareness, really great thrillers become premonitions, where seeing something for even the first time draws the feeling of déjà vu from the deepest recesses of the brain. Through her camp renditions of lush interiors Gabbiani arranges the second viewing, creating two-dimensional replicas of famous horror movie sets. Hotel lobbies, bathrooms, sitting rooms and cinemas in garish colours and patterns, Gabbiani's collages are charmingly retro, pining for the golden days of Hollywood horror while making use of the ultimate rainy-day craft material: coloured paper.

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) stars Jack Nicholson, but the principal, ghostly character in the film is the haunted house - a huge, isolated Colorado mountain resort hotel, The Overlook. Gabbiani recasts the film in all its 1920s Art Deco glory. The Movie (all works 2001) features a vast hallway vista, filled with plush octagonal patterned carpet in a bold 1970s colour scheme of orange, red and black. As any schoolchild will tell you, it is more difficult to cut shapes than it is to draw them. A draftsman wielding a Stanley knife, Gabbiani builds layer on layer of geometric configurations to create depth and perspective. Studied and laborious, this work is actually architectural, requiring scale, measurement and precision. Girly Fear depicts a sitting room with a blood-red carpet beneath a candy pink sofa. Both brazen and coquettish, the colours are dazzling until you notice the famed but illegible chalkboard, on which Jack Nicholson has scrawled repeatedly, 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'. This is one of the only human traces appropriated from the film; Gabbiani's movie sets painstakingly avoid overt references to any narrative. Familiar but anonymous, these collages trigger an unexpected recognition without any specific source of memory. Déjà vu is actually an umbrella term that can be broken down into three categories: déjà vécu (already experienced), déjà senti (already felt) and déjà visité (already visited). By reframing the experience of recognition, Gabbiani induces all three kinds of feeling, reactivating sudden perception. For the viewer this turns into an active process of recovery, staring at the images, trying to recapture the exact scene or moment from which they were taken.

Unlike works by Damien Loeb or Thomas Demand, artists who also reconstruct familiar films and events on flat surfaces, Gabbiani's constructions have a tactile quality. And while all three artists employ sophisticated Realist imagery, Gabbiani's creations are the only ones that are beautiful; intimate images that glow dimly with the warm earth tones of opaque paper, rather than the hard cool gleam of paint without brushwork or glossy photographic surfaces. It is the difference between candlelight and neon.

Cutting and pasting (the real thing, not the word-processing kind) is a humble affair. In a time when aesthetic choices are often subsumed by theoretical agendas, it is pleasing to be reminded of domesticity without the concept of dislocation or loss attached to it. Gabbiani simultaneously conjures up the joys of Saturday night video rentals and kitchen table art projects.