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Francesca Gabbiani

Francesca Gabbiani sees herself as a “technicienne de surface” who fills space with paintings, drawings and collages. Nevertheless, it is her imposing, colourful collages that established her international reputation in the 1990s. Eccentric and unsettling, they provoke a false feeling of familiarity and comfort, using means of expression that Gabbiani considers “humble […], not precious”, like paper-cutting. Nourished by Gothically or mythologically inspired scenes, by horror movies, as well as by architectural and decorative motifs, these works challenge viewers, who find themselves projected into an implausible universe, suspended in time and space, between the memory of the real world and the infinite possibilities of imagination. This unsettling Freudian hesitation between marked artificiality and familiar strangeness runs through all of her work, placing the idea of memory at the centre of her artistic practice.

The notion of recollection also runs through her personal history, which has been divided between three distinct countries. A “total immigrant”, Francesca Gabbiani was born in Canada, grew up in Switzerland and then left her adoptive country for an “artists’ city” in the United States, namely Los Angeles. Her studies at the École supérieure des beaux-arts in Geneva, and later at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam, made it possible for her to continue her artistic training by doing a masters at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). These frequent relocations had a major impact on her art, which gradually moved towards the representation of labyrinthine, abandoned or neglected spaces, inhabited by magical or surreal figures.

For Francesca Gabbiani, the creation of a collage usually starts with a photograph she has spontaneously taken on her phone during walks around the apparently centreless “urban hell” that is Los Angeles. It is only in a second phase that the artist meticulously goes back over the details of the image to “let it explode” until they assume the form of a drawing. This in turn becomes “a reinterpretation as a large painting” before being transformed one last time into a collage of paper-cuttings. This long and complex process of creation, which deconstructs and reconstructs an image through stratification, goes beyond the spontaneous and experimental framework of the collage or cut-up, by disclosing carefully constructed, highly stylised scenes.

And to Come Down (2008) and Laid in the Shade 1 (2008) both embody this disturbing reverie by presenting an improbable natural setting including gigantic flowers and mushrooms that evoke poisonous and psychedelic attributes. On the other hand, Maelstrom/After (2009) aims at an artificial architectural setting, by projecting forward a completely deserted staircase. In both cases, the choice of colours was critical, since it defines the intensity of the scene. Gabbiani finds extreme, audacious colours that contrast with one another to the point of triggering an almost physical reaction of rejection or fascination on the part of the viewer. She does not just play with a feeling of déjà vu, but also with feelings of “déjà-vécu” [already experienced] or “déjà-senti” [already felt], by reactivating an immediate perception in the viewer.

Faced with this carefully constructed universe, at the boundary of the familiar and the unknowable, one can only surrender to a perpetual utopia that is at once threatening and captivating.

Francesca Gabbiani lives and works in Los Angeles.