Practice Practice Practice
by Jane Withers, 2017

This ceramic research project initiated by Venetian-based design studio Zaven, emerged from a chance encounter with the work of mid-century master Nino Caruso. Zaven were introduced to Caruso’s work when they were making their first ceramics a few years ago and attracted by his raw, experimental approach. An Italian artist and political activist born in Tripoli, Caruso made ceramics his primary focus. The muscular forms and surfaces, as ancient as modern, capture clay’s material gravity and essential earthiness, exploiting its expressive possibilities on an architectural and even an urban scale.

In Practice Practice Practice, Zaven pays homage to Caruso, playing on scale and repetition and the potential of ceramics to animate interiors. For designers working at the intersection between graphics, design and art, and using research as a departure point, clay proves a prodigiously versatile medium. Here three different modules can be configured to form installations that bring a graphic plasticity to wall surfaces. The forms reference geometric pattern-making, playing on the negative and positive effects of concave and convex shapes and the precision of industrial components, and suggest possibilities to multiply organically. The title alludes to the studio’s pragmatic and studious approach to making new work and the slow process of getting to know a material and its technical and expressive potential.

Zaven belong to a generation of Italian designers who are re-examining Italy’s modernist heritage and constructing their own narratives from forays into less-travelled corners (in part the reason for their selection for Brompton Design District 2017 theme ‘Other Stories – alternative perspectives on design’). Caruso fought to elevate pottery and craft work, forging links between artisans and industry and claiming space for ceramics in the modern industrial landscape. He travelled globally to experience first hand different pottery vernaculars, and published several books that helped refocus attention on clay. As we look for ways to counter the condition of digital displacement, the flattening of materiality and experience, the lure of clay and its material is more tangible than ever.