Changing the world with a flower vase

Roberto Costantino

The role of the Albisola Biennial of Ceramics
During the 20th century Filippo Tommaso Marinetti founded the Free Republic of Arts in the Albisola area, Nicolaj Diulgheroff designed a house-factory and lovely tea set for Tullio d'Albisola, while Bruno Munari created tin books and imaginary animals made of majolica. Here, along the Ligurian Sea, Arturo Martini miniaturized sculpture to immortalise Madonnas and bathers in the form of valuable ornaments designed for Manlio Trucco, while the Record-breaking National Futurist Poet Farfa prototyped beakers in the shape of bolts and Ivos Pacetti created ceramic models of gasmasks. Again in Albisola, Lucio Fontana opened up space in the ground through holes and cuts, Piero Manzoni discovered and started using kaolin or china clay - a white ceramic ingredient - to paint Achrome pictures on bed sheets, while Guy Debord focused on Architecture sauvage in Le Jardin d’Albisola.
Yet again in Albisola in the 1950s in conjunction with Pinot Gallizio, Wifredo Lam, Eliseo Salino and Giovanni Poggi among others, Asger Jorn promoted “the strange and chaotic object, an expression of human desire”, which decades later was gently incorporated and absorbed in design culture, starting with archaic and dysfunctional Global Tools followed by the “liquid” and “apparently superfluous design” of those generations working with the 4th Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art.

The Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art
 After 1989 a considerable number of Biennials of Contemporary Art started happening in lots of cities in Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa and Australia. This phenomenon was brought about by globalisation and connectedness, which brought local culture back to the fore. This kind of “localism” is a far cry from what the word meant in the past (isolated provincial towns relatively closed in terms of their culture and economy) and actually brings together the distinctive traits of related places and communities through new phenomena, which, as already mentioned, globalisation and cultural, economic and social interconnection generate and support on an international scale.
The phenomenon of Biennials allows communities to invent their own cultural ventures, forms of organisation and economic models, which create a new kind of cosmopolitan localism promoting innovative production and consumption systems and expressing a fresh desire for new ideas.
The Biennial model was adopted in 2001 by the Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art held in the Albisola area, with a view to bringing together and mixing traditional material ceramic culture with a culture of design, artistry and digital craftsmanship.

A translocal network for Design-Driven-Ceramics
The 4th Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art promotes a trans-local network, which is actively involved in organising interdisciplinary and multi-territorial work. This network is focused around and managed from Albisola in Liguria and composed of the Attese Association_Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art, local and territorial institutions in Liguria, cultural institutions, European art foundations and museums, universities, ceramics and rapid prototyping companies, paint shops, model-makers/sculptors, computer model designers, model designers, lathe operators, decorators, silkscreen printers and guilders, iron workers, woodcutters, hand weavers and other kinds of old-fashioned craftsmen, critics and historians of the applied arts and contemporary art, leading designers and artists of international renown.
The 4th Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art has developed its own network of relations, diluting local identity through the interconnection between different disciplinary skills and production resources to form a fluid and edifying network extending from Albisola to north-west, north-east and central Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Belgium, France, Finland, Morocco and Brazil.
The 4th Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art initially had to cope with the tricky historical and structural situation in Albisola, but it actually managed to revive the priceless artistic image of this small capital of 20th-century ceramics. In actual fact, Albisola is, on one hand, a simulacrum of a land lacking in earth and colour - a territory completely bereft of the most fundamental ceramic materials, which have not been produced here since the 1950s and are now imported from other production centres; on the other hand Albisola is an action space, historically characterised by its legendary artistic past composed of a repertoire of fascinating stories and innovative iconography, self-reflective awareness and exceptional relations with ceramics, which, here on site, show how apt they are for 20th-century European avant-garde ways and methods.
Drawing on all this wealth and fragility, the 4th Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art set itself the goal of constructing a future for artistic craftsmanship, reviving and updating age-old production and cultural exchanges, which, out of material necessity and intellectual curiosity, characterise the Albisola ceramics industry both inter-regionally and transnationally. In order to achieve this, the 4th Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art began investing in an edifying translocal network devoted to design or, in other words, to creating and prototyping works of ceramics, incorporating and combining the intangible assets of design and contemporary art with the material qualities of the earth.

The tangible material of Ceramics and intagible nature of art and design
The ceramic objects produced by the 4th Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art allow us to study those unusual and outmoded classification distinctions conventionally separating art objects from design objects. So, whereas a hundred years ago thanks to Marcel Duchamp and R. Mutt, bland objects became part of art museums - taking up the symbolic space vacated by sculpture -, nowadays it is if these objects had once again left the premises to sculpturally inhabit our homes in form of sofas, rugs and comfortable bathrooms.
Sculpture - “the dead language” Arturo Martini focused on -, now that it has nothing solemn about it, spreads its fragmented and reproducible aura through the superfluous and precious world of ceramic everyday objects and seems to be pointing out that “art is a small thing”, as the Florentine composer Giuseppe Chiari wrote in chalk on the walls of the Venice Biennial in the 1970s.
These sculptures - ceramic objects and design prototypes inhabiting domestic space - look to the primeval tricks of deforming mirrors acted out, for example, in the form of Marcel Duchamp’s obscene Fountain and Meret Oppenheim’s seductive Le Déjeuner en fourrure (Lunch in Fur), and they do so to revise the object’s symbolic nature, suspending its utility and that self-reflection which their fine ancestors had set about tackling with such enthusiasm.
Nowadays designers and artists, rather like Leon Tolstoy’s horse, Cholstomer, or Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, want us to see the world afresh, and the project promoted by the 4th Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art actually plays on the liberation of possible forms and identities, striving to show us what objects can actually be.
In particular, the artists and designers invited to take part in the 4th Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art were asked to tackle the programme slogan “Changing the world with a flower vase”, as a way of emphasising how art and design can intervene on small things but also bring about the kind of major changes caused, for example, by a butterfly flapping its wings.

Testo pubblicato nel catalogo della IV Biennale di Ceramica nell'Arte Contemporanea “Cambiare il mondo con un vaso di fiori”, Corraini Edizioni, Mantova (Italia), 2010.