“Mater Ceramica”, an ancient yet utterly modern material | by Maria Teresa Rubbiani
Article published in: "The past and present of Italian ceramics"
The Mater Ceramica project launched in May 2017 aims to collect and disseminate full knowledge of Italian ceramics for the very first time, spanning industrial, artisanal and artistic production from the past and present and linking products to their respective areas of production.
So why did Confindustria Ceramica decide to play a leading role in such an extensive and – to all appearances – purely cultural project? A good answer to this question can be found in the words of the speakers who discussed the project at a presentation conference held during Cersaie.
“We should view the past as a resource, exploiting what we can describe as the ‘power of archives’,” said Fulvio Irace, professor of architecture history at Milan Polytechnic. “Alongside large museums like the one in Faenza, company archives offer a veritable treasure trove of technical, production and family knowledge.” Irace believes that future vision and research must be rooted in the past.
“Over time, artisans evolved from craftsmen to entrepreneurs, and began innovating and experimenting with technology and design,” he said. “In Italy craftsmanship has always gone hand in hand with entrepreneurship.” Stefano Micelli, professor of Business Economics and Management at the Cà Foscari University, agreed, emphasising in particular the value of the project for the purposes of tourism. “When tourists visit cities or regions, they are increasingly looking for something authentic, and they can find this in working techniques,” he said. “Access to local culture can be gained through a knowledge of traditional products, so what we are trying to do in this project is integrate this into an advanced tourism and cultural programme.”
Luciano Galassini, vice director of Confindustria Ceramica, concluded by emphasising the cultural and historical value of the initiative, which aims to preserve the knowledge intrinsic in ceramic objects. “A people without memory is a people without future,” he said.
(Watch the video of the conference)
In the video produced by Francesca Molteni to promote the project, Fulvio Irace expressed the concept even more clearly: “The Mater Ceramica project is based on an awareness that, to quote Ponti, ‘the present embodies the past and the future’. Its premise is that beauty is not fortuitous, but stems from a full awareness of its origins.”
This marked the starting point for the Mater Ceramica project, in which academics and researchers will create a historical and geographical map of Italian ceramics, a virtual network linking together the countless hubs of artistic and industrial creativity located in cities and regions across Italy.
A ceramic web portal will serve as an interactive window for communicating with the world given that the duality product/territory is seen as the underlying theme of the industry of the future. A tourist guide to the places of ceramic production will tell a story of Italy that not only focuses on factories but also explores the anthropic and cultural landscape that has shaped ceramic, a material that originates from the earth itself.
It is the new frontier of design, a strategic product vision in which innovation is not just technology but also experience and culture.”
The ultimate goal of the project is to boost the competitiveness of Italian ceramic at a national and international level by promoting an awareness of its quality. To do this, it has created a historical and geographic narrative spanning industrial and craft products, the sector’s age-old and deeply-rooted artistic and craft tradition, its companies, stories of entrepreneurs, workers and the technical solutions and innovations that have been adopted over the years. This is the first time in Italy and probably also in Europe that an entire sector has collaborated on a shared project that combines all its constituent segments: industry, artisanship and art.
The aim of Mater Ceramica is to explore all aspects of the ceramic sector – industrial, artisanal and artistic – and to disseminate knowledge for cultural and promotional purposes.
The project will run for a period of two years and will consist of three stages.
The first stage will focus on research and on collecting current and historical data on ceramic sector companies (industrial, artistic and artisanal) so as to create a national map covering all aspects of Italian ceramics, narrating the sector’s past and present through geo-location of Italian ceramic producers. The second stage will focus on innovation and will involve an in-depth analysis of the technical performance of ceramic materials conducted by the Centro Ceramico. The third stage will be entirely devoted to promotion and dissemination of the data collected during the first stage through the creation of a website, a geo-historical atlas and a tourist guide.
The project is being funded by the MISE (Ministry for Economic Development) in accordance with Law no. 188 of 9 July 1990.
The partners in the project are Confindustria Ceramica, the MIC International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza, the AICC (Italian Ceramic City Association) and the CCB (Centro Ceramico Bologna).
He who seeks finds
Matteo Ruini, 30, from Sassuolo is one of the researchers involved in the Mater Ceramica project.
After graduating in Law, he specialised in archival studies and gained a diploma from the Modena State Archives. Since mid-2017 he has been working on re-cataloguing the tiles in the Italian Ceramic Tile Industry Documentation Centre of Confindustria Ceramica. Once the archive has been completely catalogued and digitised, it will uploaded to the Mater Ceramica website and linked to the Emilia Romagna region’s IBC (Cultural Heritage Institute) system. The cataloguing process brought to light fresh product information (for example on trademarks, as well as on the designers and producer companies), and more than 500 tiles were recovered from the Association’s warehouse. The Documentation Centre currently counts almost 2,000 tiles covering the entire period of Italian industrial production from the early twentieth century onwards.