In the 1950s, my grandparents left Italy for Canada, where my grandfather used his knowledge of ceramics to make lamps. Following his footsteps back to Nove, Italy almost 70 years later, I have returned to my grandfather’s town to likewise produce my own clay forms.
My own practice frequently involves discarded materials, giving back life to objects that are deemed unusable or outmoded. I found plaster molds—produced between the 1970s and 1990s—in the basement of my cousin’s ceramics factory. Made with a slip-casting ceramic technique that is common in commercial mass-production of pottery, the pieces in Break the Mold were removed prematurely from these plaster forms, before their clay walls dried fully and lost all plasticity. In this flimsy state, they have been poked and prodded out of sameness, forced to stand—if a little clumsily (nobody is perfect)—on their own feet.
Each vessel is handmade upon request—and I open an invitation to my viewer to suggest an inscription or design for the work. I see this act as a necessary revision of the alienation of artist and collector that has taken root through the gallery system. Rather than seeing my pieces as pre-produced and finalized works, I believe that they must emerge out of dialogue and reflect the needs of the home they are to enter.
In a series of photographs that accompanies these pottery works, my white ceramic vases are willfully lopsided and asymmetrical, like the clay and glass vessels in a Giorgio Morandi painting—which warp and melt as if from heat. They wobble and wilt like the flowers they hold. Seemingly pliant, tractable, and yielding, the ceramics stagger and trip over the even table surface.
Collaged from multiple different plaster molds made in the 1980s (around the year I was born), the lamps’ clay forms are stacked in rickety configurations, seeming almost to buckle under pressure, and modified to make each piece distinct. Creating unique lampshades from fabrics produced by Villa Bussandri, a company located minutes from where I work that has been fabricating upholstery since circa 1920. I am using fabrics manufactured between 1950 and 1990, a time span that encapsulates the year of my grandparents’ immigration, my parents’ birth, and the year that I was born. Adorning the lamps with fabrics used variably for objects, fashion, and interior design—such as silk, velvet, and wall-coverings—I suggest different relationships between the viewer and the figure of the lamp. This work also takes up the craft of my grandmother Bertilla, who made shades for my grandfather’s lamps when they moved to Canada. An accompanying photo series plays on the idea that these ceramic and cloth objects mirror a human struggle to distinguish oneself, the lamps variably attract attention, blur into the background, or disappear entirely.
A further body of work takes the exterior of the plaster mold—not intended for casting—as its point of departure. Hand-applying clay to the outside of the mold, I render goopy and asymmetrical forms. In the process of making these works, I must remove the mold before the clay dries and contracts around the plaster surface, but only after it has had enough time to harden and develop structural integrity. Paying attention to temperature and humidity, I judge—sometimes correctly, sometimes wrongly—when the clay is ready for manipulation and when it needs to rest.
While I am interested in breathing idiosyncrasy and distinction into these works, not all of my associations with the factory are negative. I grew up playing in my father and grandfather’s factory, running amongst lighting fixtures and stacked boxes. The slip-casting process used for this group of works traditionally yields materials that are sanded and glazed to perfection, every piece precisely mirroring the others. However, each work in this series is individual, the product of both the mold and my hands. In a way, I see it as my collaboration with the factory and with my cousin, Claudio Lancerini, a very material edit to the knowledge passed down by my forebears.
Ceramics, and textiles.
Vintage textiles have been up-cycled for the lampshades. Leftover pieces of canvas from art shops and also from my studio are being used to create the canvas lampshades. Discarded plaster molds have been given new life by creating a unique system where each form is then manipulated to become a one-of-a-kind artwork.