Ceramics and general intellect

Roberto Costantino

The many different subjects involved in the Biennale’s constituting process shared the objective of embracing ceramics and guiding it through the expressiveness of numerous fields of action so as to materialise the “general intellect,” the so-called common asset symbolised by the malleable clay and by the community that formed around it.
Attese, the Biennale’s founding organisation, has taken action to bring together and ensure the co-existence of the multiple and individual interests, for which this plurality of subjects has found a common ground. This has led to the creation of a network of institutional relationships and an overall field of action that has involved public and private as well as local and international institutions, and schools, associations and artisan companies in the area. These include 14 ceramic laboratories that worked actively with artists, curators, ceramists, musicians, composers, architects, writers, art historians and photographers.
Attese developed and organised a network of social relationships and intercultural activities with the cooperation of all those involved, while the Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art acted as a new form of aggregation, both inside and outside the territory as well as locally and globally, aimed at developing the world of ceramics’ social and cultural capital.
When we think of ceramics as the distinctive identity of a territory we must think of its features.
The charm of Savona’s ceramic district, in its intense relationships between individuals, companies and history of the area that generates identities, values, shared knowledge, flexibility and efficiency, is that “naturalistically delimited and historically determined socio-territorial entity of a community of persons and population of companies,” as stated by the economist Giacomo Becattini.
Since its beginnings, Albisola and Savona ceramics has defined its own identity, acknowledged as excellent over the centuries, through a historical process of cultural hybridisation determined by the openness to trade exchange and cultural negotiations on global and local levels.
This excellent world-famous local typical product emerges historically as a significant example of the way in which a culture can absorb “other” cultures, through a process of decontextualisation and recontextualisation of cultural productions, according to its own language and discussion that reproduces the “foreign” signs, re-elaborating their original meaning.
The Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art, through the free exchange of intercultural communication that it created by offering the hospitality and the collaboration of local craftsmen, is keenly focused on that renewed “creolisation of the world” that is otherwise prefigured and heralded by the generalised mobility that today different cultures around the world are subjected to.
All those who made ceramics a common factor considered the hospitality offered by the Biennale in this area as a form of richness and social and cultural enrichment.
Ceramics allows us to see art in its real production conditions, first and foremost in the factory, and in the local companies hosting the artists to work together with craftsmen. In a televisual era, where everything is seen from a distance and art tends to circulate like a sophisticated asset, immaterial as financial capital, ceramics brings us back to everyday life, to a low materialism that extends between its extremes, i.e. from the plates of tradition to the urinals of Marcel Duchamp made in fact from terracotta.
Thus, the experience through which contemporary art embraces the reality of work and its places, is one of the twisting paths taken by this Biennale and is the link, even on a historical level, between two cities, Albisola and Vado Ligure, united by Savona.
In a factory city of the 20th century like Vado Ligure, the greatest Italian sculptor of the first half of last century, Arturo Martini (to whom this Biennale has dedicated studies and an exhibition of majolica pieces), had the opportunity to create his pieces in those working places, the companies of refractory clay, thanks to the cooperative efforts of the companies and the workers of a blue-collar city. While radical artists like Asger Jorn, Lucio Fontana, Pinot Gallizio, Piero Manzoni and Wifredo Lam, have come through Albisola, interacting with its work places, i.e. the majolica terracotta factories, to promote through a festive celebration a generalised critique of the material conditions of existence of the period’s society of workers.
Arturo Martini would have wanted “to make sculptures like women make ravioli.” With regard to the Biennale, a myriad of subjects “put their hands on pasta” to create a space of action that embraces the social mobility of free intercultural exchanges.
The international exhibition and the accompanying publication present the results of the last two years of activity.

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