João Fonte Santa

The Rule of the Game

Text «The Rule of the Game», published in the catalogue of the exhibition Destruição De Luxe, by João Fonte Santa, Galeria António Henriques, Viseu, 2003.

Situated in a scenery ruled by the accumulation and vertiginous profusion of images which illustrate the history of Humanity and its civilizational development, João Fonte Santa recuperates the evocative power of visual language. He articulates the realm of representation with an interpretive experience, which leads to the discovery of the question inherent in the workings of the world: a military strategy, an exercise in the psychology of power.

I. Your tribe begins with a Settlers unit and has no knowledge about the surrounding area. As you found new cities and explore the surroundings, you may find hostile barbarians, villages, and other competing cultures. Once you have discovered another culture, you can adopt a policy of co-existence by signing a permanent peace treaty with that culture; you can even form a military alliance. But for those who like to conquer, you will find great satisfaction in deploying more than 50 different military units and crush your enemies[1].

Fonte Santa works from an extensive bank of images and references from varied sources, including illustrated magazines from the 50’s, diagrams taken from encyclopedias and materials from reports, which reflect the media coverage of the topics under analysis. And it is essentially through the practice of associating and finding correspondences, often present in his artwork, that we are introduced to an emblematic vision of the world, based on a multiplicity of points of view.
The idea of the game is therefore his imagery of power. A game that is little random and casual, revealing itself rather as a symbolic operation, capable of pointing at oscillations – in itself characteristic of the spirit of our times – between the rule of law and chaos, of fiction and non-fiction and the shaking up of the order under which we organize our representation of the world. In fact, his canvases could work as a puzzle formed by traps, ready to undermine the value of truth, and initiate an exercise of differences and similarities in relation to the presumed evidence of the original material. It is a path of diachronic and historic verisimilitude, which can make way for a combination of recent events or can evoke historic events almost as a reinvention liberating the constraints of a «sense of reality».

II. You can choose from six different types of government: Despotism, Monarchy, Fundamentalism, Republic, Communism and Democracy. Each of these government types has its distinct advantages and disadvantages. They represent how your empire will operate and have profound influence on your empire. 

And because a game is a game in which alternative possibilities and probable and improbable realities can arise, it is also a world of fantasy, which permits us to go in search of a simulated constitution, free from parallel worlds. A world that allows to search for the imaginary formulation of universes outlined by the proximity of anachronistic, past, near and future contexts, permissive in their suggestion of peculiar and disturbing filiations bringing about perverse cultural shocks. This becomes quite evident in Ghostrider, series of images describing a hierarchical order of the social, military and political system of the Nazi regime, in which we establish an ambiguous and undesirable combination of character, or an ironic sort of game imposed by the absence of the dictator and by the presence of a tutelary figure in its anti-system: the savior.

III. However, military is not the only aspect of this game. You will also need to concentrate on trade, science development, and make your people happy in order to avoid civil disorders.

Departing from this exercise of fictional and playful implications, similar to some film plots and to games of military strategy and conquest where we simulate the destinies of humanity, João Fonte Santa places the acknowledgement of the great civilizational game on scene, the screen and stage, where we expose the operations and principles that regulate the course of human society and social, cultural and political reality.

In pieces such as Death comes from above and No, I don’t do drugs, we find images demonstrating the force of the military machine and of the luxurious technologies of the war industry through a panoply of aerial models on show, in some cases, with a backdrop of quotes taken from the works of Bridget Riley. The logic of this relationship simultaneously mirrors the alienating character of a propelling scientific-economic force, associated with warlike situations, such as the paradox, which is witness to the cycle of production and the so called «speed of war», a program fulfilled by forced destruction, invariably continuous and periodic, of the world of weaponry.
And since there is no game without its difficulties and challenges, those implacable and seductive means can’t be missing that compete in the service of an alliance, as much desired as necessary: that of a prosperous reign and content subjects, and the promise of a happy existence and a better world. Truly a game of illusions, which certainly takes us to the sphere of a modernized life style and to an everyday post-war existence, especially to an ideal home blessed by the technological progress of machines, sophisticated equipment, and the solar energy of the Stereatronic home of future may derive energy from sun. Something which, in the modern age, may correspond to the fascination associated with the invention of prozac and the seduction exercised by a tourism of distraction on the digital screen, homely, but wisely impregnated by unrealistic voyages and staged adventures.



  1. ^ The texts in italics are quoted from the strategy game Civilization II.


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