(More) Communicating Vases

Beppe Finessi

If anything will save us, it will be beauty”, so Ettore Sottsass used to tell us young architects as we listened open-mouthed to what he had to say. And so, after only really admiring functional stools and cutlery for years, we began to think that other objects were also meaningful and worthy of our admiration. And after realising that a flower’s beauty is absolutely necessary, we soon (or rather not too late) came to understand (thanks for everything, dear Ettore. From the Agitated One) that a flower vase is just as important as other (only apparently) more invaluable tools. After all, there would be no other way of explaining why so many of the greatest modern and contemporary designers have taken on this particular type of article, which, like so few others, actually represents a credible part of the entire history of design (on a par with the service station in the case of the history of architecture or a fireplace for interior design or the eternal issue of the rainbow for the visual arts).
So, in order to take another look at a small slice of that history, let’s review the work carried out not so long ago at the 3rd Biennial: Andrea Branzi, who showed obvious mastery in giving shape to little domestic narratives, poised between Fontana and Melotti, envisaging just the right setting for stories full of sweet scents and perfumes (Intrecci); Franco Raggi, who interpreted a bunch of flowers as a set of individual elements, thereby bringing them all to the fore by allocating them just the right amount of space, setting them out a long a Table Bridge; Stefano Giovannoni, who devised sophisticated proportions and colours, adding to his already widely acknowledged skills as the (commercial) King Midas of design a certain unexpected elegance (Lullaby); his old partner, Guido Venturini, a free spirit always allowing himself the time to air his thoughts, flexed his muscles without forgetting to put a smile on our faces (Fioraio); Marco Romanelli e Marta Laudani, who evoked local tradition by proposing an image “evidently” referring to the quality of manufacture (Evidentemente fatto a mano);
Jurgen Bey who out did himself by designing a vase actually incorporating its own packaging after studying centuries-old decorative traditions and opening up windows which had never been there before (Vase Cupboard Indian View); and then there were the young designers, is Laarman (who treated the vase is an object capable of holding other things, transforming it into a vacuum cleaner, Crossbreed), Morgan Maggiolini (who stuck some rings into a bag of soil to establish their new uses, (Radical) and Giovanni Occhipinti (who contrasted the fragility of a flower against a container, which looked like the head of a drill Vaso per un’unica rosa), having in common (blessed youth!) a clear-cut and openly-avowed dose of provocation. Last but not least, the artists Soo-Kyung Lee and Shimabuku, who, in their own different ways, studied the traditions of their own home lands to transform vases into something else, objects for accommodating (in the form of drawing/writing) ancient stories (Translated Vases) or objects for performing other actions, such as even fishing (La pesca dei polpi).
Which takes us to the present day and this 4th Biennial carefully programmed to study this type of object, so often the focus of attention in both art and design, proving that there is always a different way of doing the same thing. We have Lorenzo Damiani and his familiar (and now proverbial) ability to overturn even our most obvious, everyday certainties: the beauty of a flower can be re-thought and even become virtual (Digital Flowers). And Marco Ferreri, whose work has for some time now clearly reached a high degree of maturity and always takes the form of carefully measured, effective and always intelligent signs: he has come up with his own new rereading of models already studied by Roberto Sambonet and Joe Colombo, to which he has added a chromatic study in mathematical progressions which might appeal to Getulio Alviani (3x1). And then there is Donata Paruccini, increasingly skilled and successful, who for some time now has always managed to seem normal, which for her means silently working towards perfection and envisaging a soft dialogue between water, flower and vase by means of an almost Zen (Pluvio) project/line of thinking.
Paolo Ulian, the new master of Italian design and a true thoroughbred, whose every action verges on perfection, has here actually “doubled up” to work on two very different projects, one clearly sculptural, a virtuoso combination of form and function (Rosae), the other material/productive, using different tools to work on identical vases composed of layers of coloured clay, thereby obtaining a theory of constantly different objects and writing a new story along the never-too-frequently practised lines of “diversified series” (Emersi).
And, of course, not forgetting another great maestro, Alessandro Mendini, who has ever has outdone himself by moving beyond the (his) catalogue, offering us dreamlike soap bubbles set forever in ceramics, an age-old material (Tre sfere), after adding some truly precious finishing touches.
And, after casting a knowing smile at Denis Santachiara Copernican gesture (Qualc’uno), our maestro, Corrado Levi, who has always adopted one of the many approaches open to him (somebody has actually counted them and discovered he has 18 different ways of designing), has this time adopted a pinball approach to paradox, humour and illusion, elaborating upon his stylistic gestures with both art and design: he will forever be remembered for designing a vase that does not even exist (Flower).

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.