The local ceramics tradition and the globalization of contemporary art

1st International Meeting

October 19/20, 2002, Priamàr Fortress, Savona

Directed by Tiziana Casapietra and Roberto Costantino

Olu Oguibe, Game (particular)

Giorgina Bertolino, Tiziana Casapietra, Mauro Castellano, Raphael Chikukwa, Cecilia Chilosi, Francesca Comisso, Roberto Costantino, Wang Du, Rainer Ganahl, Nelson Herrera Ysla, Manray Hsu, Linda Kaiser, Young Chul Lee, Corrado Levi, Gianfranco Maraniello, Olu Oguibe, Anne-Claire Schumacher

Rainer Ganahl (in collaboration with Ghazi Al Delaimi), Iraq dialogues

Roberto Costantino
Founder and Artistic Director, Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art

An immediate characteristic is apparent when contextualising this 2nd edition of the Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art within a broad frame embracing the usual international expositions. Frequently, curatorial projects take shape through the juxtapositioning of pre-existing works and aim at a spectacular consumption of the exhibition. This Biennale is instead founded on original production. Even though at the present time there is no visible exhibition, the Biennale is actually in progress in the form of workshops.
The preliminary features of the Biennale include the hospitality offered to the international artists and their cooperation with local manufacturers and schools, an initiative designed to reinforce young peoples’ sense of belonging to an authentic local culture in an era of “coca-colonization.” The exposition, the customary form of Biennale consumption, will be the result of multiple experiences and a temporary conclusion ahead of the third edition.
The reality of labour and the places in which it is performed in relation to art is one of the strands running through this Biennale and in fact represents its concrete link with two local communities, Albisola and Vado. During the course of the twentieth century, the artistic avant-garde encountered Albisola through its majolica factories. A situation that was similar in certain ways was also to be found in Vado Ligure, the factory town where Arturo Martini was able to create his terracotta works thanks to the collaboration of the fireclay workers and manufacturers. Places that were functional by definition were thus able to contribute to the creation of non-functional works, artist ceramics or terracotta pieces that expressed liberation from the demands of function.
The sponsoring of the Biennale by the “A. De Mari” Foundation Cassa di Risparmio di Savona, the towns of Savona, Vado Ligure and the Albisolas allows us to highlight the convergence of two trends sharing the same objective: a critique of the material conditions of existence as articulated by art in the ‘50s, the heroic season of this district. In Albisola, Asger Jorn assumed the role of spokesman for that radical criticism of art bartered in the form of goods that is founded on a generalised critique of a society founded on labour conducted by the Situationist International (leaving aside the watered down interpretations, Jorn represents one of the most radical adversaries of modern art and its dominant values). In Vado, instead, in the wake of Arturo Martini, the hegemony of the working class and its values was to lead to the constitution of the Vado Prize devoted to the world of labour (a prize which this edition of the Biennale intends to revive and dedicate to Arturo Martini). The Vado Prize was the fruit of another strand of opponents to modern art that originated from the editorials published in Rinascita by Roderigo de Castiglia, alias Palmiro Togliatti who refuted avant-garde art as a bourgeois phenomenon far removed from the masses.
A significant part of this Biennale is devoted to an examination of the work of Arturo Martini in Vado and Asger Jorn in Abisola. In fact there will be an exhibition of Martini’s small-scale ceramics at Villa Groppallo, Vado Ligure and a series of studies, most of them previously unpublished, regarding Jorn’s house at Brucciati, a remarkable example of architecture composed of the residues of the productive cycle. To date only one such study has appeared, a text by Guy Debord written in Albisola in 1972 and published in a very rare art edition by Fratelli Pozzo of Turin (Italy).
Departing from these historical notions, the Biennale brings art back to the factories. As if in an attempt to oppose the dominant values, it diverts it to a place in which its very contemporaneity is questioned by the local ceramics tradition. The foundations of the Biennale consist of the cooperation between artist and craftsman. This relationship also facilitates the rejuvenation of the ceramics tradition, preventing it from falling into the trap of folklore. The tie between the artist and the factory and the “making of” the works of art in ceramics will be documented in the catalogue of the Biennale through the presentation of the projects submitted by the artists and the photographs recording the various phases in their realisation, all within the ambit of a valorization of design culture.
Associating the work of art with the world of labour is a no mean task: just think that the work that is usually regarded as having inaugurated modern art is the ready made of Marcel Duchamp. The first work of conceptual art, Duchamp’s urinal is a clear demonstration of how the reality of labour is far removed from the usual interpretations of contemporary art. Conducting art through ceramics instead allows us to take an opposing point of view, to see Duchamp’s urinal as a product of labour that has been appropriated by art, an object by chance is also made of ceramics.
The anchoring of art in the world of labour is the humus in which the Biennale is rooted, it is a history to be reinterpreted in relation to the present. However, this event is intended, above all, to be a knife plunged into the future, to use an expression coined by the sociologist Bauman. In order to come to terms with the future, the Biennale re-territorializes art; it leads art back to these places so as to redevelop their reality in a glocal reality of flux and cultural exchange.
As this Biennale appears to be based on the hijacking of identities and symbols, the concept of “détournement” developed by the members of the Situationist International may prove to be useful. The avant-garde’s entrance within the factory was a form of hijacking/détournement of the manufacturers. In the case of the Biennale, this détournement corresponds to the hijacking of the artists invited to test themselves against a material and a history foreign to them, ceramics having long been absent from the great international events. However, the project itself has been subjected to a form of détournement, through the constitution of a team of international curators who have led the Biennale in unexpected directions.
We start out aware of the rarity of ceramics on the international scene and of the alternative values it is capable of expressing. The objective is that of making of this artistic and entrepreneurial district a point of convergence between cultural and social capital, departing from the connection between culture and the synergy between territorial bodies and companies that is increasingly necessary in terms of the planning of the cultural, economic and social development of this area.
It would not be possible to stage a Biennale of this kind, an event of glocal proportions, without the present-day means of communication and the space-time compression offered by the Internet. Ceramics today is a patrimony rich in ethical and moral values, but this alone is not sufficient to support a Biennale. As Young Chul Lee says, we have terracotta and Internet. These are instruments with which we can thrust that knife into a future that does justice to both art and labour.

El Anatsui, Digital River

Tiziana Casapietra
Founder and Artistic Director, Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art


As the undeserved myth of Ligurian inhospitality is so deeply rooted, I would like to begin by drawing your attention to the embrace of our mountains and the open expanse of our sea, but also to this harsh, rugged land from which over the centuries countless Ligurians have emigrated, a land from which the controversial figure of Christopher Columbus once set sail. Just as our farmers do with this terraced land, I would like to sweeten and debunk this perceived harshness and following the example set by the sea to open myself to our guests by speaking in English.

The story behind the project

When, in the summer of 2000, Roberto Costantino, Danilo Trogu and I began to invite artists to come and work in Danilo’s workshop, all we had to offer was our enthusiasm, the clay that firstly Danilo and subsequently Tino Canepa put at their disposition, a place to sleep at our friend Adelina Robotti’s and a meal at the café Pilar. Despite of this situation, the artists we invited, all accustomed to being fought over by the most important international artistic institutions, enthusiastically embraced the project, the places and the people who welcomed them. Moreover, many of the artists who accepted our invitations to participate in the first edition of the Biennial have since returned of their own accord on a number of occasions to develop works for other exhibitions in London, in New York, etc.
After some time, we have enjoyed the opportunity of working with local institutions such as the councils of firstly Albisola Superiore and then Albissola Marina and finally the city of Geneva to where the first edition of the Biennale migrated in the June of 2002. The tiny seed planted with the first edition of the Biennale has now taken root and grown into a sturdy tree, perhaps one of the olives from the Ligurian hillsides. Its branches have stretched out to embrace increasing numbers of ceramics factories and the institutions that today support the Biennale and without which all this would not have been possible.
The invited artists are asked to establish a relationship with ceramics by spending time in our workshops and developing works together with the local craftsmen. All of these works are produced locally over the course of more than a year, during which time the area witnesses a coming and going of artists. The Biennale is not, therefore, reduced to a final exposition, but above all identifies with the period of “gestation.”
For most of the invited artists, ceramics is a completely unknown medium. Once in contact with the material many of them are initially intimidated by the way it has to be manipulated. Clay, in fact, imposes certain restrictions, it requires times and there is always the risk that the piece may be broken. These are timescales and methods very different to those of contemporary art with its ceaseless shifting from one city to another, very different to the frenzied consumption of life, of artists and of works of art. I believe that it is this very difference that is so appealing to our guests. Accustomed as they are to working in the world’s largest, most chaotic cities, they arrive in this spot on the Mediterranean coast and respectfully put themselves on the line.


Lately, we have been witnessing a wave of collective insanity on a global scale and for me this project has taken on even more radical connotations. We are living in the breathless, raging world of the third millennium. We are caught up in a perennial state of inebriating confusion and tragically we appear to have lost the ability to reflect. Diversity simply irritates us, distracts us from our mindless rush and we begin to fear all that is different. However, the velocity that is the fruit of globalisation also has positive connotations if it has given us the potential for rapid and almost cost-free global communications via the Internet and has brought you here today after flights of a matter of just hours. These are, of course, still privileges restricted to a minority: while it is true that mobility is easy for capital and information (albeit only the information we feel like divulging), as far as human beings are concerned, it still the privilege of a very restricted elite. For every action there is a reaction and mobility at all costs has fed a sense of anxiety and precariousness from which the perception of constant threat derives. Fear makes us obtuse and even allows us to believe that scientific warfare conducted with intelligent bombs, surgical offensives and futuristic weapons can truly eliminate the source of our anxieties, arising from sudden changes and diversity.


Our project, responds to this situation by proposing its own “human scale”: a Biennale organised with minimal resources, the development of which involves true encounters between human beings. I like to think of a kind of peace being established here through ceramics. While the violence of the G8 summit was being played out in Genoa last year, on the 21st of July 2001 we were inaugurating the first edition of the Biennale, which we subtitled The Happy Face of Globalisation because we would like to believe that a different world is possible, one in which we begin to give a voice to culture.
This Biennale is thus meant as a kind of experiment in which we hypothesise a different world. We are flanking the raging pace of our contemporary world with longer time-scales, those of ceramics and intellectual reflection. We are hypothesizing a heterogeneous world in which alternatives and diverse and perhaps discordant or dissonant voices may be heard. It is only through being open to confrontation that we can hope to grow and evolve. Thanks to ceramics, this region thus becomes a centre of international discussion regarding respect for local traditions but also for all diversities. In this way ceramics becomes the stimulus for a wider discourse embracing respect and therefore peace.

Sohela Farokhi, Dast

Olu Oguibe
Artist and indipendent curator, New York

The matter of the artist’s hand

In his essay, Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction Walter Benjamin extolled the wonders of print technology, including photography and the printing press, as the ultimate subversion of the cult of originality in art, and the foundations of bourgeois taste and hegemony. Benjamin’s argument might seem to hold some truth because a century earlier photography had effectively taken portraiture away from the commandeering nobility into the hands and homes of the masses in a way that painting never could accomplish and photographic reproduction it seemed had substituted mechanics for the artist’s hand. In effect the mechanics of photographic reproduction had freed image-making from the fallibility and tyranny of the artist’s hand. But did it, really? Did photography remove the human agent from image making, or indeed extinguish our desire for the artist’s hand? It was clear even at the beginning, in the mid-19th century, that it did not replace human agency in image-making or remove the artist’s hand. The camera did not operate itself without human intervention and control. Someone had to set up the apparatus, arrange the subject, shoot the image at a particular angle and in a particular mood, and then, process the raw image with sufficient room, always, to manipulate or mediate it “by hand.”
Mechanical reproduction may have rescued image making from the decadence of late 18th century painting, but it neither replaced the artist’s hand nor assuaged the desire for evidence of human agency in art. In the early 20th century a new movement appeared that contributed once more to the revival of the idea that art could do without the artist’s hand. Conceptualism propagated the notion that the mind is more important in the artistic process than manufacture, in other words that the artist no longer has to make or fabricate in order to create art, and could do so competently through the agency of the will. Far more than photography or mechanical reproduction had done, conceptualism appeared to have finally driven the nail into the coffin of art as the West knew it. It has been nearly a hundred years since Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel of 1913. In that period we have seen numerous manifestations of the new freedoms that conceptualism brought to art. These freedoms also brought countless controversies with them, the latest of which include the unmade bed exhibited at the Tate Gallery in London, or the neon lights that won an artist the prestigious Turner Prize a short while ago. These latest manifestations of conceptual art are, of course, no more controversial than Duchamp’s pieces were at the turn of the 20th century, which might lead some to argue that not much has changed, after all. The elevation of the artist from artisan to intellectual has not revolutionized the world. One may then ask, have all the years and controversies of conceptual art and mechanical reproduction actually done very much to reduce, not to mention remove, our desire for evidence of the hand in art? One dares say, not really. The next and perhaps more important question, then, is why are we so keen on the matter of the artist’s hand? We walk into a Picasso exhibition or a Van Gogh show. We step up to the paintings and we observe the brush strokes. We observe the signatures intently. We imagine how the work might have sat on an easel; how it might have stood in the studio, how humbly it might have begun. We stare intently and we set our imagination adrift in the presumed world of the artist, insinuating ourselves into that world. Finally, when the imagination sets sail, we take ourselves through the processes and moments of the work’s creation. We walk up to an ancient or medieval monolith, or indeed a Pieta or a Henry Moore sculpture, and the first thing that comes to our mind is how it might have been hewn or cast or even carried from its place of origin to its present location. We think of the process of its manufacture: how it was made. Then, and only then, do we think of how it was conceived, or indeed what it might mean. Some will argue that we fixate on the evidence of the artist’s hand because there is a material value attached, or because it represents authenticity, because it distinguishes the real from the fake or copy and in so doing elevates it above the ordinary. But these fail to explain why we attach value to originality or singularity in the first place. What deeper meaning might it carry beyond a market value? As an artist one would argue that the artist’s hand speaks to something peculiar about creation. It speaks fundamentally to that ability which makes us peculiar among the species as creatures that also create. In his poem Good Morning, America, the great American poet Carl Sandburg pointed to the mystery of the human species, “the little two-legged joker... Man” builds machines that fly and edifices that reach for the sky and point a needle at God’s eye. Needless to say, this egotistical inclination has also brought us untold grief, as witnessed recently in the collapse of New York’s World Trade Center towers. We are the only species that aspire to divine capability. We create, and our ability to create makes us god-like. Now, there is no greater evidence of our surrogate divinity than the element of the artist’s hand, and we value whatever we create with our hands above all other things because it reminds us — it reassures us — of our likeness to the gods. The copy does not offer us this assurance, nor do occurrences in nature or the mere found object until we have moved it or changed it or repositioned it for better articulation or appreciation, until we have invested it with evidence of our presence. When we search for evidence of the artist’s hand, therefore, we search for evidence of the hand of God. It is for this reason that in spite of all predictions and declarations pronouncing it dead, painting remains alive and just as relevant today as it was in the caves of our pristine past.
This brings us to the practice of ceramics. It is my belief that hardly any other process or medium provides us with clearer evidence of the artist’s hand, or indeed the artist’s closeness to the gods, than that art which is produced with clay. Working in clay, manipulating and transforming the raw earth, that unformed and malleable, quasi-organic matter of which we were made, and turning it from its formless state into something that we recognise, takes us closest to reliving that ancient moment when, according all creation myths, we were formed from nothingness by a higher being. In the creation myths that I am familiar with in Africa, the creator gods sat down with a lump of clay like the potter sits at the wheel, and formed our earliest ancestors, and not without the fallibility that we associate with the potter at the wheel. In the Yoruba myths, Obatala, the creator god, succumbed to fatigue and drink after several days of work and began to falter at his task, creating albinos and the infirm. The Hebrew god formed the progenitors of that race from the soil of the earth into which he blew the breath of life. “The devout Persian touches his forehead to a bit of clay and bows to God,” the great Iranian architect Nader Khalili once wrote, and went on to describe how as his mother lay dying a relative brought a piece of powdered clay, and mixed it with water, and placed it between his mother’s lips as a last rite to cut her loose from the earth and set her spirit free. “Mankind is molded out of clay,” Khalili concluded, “Clay is the last substance a person should have in his mouth before death.” The artist who works in clay, therefore, works with an elemental and divine medium, and replicates the process through which, according to the ancients, all creation was made. The mark that the artist leaves on that elemental medium mirrors in all its essence, the hand of the higher principle that raised us from clay and the dust of the earth, and brought us into being.

Soo-Kyung Lee, Translated Vases

Rainer Ganahl:  What is the function of the hand of the assistant? We have a serial killer in the United States. He puts himself as a killer in the position of God and he is very skilful, performing a manual act by his hand. There are also artists who use explosives and destruction in the act of making art. To what degree could this person be considered an artist rather than a psychopath?

Olu Oguibe: What is the artist’s assistant, if not an artist?

Rainer Ganahl:  We could say the assistant’s hand is the prolongation of the hand of the artist, from a Marxist point of view...

Olu Oguibe : Some would approach the question by arguing that the hand of the artist’s assistant or pupil is only an extension of the artist’s hand. Others might argue for the assistant to be acknowledged as part of the creative process, in which case one must speak of hands, rather than one hand. Still others would argue that the assistant is like a mere mechanical extension and that what matters is the hand of the man or woman who originally conceived the work of art and guides it through whatever mechanism or assistance is necessary to realise it. The second question I cannot answer either, because the fact that that a man proclaims that he is God does not in and of itself make him a god.

Rainer Ganahl: ...But he takes on the function of..

Olu Oguibe: In many cultures god is understood as positive, as creating rather than destroying. Of course in some other cultures god does sometimes destroy as well, but a god destroys what he or she made, and I do not think that what this man is doing is that relevant to our discussion. I do not consider it art, even if there are analogies between his decision to destroy human lives and certain artistic practices that also use destruction. I have strong views about artistic practices that destroy the work of other artists or employ vandalism as a method. I really do not have much regard for them.

Cecilia Chilosi
Art historian, Albisola

The artist-craftsman relationship within the factories of Albisola in the 20th century

The fifth of June of fifty-nine / at the San Giorgio in Albissolamare / Poggi vigorously slaps / five balls of Tuscan clay / with the swift skill of the potter / From between his legs and hands emerges: a rounded pot / a square pot /  a triangular pot /  an oval pot / a zigzag pot / and he places them on a plaster plate / Asger Jorn approaches them closely / and is a witness to the great duel / He urges me on and says under his breath: “Over to you” / Here they are ready for my aggression / With nervous impetus the fingers / of both my hands massacre / they twist, fold, thump / they grip, they strangle / in a supreme impulse of creation / They appear to be empty bags of matter / but they are full of terrible spirit / to reciprocally support themselves / fully to satisfy my mind / They are no longer five discrete pots, but fused together they form a single unit / … / Poggi observes with his black eyes / and says that it still lacks a pot/ two “yeses” of approval from me and Jorn / I set the sixth pot crosswise / the base halfway out of the plaster of Paris plate / like someone arriving at the last moment / someone who resolutely throws himself forwards / Assistance in that thrust comes from its mouth / that appears to be more eloquent than the others / … / And finally the work is complete / Sincerely admiring voices echo / after the trepid silence of waiting / My spirit awaiting conquest / has opened another way for art / that I thus baptize “Whipping” / Only today am I “Ceramicist”…
Farfa, ad-libbing, at 5 in the morning – Savona, 6 June 1959.

This passage, taken from one of Farfa’s poems, is emblematic of the relationship that was established within the factory between the craftsman preparing the clay and the artist who animated it with his creative gesture. The protagonists of this episode were Giovanni Poggi, one of the doyens of Albisolan ceramics, the Danish artist Asger Jorn and Farfa (Vittorio Osvaldo Tommasini),  the Futurist poet, painter, scenographer and man of the theatre who settled in Savona in 1929. In the world of ceramics, the relationship between artist and craftsman is complementary in as much as the phases of manipulation, forming and firing require hard-earned empirical knowledge.
During the 20th century it was above the factories that supported the activities of the painters and sculptors who were shown hospitality similar to that of this Biennale. This choice also implied sacrifices. Manlio Trucco, founder and artistic director of the Fenice, where Arturo Martini worked in the ’20s, remembers in his memories the confusion created by the Trevigiano genius. Martini monopolised the craftsmen, he expected them all to be at his disposition. Their relationship was emblematic of a certain procedural method: the sculptor modelled the prototype, delegating to Trucco the production and decoration phases.
At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, it was mostly kitchenware that was being produced. These manufactures were distributed via barges, the sea being the only way that commerce could be conducted due to the problematic road conditions along the Ligurian coastline.
It was within the semi-industrial context of the production of pots that the turners, clay-men and firers who were to form the backbone of the factory system established in the 20th century learned their trades. “Bausin” aka Giuseppe Mazzotti, the founder of the firm that took his name in 1903, worked in this sector and was destined to be a leading figure in the modernisation of ceramics in the twentieth century. Mazzotti had learned ceramics techniques at Livorno and Naples and, on his return home, from the Piccone. He had then worked as a potter in the factory of Nicolò Poggi, one of the most important of the period.
In 1921, the brothers Giulio and Angelo Barile and Giuseppe Agnino founded the La Casa dell’Arte” and it was to be here that artists, letterati and poets in close contact with the Parisian world converged. The Spiga, the Alba Docilia and La Fiamma were opened immediately afterwards. Within a few years, around ten factories had begun to flank traditional ware with Deco-style pieces. This period was particularly positive for the Albisolan ceramics industry, which was represented at all the major expositions. A number of photographs taken inside La Fenice’s initial Via Colombo premises document the activity of the very young Manlio Trucco and the organization of the workshops in which the work was conducted at a constant rhythm. In the decoration department we can see the painter Antonio Vaccari, Trucco, with the bow-tie standing on the right, and four decorators hand-painting the ceramics. Other prints show the large number of female painters employed in this department and the potters at work under Trucco’s supervision. Trucco had been to Paris where he had come into contact with the Art Deco models that he introduced on his return home, giving rise to the creation of the so-called “Albisola 1925” style. In 1921 Trucco had joined the La Casa dell’Arte as artistic director, imposing his own signature on the factory’s output, while in 1922 he found the Fenice together with Cornelio Geranzani.
Immediately after the First World War, Albisola was characterised by another successful artistic trend, that of the Second Futurism. The artificer of this “revolution” was Tullio Mazzotti. He was joined by his brother Torido whose task it was to translate the drawings and the sketches of the artists into industrial designs to be applied to the production lines. Thanks to the enormous success progressively enjoyed by the Futurist ceramics, the firm came to have no less than a hundred employees.
During the Second World War, production dried up almost completely, but was revived on the cessation of hostilities. By that time may firms had closed but the potters and ceramicists who had worked for them opened a further fifteen or so within a dozen years.
A photo from 1956 shows the new Manifattura Ceramiche Minime Fratelli Pacetti (the present-day Ernan Studio design) equipped for the industrial production of general and household ware. The Pacettis were already up-to-date in 1949 and were the first in Italy to serially produce ceramics for children, the Tavola della Pupa range, with around 20 employees and three electric kilns.
Among the legendary sites of Albisolan ceramics is Pozzo Garitta, a horseshoe piazza at Albissola Marina, a place for meetings and fetes as well as work. The artists came here willingly not just to take advantage of the intricate network of manufacturers, but also to refresh themselves on the beach in front of the piazza, dine at the local restaurants, chat at the tables of the Bar Testa and participate in the fantastic improvised parties. Fontana had his studio at Pozzo Garitta. Beatrice, one of the last figurine makers, worked there, Siri studio was located there, as was the kiln of the “Bianco,” Bartolomeo Tortarolo, in whose workshop Luzzati, Piombino and Broggini were at home. A photo from 1975 shows Lam making a plate at the San Giorgio factory under Poggi’s watchful eye. At least until the 1960s, the factories employed an average of around twenty workers with some having as many as fifty. There was a great demand for ceramics produced in small batches that obliged the presence of a large number of potters. The Abisolan factories now tend to employ a single potter, with a number doing without and preferring to buy-in biscuit ware from other ceramic centres.
Since the years of post-war reconstruction and Italian economic miracle, companies have gradually become more streamlined to the point where they are now generally family businesses with restricted production and sales departments.
A reversal of this trend would desirable, especially as art and the presence of major artists within the Albisolan factories has always coincided with periods in which craft production was in vogue. Only when the industry has been flourishing, in fact, have we seen that osmosis between craftsman and artist that has led to significant strands of Albisolan art.

Momoyo Torimitsu, Somehow I don't feel comfortable

Young Chul Lee
Artistic Director of the 2nd Gwangju Biennial and of the 2nd Pusan Biennial (Korea)

Unexpected gift

Contemporary art in Korea has seen an immense expansion in terms of art institutions as well as in the art population, but it has remained a terrain difficult for the general public to reach and the discussions at the Gwangju Biennial, the Pusan Biennial and Media City Seoul always revolved around the same old topics. This problem results in dual attitudes. Civil servants and the public working in industry and commerce think that culture should above all contribute to the vitalization of the local economy. On the other hand, artists claim the construction of obstacles to the speed and flow of capital defends the local against the trend towards cultural uniformity occurring at the global level. Although we admire and respect the spirit of some of its proponents, this “localist” position is both false and damaging. For it is based upon a false dichotomy between the global and the local, which assumes that the global represents homogenization and undifferentiated identity whereas the local preserves heterogeneity and difference. This argument contains the implicit assumption that the differences of the local are in some sense natural, or at least that their origin remains beyond question. So local differences pre-date the present scene and must be defended or protected from the intrusion of globalization.
I think that globalization should be seen as a combination of two different systems of homogenization and heterogenization rather than simply as a cultural, political and economic homogenization. A better framework with which to divide the global and the local is represented by diverse networks with flows and obstacles. In such networks local moments and perspectives prioritize a barrier or boundary that “re-territorializes” while the global privileges the mobility of the flow that “de-territorializes.” In any case, to assume that an identity that lies outside the global flows of capital and empire should be protected against them is wrong. Simply speaking, locality, tradition and the past are like foreigners. They are the matter of transgressing boundary rather than a matter of geographical place or temporal distance. Following on from Antonio Negri’s remark, today’s “Empire” manages hybrid identity, flexible hierarchy and multiple exchange by playing on the network of command. In the post-modern movement on a global level, the creation of wealth, art and culture tends toward what we call the production of bio-politics, i.e., the production of life itself. In this production, the economic, the political, the cultural and the artistic intersect and permeate one another. In spite of Europe being a geographic channel through which the concept and practice of Empire vitalizes itself, the attempts at resisting it and effectively figuring out an alternative and the global scenario is not limited to any geographic region.
To draw out this scenario, ceramics can be adopted as a very useful language, a kind of Esperanto of artistic expression. Clay, a multiple crystal with an irregular atomic structure, is the richest resources on earth and easy to shape. It is a “breathing form” containing rich mineral components and living compounds. In order to vitalize the breathing form inside life, ceramics should break away from the genre of art that has developed as a professional area since the early modern period and should be revived as a source of new ideas and practices to change life. Ceramics have featured traditional craft techniques for hundreds of years, but the medium is preparing for a new dawn as a multi-cultural aspect of contemporary art. Interestingly, ceramic is used for advanced technology on a molecular or atomic level in the area of material chemistry rather than in art. Although everyone is talking about the change brought about by the Internet revolution, electronic ceramic represents the avant-garde of material science. Ceramic as a structural material has no viscosity and is vulnerable to thermal shock such as rapid heating or cooling, but electro-ceramic overcomes such weaknesses and has emerged as the third most significant material following metal and plastic. This material is used in diverse applications such as resistors, circuit boards and magnets. Although we are not using this new ceramic material for making art works, its functional significance could be associated with a new dimension of the artistic production for life. Ceramics is not a material to which the audience adds its own echo that the reified work does not pronounce, but will be a means to produce historical memory and induce a critical reflection on the current mode of life. Art is the only aspect of contemporary society in which the fact that living, creative labour cannot be individualized and measured is demonstrated most clearly. This is also the reason why art becomes a great, heroic monument. The artist’s activity in itself already assumes meaning as insubordination and revolt regardless of whether it presents a political subject matter or not. The primary condition of labour in the transition to the post-modern is that there are no hierarchies among intellectual, mental, physical and non-physical labour and it cannot be measured in terms of time. That a craftsman abolishes the discrimination of labour through a horizontal relationship with artists, conversation and real rather than virtual contact, is to weaken the distinction between professionals and non-professionals that became established in the process of modernity and to further promote the value of social cooperation and autonomous production inherent in artistic production. Complex experiences such as an intimate encounter between individuals, the changes occurring in each part of it, trial and error in the process of making and the joy of discovery, guarantees an invisible place of production that is temporal but very concrete and complete in itself. In such a place the dichotomy between the local and the global disappears and a new place is constructed in which information exchange by way of the Internet and global electronic networks is established.
It is instructive that Roberto Costantino, who launched the project of the Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art, has used the metaphor of the art of Lilliput in the Gulliver’s Travels to invoke the vision of dwarfs capturing Gulliver alive. Indeed, today’s Biennale not only expresses but also organizes the globalization of art. It does so by multiplying and structuring the interrelationship through networks. Therefore the Biennale channels the meaning and direction of the imaginary that cuts through these communicatory connections. In that it grants the viewer with mass sociability, new uniformity in action and thinking, the Biennale is an apparent example of the spectacle mentioned by Guy Debord. To resist event capitalism, the spectacle produced by the Empire is not just a matter of scale, but of the production of the art that produces life, if proposed in a more modest manner, a kind of potlatch in tradition of North American Indians. Today, people have forgotten the practice of giving a gift. At best one sells what one wants to sell to the user. In lip service philanthropy expressed in the motto “for the public, with the public,” the public strategy of the Biennale resembles administrative charity that tries to suture the “visible wound” of society. The true bliss of giving lies in the unexpected gift at a moment along with the “imagining” of the happiness the receiver. However, in today’s exhibitions, “the collapse of gift” occurs occasionally with the recipients screened for their qualifications. In the global expansion of event capitalism and the instrumental mode of the digital, we witness the deterioration of the mental analogue mode. The Albisola project presents a rare case of the cooperation of artists from around the world with local ceramicists founded upon the unconditional of sharing gifts. When social and artistic cooperation is a precondition, when our naked lives appear as virtual wealth, the spectacle of event capitalism will end. We expect an exhibition in which labour, play, discovery, surprise and joy will come together with the multitude.

Luca Pancrazzi, LCPNCRZZ

Nelson Herrera Ysla
Founder of the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Centre and the Havana Biennial, Cuba

From earth comes local and universal art

The main source of inspiration for the international phenomenon known as the Latin American Literary Boom in the 1960s was the treatment of local aspects. Stories took place in the forests, towns or cities of Latin America. They used idiomatic terms and grammar forms proper of the Spanish spoken in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Argentina and Cuba. Thanks to that rich treatment of what is local and regional, we obtained universal recognition. The same has happened with the art of our region in the last 20 years. The works that have aroused such interest inside and beyond the continent do not intend to play the role of “the other” or satisfy the market’s expectations. Neither do they intend to “imitate life” in Latin America, but to meditate on it from a more intelligent and committed point of view. In order to achieve this the artist appropriates codes and supports without taking into consideration their origin. He is performing an action of appropriation that is the result of a new attitude in the face of the information flows that emerge from relations between different cultures and nations.
Globalization has allowed the expansion of and the extraction of maximum profits from the concept of appropriation. This concept began to appear in Latin America  in the 1920s, particularly in Brazil and Cuba. On the other hand, we must add to this process the phenomenon of migrations that shakes the very concept of identity and national culture and draws new territories on the maps of hegemonic traditional cultures and of those countries that produce migration. As a consequence of this process, we have observed the formation of a new artistic vanguard. I refer to the Latin American space that has emerged in a difficult moment of our history, paradoxically with a strong vocation with regards to what is local or regional. Artists are now determined to impose their specific points of view in the midst of very specific circumstances, perhaps as a response to the disproportionate “internationalisation” of languages. What is local (something more tangible than what is “national” or “typical”) is complemented now with what is regional in works that meditate on our circumstances. This is true from Mexico to Argentina, as if it were a search for a common language in all those countries as was the case with spoken Spanish. In this new vanguard there is greater awareness with regards to the diversity that co-exists in the majority of our countries and the diversity of problems we face. There also exists an urgent need for expression without necessarily proclaiming that this is “Latin American art.” Some of the works in this new vanguard point to the collective memory of Latin America, others to natural dramas, excluded groups, urban degradation, violence, economic dependence; that is to say, to any of the factors operating in this context. Therefore, when we look at these works it is not easy to identify the artist or country they belong to, but we can perhaps recognise their regional origin, the world to which they belong. They are works “produced” in Latin America, by Latin America. Other works work from the point of view of mockery. These represent a certain “trend” found mainly in Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and Cuba as a reaction to what has been historically legitimised and “exported” since the mid-20th century. Others tend to explore domestic spaces, anxieties, hopes and all that makes us happy or sad and allows us to know what we were and why we are this way, without the need to appeal to the “great” topics.
With a realistic sense of the changes that occurred in the last quarter of a century, there is a general acceptance of the need to consider the plurality of our visual culture in all its dimensions and not only that of the United States, Europe or Japan. Historically (according to my opinion as a Cuban and Latin American), I can say that we always had a broad awareness of the universal. We were raised not only with our national and regional values but also with the values of European and North American culture. The fact that complex civilisations and countless ethnic groups existed on the American continent when the European conquerors arrived allowed us to be better prepared to face any type of influence after the 16th century. In spite of the fact that only certain physical relics of these ancient civilisations and a native population remain today we still have an sufficiently strong social, linguistic, artistic and religious diversity. This diversity has led us to an almost inborn universality that is today a substantial part of our identity. This is why in the 1980s a creative movement developed in Latin America that rescued certain artistic expressions and forms of particular cultural and spiritual significance that are still alive in the day-to-day life of our societies. I refer to works that take into consideration hand-made knitting and pottery, both genuine cultural products of American cultures. They evidence a sense of belonging, a new meaning of the concept of identity and a reaffirmation of cultural projects related to what is local and regional, but also to what is recognizable in other geographical spaces as a common language of the soil, the common heritage of many peoples and cultures. It is nature speaking from the origin of mankind, after many years of silence caused by the technological embezzlement and misinterpreted advances of science that kept us far from our essential sources of knowledge and learning. It is man and the earth again engaging in fruitful dialogues.
Latin America has diverse civilisations linked to clay. Ancient Mayas mentioned it in the fundamental text, the Popol Vuh. Almost 900 years before Christ, pottery had already been developed on the American continent on the banks of the Orinoco River. Later, it spread to a good many of the Caribbean islands. The conquerors brought with them the first potter’s wheels and the first stone and earth kilns. France, England and Holland, through their commercial exchanges with our cities, also contributed to the development of the incipient local and regional industries. Mutual appropriations and interrelations took place and gave rise to a hybridisation process that has survived through to the present day despite of the modern obsession with the artificial substitutes that endanger our traditional links with nature.
Latin America cannot be imagined without clay. That profound relationship is represented in several museums and it is essential to the continent’s heritage as the condor that dominates the heights of The Andes, and the Amazonias. Originally of zoomorphic inspiration, the forms of pottery derived from geometry and abstraction that were complemented with a certain polychromatic character based on natural pigments, with constant search for inspiration in the local nature and the traditions of each region. Several artists on the continent, particularly the Cuban-American Ana Mendieta, embodied this “return to the Earth” in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In recent years this trend has been followed by the creation of the Clay Biennial of America, two first editions of which were held in Caracas with a third in Brazil. Cuba has been celebrating its national Ceramics Biennial since 1985, with the dual aim of rescuing and reviving this form of artistic expression. One may speak of a rebirth of clay in Latin America that today knocks at the doors of artists of different generations and working in diverse media. Photographers, engravers, installation artists and painters are experimenting with the hybridisation of forms, materials and textures as a way of reconstructing our now fragmented cultural heritage, starting out from an unlimited contemporary character that admits no restrictions creativity. Artists look at the past in multiple directions towards which the frontiers of expression bear no prejudices or restrictions. In this way pottery is subjected to alterations that include the human body itself as part of performing plastic actions close to ancestral rites. Pottery is today finding a new dimension and assuming a leading role as in the beginning of our American history. One cannot define a predominant trend in the use of clay in Latin America (although in Cuba there is a greater weight in figuration). Artists make use of the material to parody traditional domestic pottery as well as to incorporate the new communication technologies or create interpretations of animals and human beings, houses, sex and ritual symbols, generally with an anthropological dimension that distinguishes their works on the international scene. Undoubtedly, we may discover in clay works that poetic aura that is immanent of the genuine work of art. Works in clay are a contribution to the much-debated question of the role of art in man’s life and his environment. They are a new, direct reading of history and culture, where the object is at the same time the subject in a present that retains much of the past and amply nourishes our hopes for the future.

Domenica Aglialoro, 193 Days from the Massacre of the Silencio at Caracas

Gianfranco Maraniello
Art critic and independent curator, MACRO, Rome

Crash. The hard crust of matter

“Collaborating” on a project such as the Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art actually does mean “working together.”  You need to know how to respond to the appeal of the places accommodating us and to absorb the stimuli provided by all those participating here. This is why I feel that it is opportune to examine some of the questions raised this morning. I believe we have to make the stimuli emerging from this conference our own and, for my part, I feel that it would be appropriate for me to modify the discourse I had planned. Considerable space has been devoted the idea of communication and its relationship with that of community. Themes discussed have included hospitality, participation and the festival — that I would like to interpret in the Nietzschean sense of a productive festival of thought. As co-curator, I would like to give a positive emphasis to certain “restrictions” of this Biennale. Firstly, clay itself constitutes a restriction: a number of restrictions are, in fact, encountered when working with it. Its physical limits are explored, its specific consistency, its hardness, the crust I referred to in the original title to this paper. One finds oneself reflecting on the way it states its own bulk and presents itself in space. The words of Nelson Herrara Ysla might encourage us to claim that such restrictions are also an appeal for the creation of works that carry within themselves characteristics of beauty that go above and beyond the intentions of the artist. Traditionally, in fact, ceramics lead us to think of manipulation reflecting the characteristics of the material and aspiring to a “beautiful form.” However, clay has above all a temporal restriction. Working with clay obliges us to accept periods of waiting — “attese” in Italian, hence, I believe, the name of the association behind this event — that evokes the time required for the ceramic object to concretize, challenging its own “hard” fragility, the empirical character of the production process that makes of every work an hypothesis to be consigned to the wheel, the kiln and the expert hand of the master ceramicist.
A further restriction — I am referring here to what Olu Oguibe had to say today — is that of “know-how,” because today artists are rarely familiar with this medium and necessarily have to rely on the expertise of the master ceramicist, a factor that frequently influences the creativity of the “inexpert” contemporary artists. We have talked about the artist’s hand, but how much weight does the hand of the assistant carry? Is it a kind of prosthesis? It might be said that the hand of the assistant is also that of an accomplice, frequently so aware of what he is doing as to render virtually obsolete that further restriction constituted by the discrimination between art and craft. This is a relationship that is continuously questioned by the protagonists of this Biennale. In an era in which the artist is frequently spared the need for know-how given that he can delegate the technical realization of his work, Albisola is instead an event that requires the artist’s presence and the time necessary for him to confront and assimilate a tradition. The artist often feels an initial sense of disorientation, but then begins to wander amongst the works of Wifredo Lam, Asger Jorn and Lucio Fontana, introducing himself to a tradition that appears to have been moulded on the wheel of time. He soon comes to understand the paradox into which he has fallen in accepting the invitation to become a part of this tradition while renewing it and carrying it forwards. He is asked to break with tradition so as to achieve a revitalization that distances the spectres of mannerism or even folk kitsch. However, in seeking originality the artist provokes fractures because, as with all traditions, there exists a series of discontinuities that mark the continuum of that which, in this case, is identified with ceramics and is capable of invading space and presenting itself as a work of art.
Young Chul Lee mentioned the “donative” nature of working with ceramics. It is curious to think that ceramics is also the material used for pharmacists’ jars, containing the ambiguous pharmakon, the gift, the dosis, both poison and the capacity to heal. Returning to the ambiguity of that which Olu Oguibe has defined as the artist’s hand and the assistant’s hand, I believe that it would be truly inappropriate to think of the know-how on which an artist “draws” solely in terms of assistance, prosthesis or tool. There are many artists whose modus operandi involves a form of appropriation of know-how or the development of cognitive experiences. Ganahl, with his learning of languages is an example.
All of us here are working to make a contribution to this tradition of which we have made ourselves provisional heirs in order to legitimize our conception of ceramics in contemporary art. We are giving ourselves an opportunity to give our own opinions on fundamental questions such contemporaneity, knowing that practices such as the working of ceramics may help us to support those themes that the first edition of this Biennale defined with such clarity. With regards to the question of the globalization of economy and art, I recall that the accent was placed on a term that could contrast the homologating violence and there was talk of “resistance.” I would prefer to slide semantically in the direction of the term “insistence.” We are involved in something that is not simply an exhibition but interrogates our work without finalizing it in terms of a spectacular expositional event. We are attempting to assimilate the time scales of ceramics and this requires continuous participation compatible with the timings involved with the working of the material. At most it involves the exhibition of a praxis, a dynamic, a degree of work in progress. The invitation is to observe the artists at work, to consider their tenacity and dogged, prolonged presence, their hand frequently experiencing the repetitiveness of the time of the wheel. A hand that, synecdochically seems to recall, as Olu Oguibe claims, that even the conceptual artist is physically involved. An ambiguity that finds confirmation in languages such as Italian that recall the tactility of thought with expressions such as “to grasp a concept,” a “prehensile” vocation that etymologically refers back to the Latin capere (to take) and that leads a philosopher such as Jacques Derrida to reflect on the crisis of metaphysics when writing a book significantly entitled Heidegger’s Hand. A making “by hand” that requires time, that claims it and makes a value of it. It obliges a period of waiting that becomes an integral part of every work and of this Biennale in general with its capacity for teaching us to accept the contingency in the long working processes and to persist with our attempts to transform clay into art.

Andries Botha, Towers

Rainer Ganahl
Artist (Austria), lives in New York

In terms of globalization I think what I read in the New York Times is interesting. A recent article talked about the Mayor of Treviso and his attempt to keep immigration away from his city. The interesting thing is that Treviso is also the home of the headquarters of Benetton, a multicultural, globalized company that trades on its public image as a promoter of a multicultural society… Obviously they make money from the kind of things that become associated with globalization. When we talk about globalization, one could ask: “What is really changing?” Nothing necessarily changes, and in particular Treviso, Benetton, and the racists… Every country has probably the same thing…
As an artist, languages are something that have been defining me from very early on. I was born in a little Austrian village, in the mountains, where we speak a kind of German dialect. Austria was one of the participants of Nazi’s craziness… As Austrians, we have all had to deal with this history, so I always wanted to learn Italian, Spanish and French… Trying in some way to disassociate myself from all that. Then I started to study oriental languages, with the first being Japanese. I then discovered ancient Greek… In Germany you have a Greek immigrant population that is looked down upon, whereas in school ancient Greek was something of an educational holy grail. I also began studying Russian, Korean and Chinese. I learned a lot from Edward Said’s studies on Orientalism and his critique of Eurocentrism.
Talking about ceramics, what is interesting to me is the relationship to the hand, and my way of using the hand, also involves using the brain. The brain is a kind of muscle and what you do if you take up the medium of ceramics is to stabilise something, it takes time and learning. And also, the repetitive act of learning takes years and years. It is almost like burning and putting the ceramics into the kiln…. I do not want to fetishize, either the hand or the brain… Obviously, it is the conceptual aspect of learning and making these references to the history of those practices that preoccupy me in my work as an artist. Now, may I say something about how I use language within an artistic context? For example: one piece is called My first 500 hours basic Chinese, and all I do is film myself studying Chinese. The work I create is next to works on paper — study sheets — a large sculpture consisting of piles of video tapes. The camera stresses surveillance and makes me study hard. These recorded tapes show the impossibility of representation in the sense that one cannot really watch 500 hours… In addition, these tapes begin to lose their information through ageing, a process equivalent to forgetting. Not-remembering is part of that entire practice. Recently, I also started working on My first 500 hours basic Arabic. Studying Arabic has this meditative quality of relating and engaging with these cultures without really engaging. It prevents me from going insane over news reports about this region. My practice of studying mimics the Kantian principle of enquiring into the conditions of the possibility of knowledge. The speaking of foreign languages is a privileged — albeit not sufficient — condition for successful cultural interactions. I am really interested in all institutions of knowledge production: the main institutions are universities and panels like this. There is a politics of the university. One of my works is called Seminar/lectures and consists of photographing professors, lecturers, students and audiences. This is why I am taking photos here too. In Europe, the Universities have been organised around the ideology of nation-building and which creates a lot of problems today in terms of integration of diverse cultures…  The nation state has to deal with false concepts: what is it to be English or Italian? Can you be English or Italian and not white?
In contrast with Universities in Europe that are still mostly state sponsored with little or no tuition fees, universities in the in the United States are very expensive. They are not obliged to adhere to a national culture and are now universities of excellence, where performance is measured in market and monetary terms. Education has become an investment. the university is almost a corporate product that operates like a corporation, and they are all competing. Another kind of work I do, involves reading seminars. My reading seminars consist simply of reading with people. Over the last ten years I have been reading many authors including Karl Marx and Frantz Fanon. Right now, I’m going to Florence to start a group Reading Antonio Gramsci. I love to engage people in learning processes.

Plamen Dejanoff, Il volto felice della globalizzazione (fatto ad Albisola)

Mauro Castellano
Artist, pianist and composer, professor at the “Niccolò Paganini” Conservatory, Genoa

Keramos and Melos (Ceramics and music)

Why music and ceramics? Since 1950 there has been a blurring of the confines between the various arts brought about by the artists themselves. It is interesting to recall a fundamental piece by John Cage, written in 1952 and always erroneously referred to as Silence. Its correct title is instead 4’33” (Four minutes and thirty-three seconds), referring to its duration. If you think back to the old typewriters, below the numeral 4 was the apostrophe sign, while below the 3 were the double inverted commas. For this wholly casual motive, Cage chose this duration. The piece is divided into three movements and obliges the pianist to remain silent for 4’33” while the audience listens to what is going on around them. From that moment, music became what we wanted it to be rather than a structure with a beginning a middle and an end, to put it in Beethovian terms. The way music evolved in the 20th century led to the emergence of innovative techniques that meant new signs had to be expressed on the written page. This occurred above all because instrumental techniques saw enormous development and required new characters to describe events that were previously unimaginable. For example, the pianoforte is no longer played exclusively via the keys but also internally by acting directly on the strings and striking its each and every component. As these techniques are still being perfected, they place a great responsibility on the interpreter who is continually called upon to integrate a score that frequently cannot be as precise as in the case of the traditional repertoire. There are actually pages that drawn up freehand and taken to the interpreter as a hermeneutic exercise. At this point one may play anything whatsoever: a postcard, an image... But how? We need to invent a code for reading. It has to be decided that a certain type of sign corresponds to a certain type of sound and that each time the sign recurs that particular sound is played. It is out of this situation that a challenge such as Music and Ceramics may derive and it is here that a relationship is born that has been on-going for over half a century between the visual arts and music. Moreover, I have found that I have played contemporary repertoires more frequently, or with better audience response in art galleries rather than traditional venues. This is also partly due to sociological motives: it is hardly the “done thing” for a formally dressed pianist in a theatre venue to climb into his instrument or lie beneath it and beat on the bottom of the case with the heel of his shoe... All these actions nonetheless correspond to precise sounds that could not be produced in any other way. The challenge I have taken up along with Leonardo Gensini is to create sounds in a very precise fashion. We shall write a musical score in the true sense of the term that will also leave room for extemporaneous interventions for which we shall be calling on the students from the Savona School of Music. We shall be doing our best to put the sounds within a frame, as with all works of art. As far as I am concerned, a piano will be present and I shall be taking liberties with the musical repertoire and the literature evoked by such an apparently nineteenth century instrument. However, considering that it is also an instrument made of wood, cast-iron and steel — a percussion instrument — we shall be creating a work based on amplification that will attempt to establish a relationship between the piano itself and the ceramic “instruments” that Gensini has created at Albisola. I leave you with numerous question marks pending and an invitation to listen to what we produce.

Henry Eric Hernández, Los que cavan su pirámide

Anne-Claire Schumacher
Exhibition-curator Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art (1st edition) at the Ariana Museum, Geneva

Hosting the Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art hosted at the Ariana Museum

During the past summer months the First edition of the Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art was hosted in  exhibition space of the Ariana Museum in Geneva. The Museum hosted the Biennial at the suggestion of the Geneva Cantonal Fund for Contemporary Art which had been involved in the Albisola project. The possibility of exhibiting all the works from the Biennale in one space, the dramatic use of spot lighting on the displayed objects and the sense of unity conferred by the use of homogeneous metal stands all contributed to providing a particularly favourable setting for the pieces. None of the visitors remained indifferent to the experience. They were on the whole shocked by the exhibition, particularly by the more provocative works such as those by Elke Krystufek or Nicola Costantino; children and teenagers, on the other hand, were astonished and delighted by precisely this aspect of provocation to be found in works created by adults and actually shown in a museum.
Among the successful projects, I would mention the interactive approach of the Korean artist Soo-Kyung Lee who succeeded, by means of the use of language and successive translations, to effect a dialogue between two powerful ceramic cultures: Korean and Italian. Another interesting project was that developed by Daniel Firman, who established a link between the potter’s wheel and the gestures of the DJ manipulating vinyl records, resulting in the creation of an original musical space. Another artist who has really immersed himself in the medium, and derived obvious pleasure in handling and modelling the material, was Kristian Hornsleth who, after a brief stay in Albisola, returned by himself to work for a whole month in the workshop of Danilo Trogu. The force of this work testifies to his involvement with the medium. The structure of clay is also present in the work of the sculptor El Anatsui: his digital river, in which he combines elements of raw clay with shimmering enamels created from bits of melted coloured glass, conveys a strong mineral presence.
It is undeniable that clay is a demanding medium, thus the assistance of local professional ceramists was naturally a necessity.  It is however remarkable the interest that today’s artists have expressed in a material as “outdated” as pottery. All the artists accepted the challenge of working with clay despite the risks of failure. This is proof that 21st century artists still have a lively interest in ceramics. The idea of confronting artists with ceramics is naturally an excellent one that is worth pursing and exploring.

Giorgina Bertolino and Francesca Comisso
Art historians, scholars of the Situationist International, Turin

The passionate house of Asger Jorn at Albissola:
reliefs of an unbuilt city

Giorgina Bertolino: The house that Asger Jorn built at Albissola represents the fruition of a promise that rang out as a challenge. In 1954, in a letter to the artist Enrico Baj, Jorn wrote, “The house must be not a ‘machine for living’ but rather a machine for surprising and enthralling, a machine for universal human expression.” The property that Jorn purchased in 1957 was situated in the hills above Albissola at a site known as “Località Brucciati.” Jorn liked the name [translating as “The Burnt”] and entitled a painting Bruciato that he presented to Mr Massardo who had sold him the house. The first lot that he acquired was an old farmhouse, a ruin. With the help of Umberto Gambetta, Jorn restored it and made it his home although the work lasted years. Jorn had already been living in Albissola, firstly as the guest of Lucio Fontana at Pozzo Garitta and then with his family in a ground floor apartment in Via Isola. In the August of 1954, he had organized in the Ligurian town the International Ceramics Meetings as the “First Experience of the Imaginist Bauhaus.” The “second experience” was also staged at Albissola, in 1955, and consisted of the decoration of around a hundred plates by a group of children. The second lot of the property was composed of a separate house. In part it became the home of Umberto Gambetta who decorated the façade with ceramic fragments, and in part it was used by Jorn as his studio. The two houses were surrounded by a garden and separated by a deep cistern, evidence of the original agricultural nature of the property. An oven, built onto the second house, has become something of a symbol of the house. Dressed in black and white pebbles, it was built by Jorn and Gambetta and testifies to their joint labours.
In order to continue with our reconnaissance, we shall draw above all on two guide-images taken from two pieces written by Guy Debord. The first concerns the Jorn’s house, which the French theorist defined as an “inverted Pompeii.” The second is instead taken from the title of another of his essays published in Museumjournal in 1958, Ten Years of Experimental Art: Jorn and his role in Theoretical Invention. We believe, in fact, that the house may be seen as a “theoretical invention” and that the concept dear to Debord whereby the praxis precedes and guarantees even the most “sublime of theories,” reflects Jorn’s method of research. In the short essay On Wild Architecture written by Guy Debord (Albissola, September 1972), Jorn’s house is defined as a “small village” where “Jorn shows how (…) each one of us could undertake the reconstruction of the earth around himself;” the house is an example of the possibility of conjugating space and desire, environment and passion. Through Debord’s definition it is possible to arrive at the first reliefs of the Situationist “city” that exists via the critical and passionate modification of that which exists. We shall attempt to delineate this relationship starting out with the clues provided by Jorn’s home. In the Formulary for a New Urbanism, the incunabulum of Situationist theory regarding the idea of architecture and mobile settings, essential concepts in the reading of Jorn’s house, Gilles Ivain wrote, “We propose to invent new mobile settings (…) Architecture will be (…) a means of experimenting with a thousand ways of modifying life” (IS, No. 1, May 1918, pg. 17). In his text Image and Form from 1954, Jorn similarly wrote that “The architectural is the point of ultimate realisation for every artistic initiative, because creating architecture means forming an environment and establishing a way of life.” Architecture is the first true point of contact between Jorn and the French followers of Debord. They shared a criticism of the form of the house pre-established in relation to mass consumption and control over the masses. The points of departure are however different: Jorn starts out from aesthetics while Debord’s initial concern is political. The possibility of an accord between the two points of view derives from a series of words that are fundamental to the Situationist “vocabulary.” Out of fairly broad concepts — such as that of “environment,” or “provisional/temporary” — are born keywords such as “détournement,” “psychogeography,” “dérive,” “situation” and “game.” These words can all be found in Jorn’s house, as Debord himself understood when he spoke of the “inverted Pompeii” and the reliefs of an unbuilt city. Let’s stick with what the Situationists call “environment”: a concept closely associated with the idea of “situation.” As can be read among the Definitions from the first Situationist International bulletin: “everyone has to find precise desires for environment in order to realize them.” The Situationists temporarily overturned, liberated and created “zones” as was the case with this house in Liguria. That is to say, they create settings that are deliberately temporary, provisional and mobile. The term “mobile” refers to that which develops and is modified in continuation. In a text from 1955 entitled Architecture and Play(Potlatch, No. 20, 30.05.1955, pp 50-51), Debord reveals sources and models: the residence of Ludwig of Bavaria, the Palais du facteur Cheval and the Merzbau of Kurt Schwitters. “All these constructions — he wrote — belong to the Baroque strand.” With its idea of illusory, dynamic and synaesthetic space, the Baroque is useful in the aspiration to articulate that precise desire for environment in a determined physical space. From this point of view too, the house at Albissola is rich in points of interest, some of which having almost literal iconographical references to the richness of the Baroque and others that appears to have been mediated by the “Baroque” experiences of Fontana. More generally, it might be said that Jorn’s Ligurian house may be referred to the complex space of the Baroque in its use of the volute and the fold that concerns not only the masonry, but also with respects to the garden and the very idea of space.

Björn Kjelltoft, Untitled

Francesca Comisso: The Situationists are not alone in thinking of mobile and temporary settings. Mobility is the paradigm underlying the criticism of Rationalism functionalism that developed during the Sixties and Seventies. A case in point if the manifesto written by Yona Friedman, Architecture Mobile (1958). In 1956, Ionel Schein created autonomous habitation units that could be transported by truck, the Mobile Hostel Cabins. Capsule-houses, cell-houses, caravan-houses or cardboard houses to be burnt after use, as proposed by the French architect Guy Rottier, the habitat became an organism focused on “impermanence.” Applied to the modernist grid module, mobility confused its orientation to the point where the clear topographical stance was overturned. It is on the axis leading from the grid to the labyrinth that criticism of architectural purism developed. The labyrinth, to use a definition by Mario Perniola “is the mirror of cognitive error making.” In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni, read the title of a celebrated film by Guy Debord. It is Debord again who guides us around Jorn’s house: “What is painted and what is sculpted, the stairs never uniform with the differences in level of the ground, the trees, the added elements, a cistern, a vine, the most diverse kinds of waste material always welcome, thrown down in perfect disorder, compose one of the most complicated landscapes that may be traversed in a fraction of a hectare and also, at the end of the day, one of the most well integrated.” A complex environment then; one that retains all the disorienting effects and little hidden surprises of the labyrinth. The insertion of a ceramic tile carrying a street number within the various textures of a path is the fruit of a derive of the signs and routes referring to the urban maps of Jorn and Debord. In the Jorn house at Albissola, ceramics are always used in the form of fragments and cast-offs dressing pre-existing architecture with a new skin. This practice has a precise linguistic and theoretical correlation in détournement, defined as “The integration of present or past artistic productions into a higher construction of an environment.” This was the tool with which the Situationists escaped the avant-gardist rhetoric of the “new”, examples are the “imperfect” plates — seconds — set in the stucco of the walls as medallions and surrounded by other decorative elements. On the walls of Jorn’s house we frequently find pairings and contaminations between painted elements and inserted objects or materials, between the avant-garde and the kitsch (the mural painting incorporates the ironic and détournement insertion of the statuette of a sailor boy — still today in production at the San Giorgio factory where Jorn created his greatest ceramic works — in the domestic niche reserved for a votive image). To return to the archaeological metaphor adopted by Debord, the examples mentioned are discontinuous frame that make of this house a complex text, rich in digressions, stratifications of meaning and citations. We have a range of formal references to the CoBra iconography, the depositing on the walls of “found” materials (shells, pebbles, pieces of pottery) as was the case with the Palais du facteur Cheval, while marking the garden paths we see the use of materials that recall Gaudi and his extraordinary architecture, but also elements that reference the history of the local area. Jorn was an attentive scholar of popular culture and traditions and was also interested in those of Albissola. Through the fragment, Jorn reconstructed a kind of tribute to the genius loci, placing together ceramics created in the old Savona style, plates from the nineteenth century tradition made using the sponge technique and objects of more modern conception. In the interview conducted in 1986, Gambetta recounts that “I brought cast-off faulty insulators from the factory. We used them as columns, supports…” The use of these objects had a precedent: within the Futurist ambit of the ‘20s, the architect Piero Portaluppi used electrical insulators as columns for the ceramics factory at Laveno. This is a significant example because, in those years, the electrical insulator was an object that carried a wealth of aesthetic and dynamic values deriving from its mechanical-industrial nature and its dynamic, plastic form. Once again it is Debord who reveals the role of “play” — another key Situationist term — in the Jorn house. The French author underlines how the collaboration of Umberto Gambetta in the construction of the house brings an element close to the idea of “collective play”, understood as the permanent experimentation with playful innovation and thus fundamental to the construction of situations. The signatures of Gambetta and Jorn on the side of the chimney ratify that multi-handed method of working theorized and practiced by Jorn.
In conclusion, we feel that it is important to consider the destiny that Jorn desired for this house after his death and that of Gambetta. Jorn conceived of a museum house, where the memory of its history and that of those who had passed through it would be available to future generations, and of a place destined to operate as a residence for artists form above all the northern countries. Jorn made two requests regarding the future of this habitative project: one autobiographical and one “experiential,” a house as a setting for relationships and episodes. Requests that can be found in many contemporary artistic “habitative” projects. We hope that this place may return to being the hospitable and accommodating setting it was passionately designed to be.

Surasi Kusolwong, Bellissimo Garden (Beautiful Garden)

Linda Kaiser
Art critic and scientific consultant to the Museimpresa Association, Milan

Art and ceramics

Ceramics are earth, fire and air, but also water. For this reason I would like to begin with one of the great symbols of contemporary art, the Fountain, the celebrated urinal that Marcel Duchamp submitted for the first exhibition of the American Society of Independent Artists in 1917. All it required was a gesture, a title and a signature with the date to mutate the perspective from which this object was to be viewed. In order to read these characters, the urinal had to be overturned, to assume an alternative position, to leave the world of objects of everyday use and enter that of the work of art. The urinal was made of porcelain and became perhaps the most famous object of the 20th century made with this material. The original work has been lost, but when Duchamp himself between 1935 and 1941 prepared The Box in a Valise — a kind of portable museum bringing together reproductions of his works — the replica urinal was made of ceramics.
From the micro to the macro-cosmos: the works of “visionary architecture” frequently made use of ceramics. Apart from the house of Asger Jorn in Albissola, other examples of visionary environments included a number of international projects including the Watts Towers by Simon Rodia (1875-1965) in Los Angeles, a cluster of metal towers covered with ceramics and glass, and the Maison Picassiette at Chartres, the home of Raymond Isidore (1900-1964) and his wife, the name of which is a play on words alluding to the action of “taking away/stealing plates” and using them to decorate and construct a space. Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) also adopted ceramic fragments to enliven his architectural landscapes, particularly in Barcelona’s Parco Güell. These examples stimulate reflection on the relationship between contemporary art, ceramics, architecture and the domestic space.

Design and material

“Use your brain and your hands will work less” reads the citation on the walls of the Studio Ernan Design in Albisola Superiore. The elusiveness and variability of chance play a part in the process that leads from design to ceramics. This material contains within itself future forms, dimensions and colours that change during the firing phase. This is to say nothing of the risk of damage or even destruction to which the work is subject while it is being made. In 1990, Umberto Ghersi, who Lucio Fontana considered to be an “assistant in the gestation” of his important works, granted me an interview in his studio-workshop at Albissola Marina through which I was able to reconstruct the technical-creative process and the development phases of the figures that compose the decoration of the façade of the Parish Church of our Lady of the Assumption in Celle Ligure. In 1958, Fontana created this work in just “two or three days.” However, the Madonna figure alone required at least 1,000 kilos of clay and took over a month to dry. The three main figures were “reassembled like a mosaic” so that they could be installed on the façade of the Parish Church. The staff of St. Michael Archangel, protector of Celle Ligure, does not reach the monster, as shown in the sketch, because being made of terracotta it was too long and broke. This exemplary case illustrates the possible relationships between the “technically unreproducible” sketch and finished work with its variables and, above all, the relationships between artist and craftsman.

A history of the present

A splendid ceramic face stood out on the dusty shelves of a factory while it was waiting to dry. This was the portrait of that the artist Wang Du improvised of Ernesto Canepa, the founder of the factory that accommodated him. This object produced within the context of the Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art might be defined as a “gesture for the history of the present.” The Biennale is an event in which everything is potentially an element to be conserved and exhibited in a kind of “exhibition within an exhibition.” The projects submitted by the artists, the cooperation with the local manufacturers, the photographs taken during the execution of the works, the interviews with the protagonists, the relationship with Albisola, the city of ceramics, could actually become that which may be defined as the backstage of the work of art in ceramics: a path through space and time.

For the company museum.
From a periodic exhibition to a permanent exposition

A company museum is perhaps the most exemplary expression of the design and production culture of the Italian business system that invests in museums as a specific form of communication for promoting both the exchange of knowledge and experience and an interaction with the local area and the administrative authorities. The eventual creation of a ceramics district museum in the Albisola area that documents the history of the places and exhibits the objects produced and the art of ceramics would also draw on the history of the present. A dynamic, up-to-date centre for research and culture would represent a significant resource for the local communities, a basis for the development of thematic and touristic itineraries, the so-called “extended museum”, a network of distinct and complementary structures: artists’ houses, sculpture parks, the artists’ path, workshops, factories. Supported and updated with the contribution of local firms, a permanent exposition structure would make a greater contribution through signs, materials and values to the bringing into focus the identity of a region and its cultural, economic and social fabric. The documents and the objects produced by the Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art could become the pretext for the creation of a permanent home to contain them, within the context of an international revalorisation of the area.

Marepe, Feliz Natal, Buon Natale, Merry Christmas

Wang Du 
Artist (China) lives in Paris

Image Consuming/ Reality Consuming

(Initially, Wang Du speaks in Chinese, as a performance, because he knows he will not be translated.) Unfortunately I cannot speak many languages apart from Chinese, but you do not understand me when I speak Chinese. I can speak a little French, but no English or Italian... Yesterday especially, there were only English and Italian lectures, which I could not understand, now today, when I spoke Chinese, you had the same impression of understanding nothing. Despite the differences in language, we are all here together in a form of globalization. But instead of this globalization being created through the artists coming to Albisola, quite the opposite is true, because Albisola is global, while each artist comes from a specific place, so artists are local and Albisola is global. Even though the artists coming here had strong points and features to show, Albisola has a very strong issue, which is the shaping of a material like clay. So just clay is global. Thanks to the use of these “old” materials — clay and ceramics — I now have a new possibility, a new material to use in order to express my own ideas. The project I was dealing with while in Albisola was mainly related to image, linked to the reality around us. I have been working for a year on this project related to the Twin Towers tragedy. Its name is Tapis, a carpet... It is as if you are taking a newspaper, scratching it and throwing it in the street... At the very beginning I encountered certain difficulties, especially when it seemed that the project I wanted to realize was almost impossible, because we are dealing with ceramics and I am not traditional ceramist. I had enjoyed helpful cooperation with Ernesto Canepa in the workshop. He was always saying that “nothing is impossible,” even this project. This series of difficulties helped both of us, because on my side I could develop my work, thinking about the project, looking around, and, on the other, we have the traditional expertise and experience of a professional ceramicist.
As I don’t speak French very well, the art critic Pascal Beausse is here to “defend” and protect me...

Pascal Beausse: I am going to show how the project created by Wang Du here in Albisola is related to his previous sculptures and installations. Wang Du makes plaster sculptures based on images picked up from the world press. In their passage from a two-dimensional state to a three-dimensional one, these images retain their initial framing as well as the distortions produced by the camera lens. Above and beyond the reality effect produced by the transposition of flat images into volumes, Wang Du’s installations effect a spectacular intrusion of figures associated with public events or various types of scandals into the real space of the exhibition.
Recently, he has been focussing on his studio environment, where piles of newspapers are transforming into waste. This waste becomes something monumental for Wang Du. The little crushed ball of a newspaper page is enlarged on a giant scale, giving shape to the idea of an invasion of real space by the material of information. He then created this piece entitled No Comment: a sort of giant waste disposal facility for the media. Last year in June, at Villa Medici, in Rome what he did was simply fill this little greenhouse in the park, an example of transparent architecture called La Folie, with a lot of newspapers and magazines. All this is just to give you an overview before we finally get around to the work he is dealing with here. What he did was to crush with his own feet a page of newspaper, but special one with a very famous event, the Twin Towers attack, and then paradoxically reproduce and enlarge the trashed newspaper page using the very subtle technique of ceramic. The trashing of the newspaper is of course a direct visual metaphor of the planes’ violent crash into the towers. Thus Wang Du produce a demystification of the mass media’s authority and deterrent force.

Wang Du has been programmatic, declaring: “I want to be a media.” He sees himself as “a journalist after the journalist.” According to this unusual proposition, the artist becomes a producer of recycled information picked up from the visual material available through the mass media. His bold wish to function as a media with the limited means available to the artist makes Wang Du a pioneer in this unheard-of conception of the artist as self-media. Critiquing the volatility of information by making it more densely material, his sculptures are incisive comments on the era of virtual information, in the context of globalization.

Wang Du: While working on this project about the Twin Towers, I was actually waiting for it to come to an end, as I really wanted to take advantage of the global and local environment I had here. I did work on another little project, what I called a “derivative product.” The name comes from “global” and “local” and is Glocal. Do you want to see it? Voilà! That’s it! This is Glocal. What you have at the top is the glass and then you have the bottle. Glass is local, the bottle is global. That is why it’s Glocal!

Olu Oguibe, Game

Corrado Levi
Artist, lives in Turin and Milan

The eroticism of clay

I shall comment on the eroticism of clay.
It’s greasy to the touch.
It pretends to be docile.
Plain water changes its consistency.
You can bury your fingers and hands in it,
the hands of which we have spoken.
If you withdraw it’s a failure.
Initially clay is asexual, polymorphic;
perverse it may be said. You create the holes you want.
Left in the open after drying, it returns to dust.
Firing makes it impassive: it is petrified through trauma.
It hides beneath a patinas to which the obscene
and the diabolic are not strangers.
Fire is, in fact, its amniotic fluid.
Its appeal ranges from informal eroticism
to the diabolicism of form.
As much as we manipulate it, that form, breathless and
on tiptoes, because if you drop it, it’ll break,
it takes command now.
Shards are remarkable: they’ll cut you and persecute
you with feelings of guilt.
Unless Asger Jorn or Tony Cragg is passing,
they should be handled, the shards, with gloves, of ceramic.

Art critic and indipendent curator, Taiwan

Originally, I was not a curator. I come from a background in philosophy and literature; I grew up in Taiwan and was then educated in New York. Over the last three years I have seen perhaps twenty Biennials and I am going to talk about the two aspects that I particularly observed in this Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art. The first is what I want to say in response to Olu Oguibe’s comments regarding the direct physical intervention of the conceptual artist, while the second part of my talk has to do with the issue of “glocal.”
The development of contemporary art in the last century has made it a general truth that artists can operate in the world as if in a studio without their own direct physical involvement in the process of making a work. The process of art making has turned into the mobilization of material to create forms through the use of technology and economic and industrial systems. The artist as a creative individual is recognized by particular ways of envisioning a world as a concept. Remarkably, there is still a common desire in the art audience to look for evidence or traces  of the artist’s direct physical exercise, with which to discern an artist’s special character or genius, or skill in the creation of a work. The fact that this tendency is hard to dispel indicates that we are somehow still under the spell of Romanticist individualism, whereas society in general has evolved and recognises that the individuals who are in charge of a collective action should be held responsible for such an action. For example, does George W. Bush kill people? The answer is an obvious yes. Yet, if we follow our art world’s inclination to find Bush’s direct physical involvement in the massacre of thousands of innocent civilians, then we should conclude that Bush never killed. For unlike the sniper who recently gunned down victims in Washington DC, Bush never held a gun to shoot anyone in the wars he created, even though a lot of people lost their lives and families because of these wars. George W. Bush is like a conceptual artist in terms of his mobilization of weapons and persons to create destructive wars through the use of technology and the economic, political and diplomatic systems.
What is fascinating for me in the Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art is the use of the biennial format and organization to combine forces of conceptual artists and a vigorous local craft industry, a dynamic mobilization that would otherwise hardly take place in the discriminating cultural fields. It raises the questions of whether and how far a medium confined by certain visual traditions allows for experiments and conceptual interventions, and specifically how in the age of remix and hybridity conceptualist art can revitalize itself through cross-disciplinary collaboration.
A major shift in contemporary art over the last two decades concerns the rise of global culture, in which biennials play a significant role. As international biennials are now increasingly conducted in collaboration with each other — no matter where the events take place — many in the field of contemporary art are questioning the relationship between the biennial and its host site. Is the biennial merely a parallel phenomenon of global capitalism in the form of political populism and art market? Given the increasing demand for going beyond national representation, how can a biennial create a new synergy and platform for local artists and “guest” artists who usually arrive at the host site for an extremely limited period of time? International biennials, particularly those on a large scale, are also criticized for being loaded with various art-unrelated political agendas, such as tourism, national identity, international image-making, etc., and for being geared to spectacle-generating, which not only avails politicians of opportunities to translate cultural capital into political capital, but also puts art works at the risk of being simply consumed as cultural forms. However, there are also those biennials on a “human” scale, which instead of spectacle, allow for more intimate interaction between foreign artists and local artists as well as the general audience. And quite notably, in the cases of host cities and countries — usually newly industrialized — where contemporary art communities are active and resilient and yet face adamant resistance of conservative political and cultural forces, international biennials can help to legitimize contemporary art and increase the global visibility of the local art scene.
In relation to the Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art, we observe another dimension of these questions, which bears on the practice of contemporary art and the local folk arts in the face of global capitalism. The global art world at the moment has seen artists becoming more and more like philosophers, who speak in universal or general terms, while connecting these terms to their local tradition and lives. On the other hand, local histories or artistic heritage from almost every corner of the world have become — or have been taken — as “our” history, or “our” heritages, where “we” refers to a sense of being contemporary as a global phenomenon. So, for example, artists living in Paris, with a Latin-American back-ground can use Japanese materials or cultural symbols as their working tools. By mixing different cultural traditions contemporary artists are somehow responsible for preserving a creative openness within each tradition, while ensuring cultural diversity in our age. So, there is a new imperative for the current generation of artists: that of resisting global capitalism’s power of homogenous assimilation. In short: through the major trend in global economies of standardizing products through an international division of labour, we can envision that, within a short period of time local arts like ceramics or pottery will soon lose their variety because of this assimilation — paradoxically either by intensifying local “features” or by incorporating what are seen as global “symbols”, often under the premise of cultural tourism. By working with conceptual artists with different cultural backgrounds it is now possible to give these traditions a chance to open up, to ensure the diversity through which they can still develop.

Carla Rossi, Senza titolo

Raphael Chikukwa
Art critic and indipendent curator, Zimbabwe National Gallery, Harare

LThe subject I would like to talk about is this so-called globalisation issue, which I feel the developing world is not part of, because there is lack of discrimination of information. In Africa we have no access to information from the international contemporary art world — all you read about is the West and South Africa. The rest of Africa does not exist in the contemporary art world yet the African man painted on his body before he painted on rocks. Picasso was inspired by African Masks. So we must re-visit this issue of globalization because Africa and other parts of the world are discriminated against and yet the West is busy talking about so-called “Globalisation” which serves only their interests. Now I am here talking to you, but remember what one has to go through to get to the West, one has to declare one’s relatives, parents cats and dogs to get the visa, let alone the immigration hassles in the airports and at the borders. And compared to the people in the West — when you have to come to Africa — you walk in and walk out and here we are talking and talking about the happy face of the global village yet there is no freedom of movement from people in other parts of the world which are not the West. If ever we want to make this so called Globalisation a dream come true, so that we all have a piece of this cake, it must be fair.
I have been in contact with Flash Art asking them if they would like a correspondent in Africa and they told me they have one in South Africa. So unfortunately everything lands in South Africa and it ends there.
In 2001 I was a curator in residence at the Centre Pas-Quart in Biel, Switzerland and managed to go to the Venice Biennale. Getting to the main Pavillion, I was surprised to see all the flags from around the world including my country’s flag and others from the forgotten nations. Getting in to see the works and there was art from the West and if I am not mistaken South Africa was representing the whole of the African continent. Going back and reading more about what was happening in the global art community, I discovered that there is a lot we can do for each other, but if we keep quiet, no one is going to hear us. In our Shona language they say, “Mwana asingachemi anofira mumbereko”: A child who does not cry will die on its mother’s back. This conference should find a way forward because the happy face of the Global Village must not only be for the chosen few. I was one of the helpers at the second Johannesburg Biennale in 1997 which was closed before the due date, because the local community felt that there was lack of representation of Africa and the art actually shown there was for the élite. Most South Africans felt that it was supposed to be an opportunity for the South Africans and the rest of the Africans to be heard by the West not for us to hear from the West. This Biennale was just like any other Biennale and it gave Okwui Enwezor a ticket to curate Documenta XI and we are all happy for an African brother to be the first African to curate such a major event.
The West has a lot to learn from Africa and Africa has a lot to learn from the West. There is more to see and learn from Zimbabwe. To my fellow brothers who have created new homes here in the West there is a need to plough back home and stop looking down on your own continent, Africa. This issue of seeing the same people, the same names in exhibitions and international forums should come to an end for art is all about sharing. I hope we will all be part of this happy face of the Global Village.

Shimabuku, Catching Octopus with self-made ceramics

Petrit Hoxha: I am a Kossovar journalist. It was only because I live in Czech Republic and I have a work permit, that I was able to get a 2-day Austrian visa with which I came here. So, visas are a big problem, not only for people from Africa, but also for people from Eastern Europe.

Olu Oguibe: Why is it so important to come to the West? Why is the visa so important?

Raphael Chikukwa: Most of our colleagues who come here feel that being here is the best way of getting known for what you are actually doing. But I have my own personal belief that even at home we can also make it, but what we want to do is to have more exchange programs between ourselves and the West. If you look at contemporary art in South Africa, it is growing very fast because there is more traffic between South Africa and the international community. I feel the whole of Africa also needs to benefit from that.

Olu Oguibe: Are there things going on to build what it takes to sustain contemporary art where you are, in terms of patronage, the critical establishment, documentation and so on, so that it does not become a matter of depending on whether you have an exchange with the West or not? Because the West does not really care about the exchange with you, but they do have the institutions and structures to sustain their own contemporary art.

Raphael Chikukwa: We need the West to know what is really happening at home, the way we can do this is by encouraging interaction between the West and us.

Bili Bidjocka: To go to Belgium a Senegalese person needs a visa. To go to Senegal a Belgian does not need one. That is the point.

Rainer Ganahl: What is going on in your country in terms of artists, how are they organized and how about the community?

Raphael Chikukwa: There are a lot of artists who are actually exploring the present political situation in Zimbabwe, using what is happening. A very good example is the South Africa Biennial. It took a radical move for them to get the world to understand what was really happening with apartheid in South Africa and the misrepresentation of South Africa to the international community. There is a lot of misrepresentation of my own country in the international community and the best thing we can do is to work all together and get the world to understand what is really happening.

Janet Koplos: How can we be global? How do we have time, energy and resources to know about all that is happening everywhere? I think there are limits to globalisation... Simply the capacity to absorb information and to be interested in all those things.

ManRay: In the past the scientific tradition has given us this model of “universal knowledge”. And today this is a new temptation for us. On the other hand, we are facing this problem of art tourism. In opposition to that, we should build a residence in which people can actually stay for a while. Anthropology has already developed this kind of classic “field research” where the anthropologist is required to go to certain regions around the world to interact and live with the people there. This is a very important model at the moment and one we should apply to the art world.

Danilo Trogu, Popolare

Rainer Ganahl: The constitution of art in Western Europe is very much linked to formation of the nation state and to the creation of something we call the “public sphere.” If you take twenty people from Third World countries and invite to a Biennial I do not think that it necessarily improves the situation in their countries. It does not automatically translate back into the improvement of a cultural infrastructure in their countries. I would suggest looking into the possibility of the kind of process that established the European cultural networks. It is very important that something changes from within and develops some kind of dynamic that is not just oriented towards this high price star system like the Biennials. Right now, the wealthier artists from developing countries immediately leave their homelands when they are successful internationally. If in your home country you develop an interesting model, precisely because of this shortage and this discrimination you talk about, it could become attractive for others. It is really a question of developing a situation from the inside that everybody can learn from.

Issa Maria Benítez Dueñas: I am an art critic from Mexico, based in Madrid. Mexico is right now in a privileged position of visibility. It is a place that has created a very interesting infrastructure by itself: museums, independent centres for artists. But the truth is that if Mexico or Mexican art is visible right now, I think it is 80% in the terms of the Western interpretation of the situation. All this infrastructure has been working for twenty years now and while the people involved are not novices just getting into the global contemporary art world, they are just not taken into account and they are not the ones who are doing the interpretation. They are not asked how they look at this. I do not think that a political infrastructure will be the one which solves the problems.

Cecilia Chilosi: Who chooses the confines of the globalized world? If we ignore this, the other questions are a little empty.

ManRay: Mexico’s visibility was in a way created by the Western art world, but on the other hand this kind of visibility has helped create the environment of the art world locally and institutions now have more variety and are more supportive of contemporary art. What is actually lacking is that there is not much exchange between Mexico and non-Western regions of the world. It is very hard to see if the initiation or visibility in general damages or is good for a local art scene. For example, the Chinese art community has been very strong but they do not have the infrastructure and over the last ten years Western attention has not really helped in creating an infrastructure in there.

Olu Oguibe: I spent ten years of my life arguing for the visibility of non-Western artists in the West. And then in the mid ’90s we were all talking about the new internationalism and of moving away from a centre to centres. In my own arguments, I also emphasised that those who remain in their own countries do need to work for visibility within their own communities, building up structures for sustaining their own art, because you cannot sustain culture within your society by depending on another society, you have a responsibility to build patronage, to build a critical establishment. And some of us who are in the West are actually in West because we could not stay. I left Nigeria for political reasons. I did not want to leave. In 1997, there was an opportunity to develop that kind of structure within South Africa. The Johannesburg Biennial provided an opportunity for lots of South African artists to gain the kind of international visibility we were talking about, but what happened after 1997? It was killed off, politically, within South Africa. I can assure you that Mexico has to continue to build its own patronage within Mexico. You know what happened in Australia to Aboriginal artists in the 1970s. Everybody came, picked up stuff that is in basements now, and in the 1990s Aboriginal Australian artists are back on hard times because the international clientele is no longer there. This is the responsibility we have. To build those structures to sustain the growth of our own culture and then to have the strength to relate to the rest of the world’s cultures, on a more but never wholly equal basis.

Raphael Chikukwa: This is what we are actually doing in Zimbabwe at the moment. We are trying to have more exhibitions, bringing more clientele to the whole community and this is a beginning. We are learning from what has been happening in South Africa; we are also taking all those mistakes and see what we can actually do to improve our own community.

Rainer Ganahl: Think of product labels: super-authority is given to brand names. The art world is also trying to create a kind of detached superstructure that provides well paid careers for a short period of time and this is problematic. In Russia in 1991, I saw how people stopped working in the way they were working before and just produced for foreign visitors. Suddenly all that counted was to get money and to leave. They had no interest in creating a local structure. Even within Europe we have these distinctions. It really makes a difference whether you are a German artist, a British artist, or whether you are from Luxembourg or from Austria. You can see differences in prices mirroring national economies and domestic markets. I think we as artists should revise the models of success that are produced by other people and their mega-shows and try to develop our own models of success.

Pascal Beausse: The Western art system monopoly is a real symbolic violence, so the main issue today is whether there is another model. What is this centre? America is one of the main authors of globalisation, but America itself is very local, it is a small town. It’s more global, or glocal, here with all of us. It is a utopia and art has to build utopias, of course.

Iké Udé, Blue China

Bili Bidjocka: In 1997, I was talking with one of the organizers of the Johannesburg Biennial and I asked him: How is it that people around me do not know about the Biennial?  He told me: I put the information in all the newspaper, all the traditional media gave the information, and it is not my fault if they do not know how to read. As artists we are an élite talking a specific, very exclusive language. This is just the situation we should think about when talking about globalisation, otherwise we will find ourselves in this extreme position of thinking we are resolving the questions of the world.

Wang Du: Albisola can mean globalisation: I think it was a Korean curator who suggested having a Chinese artist living in Paris here in Albisola. That is the real globalisation: killing all politics and eliminating all borders between countries.

Rainer Ganahl: If you look at the Venice Biennale, it was built at the beginning of the 20thcentury in a way that really mirrored the national powers at the time, with the main axis featuring pavilions from Germany, Britain and France. Austria, defeated in WWI was placed in a remote corner. Hitler rebuilt Germany’s pavilion at the head of the central axis. The smaller powers are at the back. This competitive placing is typical of one of the principles of nationalism that led us to major wars. Today we have more complicated configurations and new twists: if a star Korean curator invites a hot Chinese artist living in Paris to a place in Milan, are we then dealing with a completely different situation? I doubt it, because while power and success are sailing on new flagships they speak the same language of internationalism and trans-national success. They are integrated within the same symbolic power structure and the effect of it is actually destructive for many artists, even back in China, because they think that all they need and have to do is to get a ticket to Paris or New York.

ManRay: This Biennial is new in the sense of the working model, of inviting conceptual artists who were not working in this kind of media before. It is very hard to say whether a biennial in general is good. You have a significantly different kind of impact on the local art community and on the general public. It really has to go through a series sociological studies to see what kind of impact they have and why they are still welcome in quite a lot of cities. Particularly in the West, the local art world would have a lot of opportunity to do all this. Other cities would have no chance to have access to this.

Rainer Ganahl: I was a little disturbed to see models of art history that go back to the 19th century and have represented an authoritarian classification of objects. I would prefer to see the objects made by artists today as a challenge to this kind of notion that even questions the history of ceramics. Thus for me it was very disturbing to see an object that was made last year taken out of its social, political, geographical, internationalist context and simply projected onto similar objects that date back to maybe the 18th century. I think it is more productive to basically re-write the history of Asger Jorn, or of these works, according to what people do; I would like to have a re-reading of previous production and not the other way around. That would really liberate the way we look at ceramics today, and it would also explain more clearly what artists do today.

Frederikke Hansen: The sense of this meeting is a kind of dialectic between the local and globalisation. I feel like a very privileged person, one of the fortunate 1% who get to travel to meet international artists, because it is still an international meeting, it not a global meeting. Two thirds of the world’s population have never even had a telephone conversation. How can we have a global village, then?

Alexis Amini: I think a lot of Rainer’s comments are correct, but there is a kind of implicit superiority that is also Western. So, you should re-analyse your stands, because there are forms which are completely non-Western and which we have not discovered yet. I know that retrieval is necessary. I know that most cultures are in possession of vital information that is getting lost and that there is no structure for people to meet, to somehow become constructive in retrieving this information. So, it is a question of form that is missing. We need to work on some kind of a format whereby a bunch of strange people thrown into a room can interact.

A voice from the public: We could do an experiment: lock the door for the night and wait until tomorrow and then...

Fondazione De Mari, Comune di Savona, Comune di Vado Ligure, Comune di Albisola Superiore, Comune di Albissola Marina