A thousand flowers in full bloom

Francesca Pasini

Changing the world with a flower vase - so Roberto Costantino writes - 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”. Changes which have deep roots, so profound that Lévi-Strauss tell us, “the ancient Egyptians used to say my vase meaning my things and, when we talk about compensation for any kind of damage, we ourselves always say “all breakages must be paid for”,” originating from the idea of breaking a vase or something similar (C. Lévi-Strauss, La Potière jalouse, Paris, 1985).
So a Biennial of Ceramics devoted to “flower vases” should be seen as a study of everyday aesthetic sensibility, which, for thousands of years, has provided a backdrop to the domestic construction of a home, connecting it to a modern-day vision of creative artistry.
It is particularly significant to note that the network of exhibition locations for the 4th Biennial of Ceramics also includes the Pier Luigi and Natalina Remotti Foundation and city of Camogli, which is not far from Albisola, one of the most famous Italian ceramic art production centres. This sets up a special kind of interaction between the local and global, not just in terms of the present-day system of information and economic exchange, but also in relation to the all-encompassing symbolic scope across all civilisations of ceramics, which has played a key role both in the manufacture of ordinary objects and as a primeval form of artistic expression.
Quite apart from the striking dialectics between civilisations, the fact that the Biennial is stopping off at Camogli helps focus attention on interaction between culture and the territory.
Italy is a country in which artistic tradition is extremely widespread, but nowadays a real effort needs to be made not just to hold onto its historical heritage but also to promote new lines of research. It is very interesting that contemporary culture programmes are not just being developed in major towns and cities but also in small boroughs: this is a way of maintaining contact with the great history of the past and present, which today, more than ever, can visit all the thousands of boroughs which have helped create an artistic territory unique around the world.
The reason why I am emphasising that it is more important today than ever before is because modern technology, which connects us to the entire world, allows us to live “in the province” without feeling isolated or cut off.
The Italian provinces have their own specific natural beauty and wealth of culture, which could be an attribute of the very highest order, provided we manage to combine the know-how coming from technology with that marking the period of great cultural progress we are living in.
The gamble is there for the taking: either we settle for a very simplistic popular media-based level or we focus on the potential for cultural learning and understanding characterising the present-day system of generating thought. Art cannot stake everything on the constant quest for new languages for representing the world and changes, so it is particularly important to create forms of presentation advancing at the same rate as research. This will allow it not just to become an aesthetic means of territorial/communication dynamics, but, above all, a stimulus for looking beyond the extremely powerful surface of global communication, possibly providing us with more elaborate and emotionally involving interpretations.
The Pier Luigi and Natalina Remotti Foundation, Borough of Camogli and 4th Biennial of Ceramics have, consequently, reached an extremely intriguing crossroads; on one hand there is immediate interaction with local production of the highest quality, and on the other there is an opportunity to take it beyond its territorial and cultural boundaries.
Finally, a small town like Camogli will find itself at the focus of history and the present, and the people who come to see “the flower vases” for changing the world will have two keys for interpreting these objects: tradition and innovation. We all know what a flower vase is, but we all want the flowers inside the vase to continue to bloom every season. So it is our hope that a thousand flowers bloom amidst art and design to create new forms of cultural and social communication.

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.