Ceramics and the World

Andrea Branzi

There are certain techniques, such as ceramics, metal working and weaving, which I think are very different from every other kind of existing technology. Not just because they are the oldest, because they belong more to the history of anthropology than history of technology.
I have, in fact, always thought that man was searching for a link between his labours and the laws of the Universe in these primeval techniques. So, not just something constructively useful but also a bond between this and other mystical aspects of the surrounding world.
In many Asian countries like India, weaving, with its endless tissue of wefts and warps, is still a metaphor for the eternal repetition of the cycles of life and death, a sequence of reincarnations and the interconnection of the entire universe in one single web of relations and meanings.
Ever since prehistoric times, the fusing of metals reiterates the discovery of fire as a source of energy expressed by the heavens and earth, a holy flame which melts and regenerates everything.
Ceramics, for its part, and all clays turned on a lathe, reproduce the motions of the celestial vault, and the vases that this creates reproduce forms of life born from the mud and baked in fire.
This is why the decorative objects now surrounding people are not just simple tools but also shamanic presences, which connect everyday life to meanings belonging to unknown realms of spirituality. In any civilisation and any country, the most distant traces of man’s passing, in both deserts and mountains, take the form of fragments of ceramics, coloured and decorated chinks, which often belonged to societies which had neither cities nor architecture, but knew how to bake the earth to construct these fragile shells designed to contain those liquids indispensable for life and also to hold the ashes of the dead. Jewellery and ceramics were placed around the dead, in order to accompany the deceased on their journey into that unknown world awaiting them after life.
Hence the history of ancient or modern ceramics does not belong to either the history of art or the history of design, but to the history of Man and his Mind; this means that history coincides with the history of human ceramics, these micro-presences which are now totally symbolic and, consequently, even more indispensable. They are found in our houses and modern-day cities, metropolises and megalopolises, carrying thoughts and bearing mysterious qualities; useless and for that very reason sacred.
Nowadays, we can claim that the quality of a city no longer derives from its architecture, but from vases and flowers found inside it.
As long as there are ceramics (beautiful or ugly) there will always be hope or, in other words, the search for a world in which useless and apparently superfluous things, whose meaning is not fully understood by anybody, have the right to exist. It means there is still room for philosophical thinking, the arts, poetry and music, “apparently” useless and mysterious presences, but without which history would stop.
I believe that ceramics, which are fragile, ugly or even extremely ugly, cumbersome or wondrous, all need to be accepted; as precious symbolic gifts which people give to other people.

Text published in the catalogue of the 4th Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art “Changing the world with a vase of flowers”, Corraini Edizioni, Mantova, Italia, 2010.

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