“Vaso libellula” by Venini, accompanied by Georges Braque’s phrase: “The vase gives shape to emptiness and music to silence”
To me this fragile glass vessel is tough as old boots. Look at the way the hands are placed on the hips, one slightly higher than the other, this is not posed or level anger, this is seriously out of kilter fury. What has annoyed this vase so much? Is it the comparison to a dragonfly? My initial glance at the vase makes me think that it is nothing like a dragonfly, but I am forced to change my mind. Dragonflies rather buck the evolutionary trend, they are survivors, they fly in ways that even the US Air Force cannot comprehend, yet they appear to be utterly fragile. They stop and start and attempt to hypnotise the observer. They choose to hang sideways from anything they fancy, a table, a hat, a person. What we have here is a delicate little dragonfly vase filled with serious quantities of attitude. As to the information that arrives with this vase, it is, perhaps, a little too much information. The quotation from Braque makes me realise that this is a vase half full situation – it may give shape to emptiness, but it is equally an emptiness waiting to be filled. If it is giving music to silence, it should be ashamed of itself. I like my silence nice and, well, silent. I don’t want it filled, otherwise it is not silence. His words, and mine, are a little skewed, like the vase itself so I may have to change my mind again.
Maxine Flaneuse de Cornouaille
Il vaso dà forma al vuoto
Alcuni pensano ancora ai vasi come semplici contenitori, recipienti destinati a contenere sostanze solide, liquide o gassose, che danno forma a queste sostanze. In realtà, un vaso non è solo un contenitore. Fin dalle più antiche civiltà, i vasi non sono stati limitati alla loro funzione primaria ma piuttosto sono stati alcuni tra gli oggetti più usati nella perenne ricerca di sperimentazione formale ed espressiva. I vasi sono un archetipo, un elemento primario che sta alla base della nostra cultura oggettuale. I vasi possono essere fatti nei materiali più diversi: terracotta, porcellana, ceramica, metallo, legno, vetro e plastica. Oltre alla sua vasta gamma storica e sociale, la ricchezza semantica di questo oggetto appare nei molti nomi usati per nominarlo e per specificarne forma e funzione: anfora, orcio, giara, situla, brocca, caraffa, urna e così via. Nel corso del Novecento, il vaso è stato uno degli oggetti che più spesso si sono ritrovati sulla linea di confine che separa e allo stesso tempo unisce design ed artigianato. Sebbene il pezzo artigianale sia unico e quello di design implichi una produzione di massa, entrambi sono attenti alla forma ed alla funzione, al lato estetico ed alla sperimentazione. I vasi sono uno di quegli oggetti che più facilmente sono passati dalla produzione artigianale a quella industriale e che, anche quando sono prodotti in serie, conservano tracce ed indizi della loro origine artigianale. Il vaso “Libellula” di Vittorio Zecchin per Venini è un bellissimo esempio di notevole artigianato e di magnifico design: sembra che possa davvero prendere il volo.
The vase gives shape to emptiness
Some people still view vases as simple containers: a recipient meant to hold solids, liquids or gases, and which gives shape to these substances. In reality, a vase is not just a container. Since the earliest human cultures, vases have not been limited to their primary function but rather have been one of the objects most used in the perpetual search for formal and expressive experimentation. Vases are thus an archetype, an early element that forms part of the foundation of our object culture. Vases can be made from a wide range of materials: terracotta, porcelain, ceramic, metal, wood, glass and plastic. In addition to its wide historical and social range, this object’s semantic breadth is apparent in the many terms used to name it and relate its form and function: amphora, pot, jar, situla, jug, pitcher, urn and so forth. Throughout the twentieth century, vases were one of the items most often found at the border that separates and connects design and craftsmanship. Although handicraft is unique and design implies mass production, both are attentive to form and function, aesthetics and experimentation. Vases are one of the objects that transitioned most easily from artisanal to industrial production and even when mass-produced, they managed to conserve traces and clues of their handcrafted origins. The vase “Dragonfly” by Vittorio Zecchin for Venini is a beautiful example of remarkable handicraft and exquisite design: it seems like it could take flight.
Not Venini, Now Rioda
In 1921 Paolo Venini, Milanese lawyer, and Giacomo Cappellin, Venetian antique dealer, founded Cappellin Venini & C. They purchased the recently closed Murano glass factory of Andrea Rioda, hired the former firm’s glassblowers, and retained Rioda himself as technical director, with the painter Vittorio Zecchin as artistic director. Now Rioda’s efforts and talent, his heritage and reputation would go on to enrich two clever businessmen. Rioda died soon after selling his firm and engaging as technical director, most likely of heartbreak at losing his life’s work and ending up as a hired hand at what has been his own company. Andrea Rioda had owned his firm and was himself an artist designing and making glass; a number of extant glassworks bear his name. After his death, many of the glassblowers left the Venini firm and founded their own glassmaking company titled “Successors of Andrea Rioda”. The irony consists of a Wikipedia for Paolo Venini, and both Murano and Venini glass, but Andrea Rioda has no Wiki entry of his own, he only appears on Venini’s page, as if by buying his company Venini ate Rioda and digested him. Rioda’s possible death by disappointment is the mythical tale of the unappreciated neglected artist and yet we today can give him a well-deserved respect when we see that Murano glass is filed under Venini. Just as Duchamp’s urinal, called The Fountain, was not by him but by artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, so Murano and Venini works should be recognized as Andrea Rioda glass.
Having lived for most of my life in Italy, I am quite familiar with the glass works of Murano in Venice. I’ve seen many very costly and heavy, gaudy chandeliers made of Venetian glass that are overwhelmed with far too many flowers. However, this vase is pleasingly different and not ornate as some pieces can be; it is soft like swans in motion or like a very delicate dance. Finally, something beautiful. Another accepted translation of Braque’s phrase (Le vase donne une forme au vide, et la musique au silence), “The vase gives emptiness a form, as music does silence”, changes the meaning slightly, leading me to imagine the empty, rather undefinable space which a vase encloses in the same way that music covers or envelops silence. Libellula was designed around 1925 when Mussolini rose to power and Fascism entered everyday life, making order out of chaos as democracy disappeared. It is representative of change, though life for those who could afford such luxuries was still an enchantment, for those who were politically correct. Looking back at life then, it is in sharp contrast to life in Italy today and in many parts of the world where everyone is terribly busy and always running, no longer able to enjoy something as simple as this vase, which could give shape to our empty lives, and empty they are when they are devoid of beauty. I am humbled by something so fine and given a glimpse of a time long gone.
At first glance this vase reminded me of my mother, standing with hands on hips, displeased and about to say so. I tried to rise above this repressive image and regard it in a more artistic light. Its smoky countenance, slight asymmetry and fragile shape were credit to a skill I could only guess at. If this vase were a river it would be The Ganges, flowing slowly, with timeless grace, all things to many people, all embracing, all forgiving. If it were a song it would be a ballad, Suzanne, perhaps, sung by Leonard Cohen in his honeyed drawl, the cadence measured, the nuances meaningful. Were it a hat it would be a snood, the head band clinging softly to the skull whilst behind it, the body of the hat falls in gentle, asymmetrical folds to the nape of the neck. Were it a bird it would be the albatross, gliding across the ocean, skimming the waves, riding the currents of air effortlessly. Window glass in past times would sag or weep with age, distorting the images beyond. I wondered briefly if, should this vase survive for eons, would it too begin to weep, perhaps then the arms would be more reminiscent of my mother’s enfolding loving arms. This made me smile.
I would have passed you by if your arm hadn’t reached out to pull me back. Yet when I looked again, that errant limb was back in place on your hip as an almost perfect replica of its twin. Have you escaped from Beauty and the Beast perchance? Do you cavort with Lumiere and Cogsworth, and is the elixir of eternal love destined to pour from the golden libation cup entombed within your elegance? Your maker, Vittorio Zecchin, fashioned you in the 1920’s at the renowned Venini glass studios on the island of Murano near Venice and named you Libellula, the dragonfly vase. You are the transparent hue of mild chamomile tea and your height is restrained to that of an upended modern paperback book. It is your wings that make your statement to the world. They are accentuated curves which are tethered at your glass base. If released, they would propel you forward with sensual charm. These voluptuous curves nudge you towards an exquisite work of art and rescue you from a purely practical fate. You are a reflection of myself on those occasions when I stand nonchalant, desperately waiting to be filled with inspiration. I lean against an object with my hands on my hips and look into the distance. Great surges of desperation wash over my concealed soul whilst I attempt to trick the universe into thinking that I don’t care whether it fills me or not. Then a glint of sunlight flickers through your glass or a new reflection is revealed upon your surface and I am able to rejoice again in renewed hope and trust.
In a darkly amusing Neil Gaiman story, a line came to mind when looking at Vaso Libellula by Venini: this is “a manifestation of Order, here incarnated for us in the form of this cardboard box.” Later, at the story’s conclusion, another character smugly comments in a loud aside, “nobody’s interesting would be a cardboard box!” To add an even more inappropriate subjective reference, I’ve spent most of the last month wandering around the ‘rust belt wonderland’ of a city other than my usual one, and while considering the Vaso Libellula I came across an abandoned, ill-used cooler. ‘Her’ maw-like lid wide open: empty but for dirt and detritus. I took a picture. I always do. Then it became ‘art’, to be admired and freed from being useful (like a vase kept ’empty’). As guidance – or a shepherding, as I just demonstrated the (perhaps inappropriate) breadth of my frame[s] of reference – in speaking to Vaso Libellula was Braque’s phrase: “The vase gives shape to emptiness and music to silence.” Presence defined by absence (the Gaiman character whom is the empty box is named Kilderkin: from Middle English for a “cask for liquids”, and perhaps its half full, half empty, soon to be drunk, and then the ‘shape of emptiness’ returns, having only been full temporarily, emptiness and absence being the default state). I find this piece empty: but all art is empty, frankly, only “bestowed with power by individuals, institutions of sacred or worldly power or imagined communities.” Perhaps what bothers me here is that it’s so obvious, and to return to Shimmering Jenny of the Chaos Brigade (Gaiman again – am I filling the empty space too flippantly? Should have put something else there, then, before handing it to me), boring is more unforgivable than madness. At least that’s entertaining.