The vase in all its state

Chantal Prod'Hom

A noble and sacred receptacle or a trivial and strictly functional container, down the centuries vases have constantly and unobtrusively accompanied our actions and gestures. The title chosen by Roberto Costantino for this 4th Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art, Cambiare il mondo con un vaso di fiori (changing the world with a flower vase), sets the tone.
This kind of statement can act as a guiding principle and stimulate all kinds of creative possibilities, including respect for tradition - vases have always been used for holding, amongst other things, flowers - and the potential power to open up our world, although this idea is also adorned with a good dose of Utopia.
This apparent contradiction - between tradition and the power to bring about change - certainly carries with it the kind of ferment which was required to germinate all the ideas thought-up by the people involved in this event. The rich palette of works on display testifies to the relevance of this theme in an age like ours, in which this particular receptacle might even be seen as an obsolete and relatively un-stimulating accessory, bearing in mind that the history of ceramics is chock-full of wonderful vase designs of every imaginable kind, used for all kinds of purposes and belonging to every possible stylistic category.
We are obliged to point out that the creators responded magnificently to this proposal, each replying in their own way to the appeal for change through unusual and intriguing interpretations, which actually shift the very meaning of vases and are often technically ingenious. The vision of vases offered by the selected artists and designers provides their own vision of the world.
They have all rethought the object’s very identity and have used it to reassess how we relate to its usage and employment.
From my point of view, one peculiar fact determines the symbolic value of this object: a vase is a container which receives and offers.
 A vase receives and accommodates the flowers it displays for us to behold and for the well-being of the home. It is the agent involved in this exchange and constantly enhances the ephemeral, organic materials it holds, temporarily placing them on display so that nature does not make them disappear. A vase, exploiting the stability and permanence of the ceramic elements out of which it is made, renews its own purpose and, whenever the opportunity arises, it welcomes a new stem, a new branch or a new floral composition.
The creations designed for the 4th Biennial of Ceramics get us involved in this interaction between flowers and their container.
Certain designs strive to rethink the physical relationship between a plant and its receptacle (Alessandro Biamonti, Fernando and Humberto Campana, Florence Doléac, Martì Guixé, Donata Paruccini or Denis Santachiara).
Others are proposing new constructions and geometric forms characterising with utmost precision the very shape and design of a vase and how it relates to the surface on which it stands (Paolo Deganello, Alexis Georgacopoulos and Adrien Rovero).
Another set of vases tackles the issue of the extension and development of form through a multiplication of distinctive elements (Linde Burkhardt, Marco Ferreri, Alessandro Mendini and the Vasi Rosae designed by Paolo Ulian).
A group of creations actually tells us stories (Hugo Meert) and happily manipulates historical (Andrea Branzi), mythological (Vedovamazzei) and social (Luca Vitone) references, while other designers have chosen to hide or transform one of the two characters involved in the dialogue by eliminating real flowers (Lorenzo Damiani, Simone Berti and Alberto Viola) or even the vase itself (Corrado Levi)!
The mudac in Lausanne is particularly pleased to be able to draw attention to this spectacular revival in contemporary ceramic design by presenting this 4th Biennial in Albisola.
Ever since our museum was first founded, back when it was still called Musée des arts décoratifs de la Ville de Lausanne, ceramics have always been one of the strong points in its busy schedule of temporary exhibitions. The emphasis placed on the wide range of local and Swiss products has allowed the general public to become familiar with the technical and stylistic developments characterising the last 30 years. The museum’s collection of ceramics, relatively small in quantity, provides an extremely measured and concentrated display of these products. Acquisitions after the opening of the new mudac in 2000 have clearly focused on works by Swiss artists. This decision was partly dictated by a widely accepted observation: training, apprenticeship and practice have become much more international. For their part, Swiss designers have their own original and highly pertinent take on the latest technical treatments of ceramics and, for some years now, have been happily exploring new topics and approaches flourishing on the international scene with their own notable insight. We would like to refer to, for example, projects based on “narrative” design, work on mixing different techniques, particularly the method encompassing the transfer of images, creations viewed as environments or installations, objects which probe the limits of the fragility of this material, and all those interpretations which display - and sometimes call into question - the full range of purposes of the traditional stylistic repertoire of this age-old technique.
The travelling exhibition of the 4th Biennial of Albisola has allowed the production of numerous creations specially designed for this event. Events like this are rare and offer an unusual and carefully targeted overview of the work of both artists and designers, who are generously given the opportunity to create works in conjunction with other professionals working in this field.
Our special thanks go to Roberto Costantino for getting mudac involved in this enterprise and also to all the artists and designers who have taken up this challenge with enthusiasm, curiosity and creativity.
The new “scores” which the creators of this Biennial have provided for vases are also musical scales capable of changing, in a certain way, the music in the surrounding world, both near and far.

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.