Alessio Sarri is the master ceramicist for whom Ettore Sottsass first drew the Antiche Ceramiche. Based in Sesto Fiorentino, Florence, Alessio took a moment to note down his thoughts about his relationship with the material and with Ettore Sottsass. His essay is accompanied by photographs of his laboratory shot by Giulio Boem.
“I want to know why” is the title that Ettore gave to his interesting exhibition in 2007 in Trieste. This sentence has been stuck in my head and is more or less the question I always ask myself at some point during my work as a ceramicist. I would like to know why the hell I do this job, why I make ceramics. Why does it make sense to create such complex vases, fruit bowls and teapots, which require endless work time and consequentially a lifetime devoted to never ending firings and plenty of colours that melt at 1000 degrees. You never know what’s going on until the furnace cools down and you open that door. You are already prepared for death in order to die less if everything is ruined inside. Or, if everything goes well, to enjoy a childish happiness that allows you to try everything all over again with a life that, whether you like it or not, is kneaded inside it.
I keep on asking the question, but I don’t have a convincing answer just yet.
The only certain thing is that there must be beauty involved to create impossible ceramics, which only become real after a long period of dedication. Ettore’s ideas and drawings have materialised into architectural, delicately balanced and structural engineered volumes, which, however, resulted not from calculations but from a combination of water, earth, fire and air. Sharp edges support other sharp edges, material supports other material… As if it came from a volcano, the melted substance remains stuck on the polished surface while it hardens in the slow process.
Factories produce colours and glazes, which later, in my lab, become refined powders contained in thousands of jars and get extracted when needed in small grams in order to create more and new possibilities of colours. Ettore understood these processes well after spending so many Saturdays and Sundays with his friend Londi in the Bitossi factory in Montelupo. I feel in continuity with the story of the Montelupo ceramics, as if Londi passed me the baton… although this never happened. What actually happened was that Ettore saw the ceramics made with Matteo Thun and, raising the lid of a Rara Avis teapot, he said: “You see when a pottery is well done from what it is hidden in it.” The Antiche Ceramiche also have this “hidden” element.
My role, my ‘mission’ with Sottsass’ ceramics is not only a matter of attention to details, which is the instrument that gives the ceramics the strength that is already present in their drawings. Each work is not only a mere set of details… that would make these ceramics solely an exercise in virtuosity, sometimes more or sometimes less successful. I contribute myself to add value, sense, which is the “hidden” element I share with Ettore. As with music or dance, a good interpreter adds value to the work of the master. So, the Antiche Ceramiche are not just squared potteries with edges and cuts where volumes intersect, where the material tries to rebel and contrast the shape, in the end finding a balance. They are the vibration that comes out from the tension of the material and that remains trapped inside it. A square is a balance of forces within a circle, like a mandala drawn in the sand. The ceramic is not an object in the end, but a world of experiences, questions and answers, movements and fights of materials.
The art of ceramics is not simply the gestures and knowledge linked to the craft. I don’t make ceramics because I’m a potter. Making ceramics in my case happens by chance, something that happens continuously in every gesture I make and solution I practise. And I keep wondering “why?” And the only answer I have is again the same question “I want to know why?”
I ask myself “why”, I ask my ceramics, my projects, the people I work with. And ceramics is always the result of every answer. They represent the relationship with the others and the relationship with the world. I learned from Ettore that an object can be a carrier of divinity, hoping that people can spend some time to listen to the little dense empty space between them and the others, between the object and the observer. Which means finding the “hidden” element.
The dance of the dust goes on ….
Alessio Sarri, 21 January 2015