Tiziana Casapietra

Two years ago, while studying the construction of the 2nd edition of the Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art, we decided to create a team of some of the world of contemporary art’s most well-informed and discerning professionals to develop a project that, on a small scale, would reflect the epochal metamorphosis we are currently undergoing. I’m referring to the process of cultural hybridisation being imposed on a global level elicited by a multitude in evolution and in movement in which a variety of nationalities and cultures co-exist — sometimes forcedly.
The initial proposals of this first work group led to others, triggering a flood of ideas in which invited artists suggested other artists, curators and ceramists began to create works of art, musicians to work as ceramists, artists as musicians, artist and writers as ceramists, politicians as writers or ceramists, curators as politicians, fishermen as performers, artists as fishermen, and so on, creating a myriad of interacting figures and actions all mixed together. An incessant contamination of roles that took place spontaneously and that we encouraged.
I would like to mention some examples with this in mind. Bili Bidjocka (I Biennal, II Biennal) came to Albisola several times thanks to an invitation by Olu Oguibe who we invited as both artist and curator. During his umpteenth return to Albisola, Bidjocka suggested the name of another artist,Iké Udé who, naturally, we immediately invited. As a curator, we chose Young Chul Lee. Upon entering a ceramics laboratory and getting first-hand experience with ceramic techniques, he couldn’t resist proposing a project that would involve the residents. Those who were stopped suddenly while strolling along the promenade, drinking an aperitif at the Pilar or playing billiards at the Società di Mutuo Soccorso of Albisola Capo, let themselves get involved in the extemporaneous creation of ceramic works by grabbing a fistful of clay. Even Rainer Ganahl was able to get himself invited again thanks to a strong proposal that also involved another person, namely the Iraqi calligrapher Ghazi Al Delaimi.
Thus, the Biennale became a matrioska of projects that stimulated each other to create other possible cultural and multidisciplinary interrelations. With this in mind, here’s another example. This time the writer Rossana Campo, invited by Roberto Costantino, was brought back to her Albisola and among the ceramic works of her memories, to work the clay for the first time with her classmate who, in the meantime, had opened a ceramics laboratory.
This stream of ideas and proposals continued to feed itself to the point that over the last two years, we were able to involve not only 10 curators but also more than 50 artists from around the world. Each one was asked to propose a project in ceramics to be created together with the many ceramics laboratories that were willing to open their factories to our guests. In this way, the professional skills that began and were developed locally and instilled by the area’s traditions, interacted with the different professional talents and traditions coming from a variety of places in Italy and the rest of the world. Together, these subjects created a community in which differences and multiplicities were able to express themselves at various levels, creating a new “hybrid culture.”
To the positive co-existence of different nationalities is added the combinations of professional talents coming from various cultural environments: curators, visual artists, ceramist artists and ceramic craftsmen, as well as musicians, writers, architects, opera singers and even fishermen emphasised the multidisciplinary aspects of this Biennale. The same can be said for the casual overlapping between tradition and contemporaneity. Open to continuous re-interpretation, tradition evolves until reappearing in the present under other guises. Tradition, in this case of ceramics, is often reversed and re-invented through combinations that many would not hesitate to define as heretical, and where the physicality of material is often related to its absence. There are works in which the presence of ceramics is replaced by its “immaterial” evocation generated through a video film or music. I’m referring for example to the program developed by Mauro Castellano who, as a musician, got ceramists-musicians involved (such as Leonardo Gensini); but alsoTrisha Donnelly, invited by Hans-Ulrich Obrist, who even though she come from the world of visual art, experimented with ceramics with the idea of making it become music.
And I would also like to talk about those who used ceramics to create videos. These include Shimabuku, invited by Young Chul Lee, who even got the fishermen of Albisola involved to try, through ceramics, one of his country’s typical fishing methods; but also Andries Botha, invited by Olu Oguibe, who decided to destroy ceramics, making its destruction the subject of his film.
This continuous interweaving of different approaches to ceramics, leads those who cancel the presence of matter, making ceramics a pretext from which to narrate other stories, to compare their visions with those of the great ceramic professionals who remain faithful to the tradition of the perfect forms, and with others who experiment with ceramics without however ever freeing themselves from the constraints of its presence, while concentrating such experimentation exclusively on the potential of the material.
As we have seen, ceramics is not the end but the means for feeding a network of local and global exchanges and synergies. The artists, most of whom are not familiar with ceramic techniques, were asked to digress from their usual methods to get involved in another area, in a place completely unknown to them. Most of the artists accepted the challenge of descending from the fast-paced world of contemporary art to enter the “waiting” periods (attese) of ceramics and to bend to its needs. Free from the constraints of technique, they propose works that the real connoisseurs of ceramics often define as “sheer madness.”
The “madness” of these proposals puts the dynamics of experimentation into action, causing artists and ceramists to make adjustments and adaptations. This is the aspect that interests us the most and that is the fundamental feature of our project. In this way, the virtuosity of the centuries-old ceramic techniques is adapted to ensure the successful outcome of the efforts to create extreme works. The ceramics laboratories involved must utilise all their know-how and sometimes upsetting and even overcoming it, finding new solutions to deal with unforeseen circumstances. On the other hand, the artists from the world of contemporary art, where ideas often prevail over technical skill, must deal with the difficulties arising from their proposals and often agree to make changes.
One of the extraordinary aspects of this cooperation is in fact the great willingness of the ceramics laboratory to consider these proposals. When Getulio Alviani, a leading figure in the programmed and kinetic art of the 1960s and 1970s, suggested to create at least one of the “polygons with progressive sides inserted in a circle,” that usually he builds in other materials, in ceramics, Sandro Lorenzini accepted the challenge and even raised the stakes: “we’ll make three.” For Alviani, this was not a “crazy” request but certainly at the limits of the possible or, as he says, of the impossible. In fact, those who are familiar with materials know quite well what it means to create a one millimetre thick sheet of ceramics that’s more than one metre wide and one metre long. Ceramics is a fragile material, with its own life based on what are often unpredictable laws and dynamics. A material certainly not very willing to acquiesce to the maniacal rigour of Getulio Alviani and perhaps more flexible to Kristian Hornsleth informal manipulation.
Hornsleth had already been invited to create a work of art, together with La Casa dell’Arte, for the 1st edition of the Biennale. Subsequently, he continued to enhance his contact with clay that he used to produce dozens of works for other exhibitions. For the 2nd edition of the Biennale the artist offers the city his gilded monsters as an ironic warning against what is certainly a widespread but cultureless prosperity, as he says: “Wealth without culture.”
The same relationship was established with the Korean artist Soo-Kyung Lee (I Biennal, II Biennal). At the 1st Biennale, Soo-Kyung Lee had asked Annamaria Pacetti of Studio Ernan Design to make her own interpretation of traditional Korean decorations and stories on vases made in Albisola in order to create a link capable of uniting the two traditions. At a subsequent exhibition in Korea, the artist presented the video filmed at the Studio Ernan while Annamaria Pacetti made those decorations. Soo-Kyung Lee was invited to the 2nd edition of the Biennale to further develop this series of contacts and relationships. On this occasion, she met a dozen families from Savona and Albisola. She asked them which ceramic plates were particularly important for their family history and the reason for their choice. The stories were filmed and will be presented during the exhibition. Soo-Kyung Lee will use the copies of the plates, made over the last year by some Albisola ceramics laboratories, during the inauguration of the Biennale to serve Korean food to the public. Like Alviani, Soo-Kyung Lee had never worked with clay, but only considered it within the framework of a project.
This is a common approach to many other artists who put the accent on the design of the work rather than on its actual execution.
Olu Oguibe was invited to the 2nd edition of the Biennale to play two roles: as a curator and as an artist. As an artist, being familiar with materials, he wanted to work directly with the clay, modelling the more than 100 statuettes of his chessboard and painting an enormous mural on ceramic tiles. The impact of his large installation also goes beyond the material used. In fact, this monument-sized installation is a reflection about the “powerful leaders of the earth” depicted on tiles while they play chess with the destinies of the world. A reference to the 1st edition of the Biennale which opened on the days that, only 40 kilometres away, the G8 in Genoa was the setting for violent social conflicts (July 21st, 2001).
The desire to mix the cards and upset the stability of roles and fixed tasks, reflects the new and faster dynamics of change and readjustment in the contemporary world. In particular, the desire to contaminate contemporary art with ceramics and vice versa, is the underlying basis of this evolutionary project that, for this reason, we entitled “Biennale of Ceramics — in Contemporary Art.”

Text published in the catalogue of the 2nd Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art, Attese, Albisola (Italy), 2003.