Whitehot Magazine

Domenico Romeo’s opera system between architecture and anthropology

Domenico Romeo, ANM_14_1/1_TR_21 2021 Iron and nylon fabric 300x200x500cm, Photo Delfino Sisto Legnani. Courtesy the Artist.

By ALICE ZUCCA, June 2022

Ranging from various forms of sign painting, installation and performance, Domenico Romeo’s work confronts the complex history and innate interconnection of structure and body, architecture and experience, language, identity and symbols. As he traces the path to an ancestral revelation through his modular structures, the artist introduces a sense of universal unity and ongoing transformation, which is the ultimate meaning of his work. Fundamental in this sense, it also turns out to be the decision to codify all his exhibitions and works – that always take on an anthropomorphic connotation – almost sorting the various elements of his "opera system" into categories.

Starting with the title of his most recent series, ANM_PEX_002_BER_22, where ANM stands for "Souls" ("Anime" in Italian), these structures appear to indicate a real body made of bones (the soul of steel), skin (the fabric), and soul (in essence and thus in name), which functions by a solidarity among the elements and becomes almost like a living structure/organism and thus no longer just elements but a system. 

Thus, coding in relation to the system acquires a fundamental meaning in Romeo’s work; for example, thinking about organs, we know what they are as themselves and their function, but only when put in relation to the human body (as a system) they can come to life, but as something that is different from them individually, they become a unit (which in this case takes on the figure of man) but still exist as such and as themselves (heart, lungs, etc.). 

Such an approach reinforces the notion that the "opera magna" in Romeo's body of work is to be identified in the totality of the modular system itself, that is, the set of ferrous matter, textiles, and basic rules for the assembly of the works themselves that concur to create a unity of space and object, language and form.

Domenico Romeo, ANM_14_1/1_TR_21 2021 Iron and nylon fabric 300x200x500cm, Photo Delfino Sisto Legnani. Courtesy the Artist.

Monochromatic colors, simple structures, technical fabrics and cold metallic materials, Romeo's new sculptural installations are rational and intensely contemporary, avant-garde and courageous assemblages of geometries torn down and then reassembled to make a visual equation of vertical and horizontal lines, all the while giving careful consideration to the space they inhabit and the creative and gestural expression.

Romeo investigates the transformation of our imaginary of reality into structures, controlled by reason and gesture, in order to subsequently rediscover these same structures in a 'certain' natural reality, inspiring the viewer to re-think and re-examine the surrounding environment. These huge steel-framed shaped works are inspired by signs and language, the artist combines both mediums to convey his message, focusing on symbols, rhythms, and grids to develop his unique visual alphabet - he arrived at this particular form of expression after years of research and experimentation.

Research that draws from both the fields of art and fashion (a sector in which Romeo has been working for years as the head graphic designer of the well-known brand Off-White). This also inspired him to deepen his knowledge of technical textiles, now a fundamental part of his artistic production, often used for his particular "flags".

Domenico Romeo, ANM_9_1/1_TR_21 2021 Iron and nylon fabric 300x300x400cm, Photo Delfino Sisto Legnani. Courtesy the Artist.

The form of Romeo’s work is abstract in the extreme but contains a great deal of linguistic information - industrial development, urbanization, norms and individuality. A high degree of equilibrium can also be seen in Romeo's work, in which the rectangular hard steel assemblage seeks a balance at the level of industrial society between individuality and collective balance, nature and spirit, matter and consciousness.

The replicated structure forms the basis for a robust building and the infinite possibility for its development. These substances influence the way we live in urban society, as Karl Marx writes in his Basis und Überbau: The mode of production of material life conditions, the general process of social, political and intellectual life. In the midst of the rapid rise of cities, there is perhaps a greater need for a philosophical, cultural, political and self-conscious ascent beyond the material. The artist aims to provoke the viewer to reflect on the deep structure of society and human nature.

Weaving together architecture, anthropology and the empirical nature of time and space, Domenico Romeo’s latest series “ANM_PEX_002_BER_22”, presented in Berlin at Nadan gallery (on view until July 29 2022)  is an experiential journey through three new large-scale installations that explores alternative approaches to understanding and unraveling the complex knots of identity between language and gesture, materials and codification, experience and revelation.

The exhibition itinerary develops as an interactive spatial experience guided by three different sculptural installations connoted by a strong anthropomorphic and, at the same time, architectural component, both in conceiving the works through a creative technique of assembling the sculptures (in which Romeo uses the lack of space between the elements to connect the iron bars through the voids within them, in order to transform the space) and in shaping the very space in which the structures are placed, almost as if the work itself by coming to life would start to autonomously mimic the artist's gesture and, in its expansion, fits spontaneously and materially into the empty spaces within the perimeter of the room.

Romeo’s sculptures are living structures that, in dialogue with the space, draw paths, trace trajectories, and invite the viewer to recognize himself in them and undertake one or multiple spatial experiences. The installation opens up a different set of possibilities through the uncertainty given by the presence of a crossroad (a dividing wall) and the consequent difference of experience according to the choice of path taken that may or may not lead to a giant "casket keeper" an impenetrable tower, three meters high, which perhaps holds the mystery of a revealing secret.

Installation view Domenico Romeo | ANM_PEX_002_BER_22 at Nadan Gallery in Berlin, Photo Louis de Belle. Courtesy the artist.

Crosses and nylon flags, appear here before us composing a synthetic forest of intersections, multiple and irregular, representing the inseparable and ever-changing union between spirit, body and space within the virtually infinite feed of the contemporary horizon. Metal structures that form a skeleton with an essence; fabric flags as the skin, leading to a discovery. Overall, a body is configured with its dress and the artist, through his gestural alphabet – specifically through the stubbornly repeated crossing of the metallic elements – also scrutinizes his narrative of the anti-symbol - and in doing so resorts by antithesis to the primordial symbol: "the Cross".

Archetype par excellence, present in all civilizations and religions the cross is the direct expression of a common language that has always been shared in the collective memory. And are specifically the shared “languages” and “ideals” that become flags, under which those who are similar gather - but the dual nature of symbols unites as divide (since the symbol is always already loaded with meaning). The symbol specifically signals the gap between what unites and what divides.

In Domenico Romeo the flag, which generally exist as something apt to identify (thus already carry an identity), is deprived of any symbol by becoming pure form, is the antithesis of itself so unlike the pure “symbol” (which inevitably points to something already overloaded with meaning), the “form” by its nature is still indeed identifiable but never definitive, consequently open to new interpretations.

The flag in Romeo represents no one, so it paradoxically becomes an invitation for anyone to recognize themselves in it. The individual works and exhibitions, are stripped of absolute meaning to give greater vigor the the opera-system and its revelation through the the cathartic experience – ultimately, a personal revelation, that everyone can experience at the end of this path. WM

Alice Zucca

Alice Zucca is an Art Historian, independent curator, journalist, public relations and image building consultant for culture, art, design, photography and architecture. She is the founder of the specialized platform XIBT that includes an international magazine published on a quarterly basis and focused on contemporary art and photography.

view all articles from this author