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Rewarding Innovation in Contemporary Mosaics: Winners of Ravenna’s Young Artists & Mosaic Competition

On 17, Nov 2011 | 3 Comments | In Uncategorized | By man-admin

For us, one of the most exciting events of international festival RavennaMosaico 2011 was the Young Artists and Mosaic (GAEM) exhibition and competition at the Art Museum of Ravenna (MAR).   Created specifically to reward “technical and non-conventional use of materials, but in accordance with the constitutive logic and poetic language of mosaic“, this group of ten works celebrated Innovation with a capital I.  On November 18th, the winners were announced.  They are:

Orsoni Award – € 2,000 in materials from Orsoni Veniziani
for The Use of Traditional Materials
CaCO3 (Italy) for Movimento No. 18
Banca Popolare di Ravenna Award – € 2,000
for the Use of Unconventional Technique and Materials
Samantha Holmes (USA) for Unspoken 10.22.10 – 07.07.11

We’re going to explore these works more closely and hear what the artists had to say about their creations below, but first we are going to take a little space to talk about what it was like to see the exhibit first-hand.  For us, this was a tough show to enjoy.  We were alternately flumoxed, dazzled, gobsmacked, and dumbfounded by some of the pieces.  We were uncomfortable.  And we appreciate that.  Our discomfort meant that the curators – a veritable Who’s Who of the established Italian mosaic community – did an excellent job of seeking out and presenting innovation and, in doing so, provoked some new thinking for us about the nature of contemporary mosaics.

Our sincere thanks Claudio Spadoni, Director of MAR, Linda Kniffitz, Curator of the Center for the International Documention of Mosaic, Gian Piero Brovedani, Director of the Mosaic School of Friuli (Spilimbergo), Maria Rita Bentini, Coordinator of the Academy of Fine Arts in Ravenna, Lucio Orsoni, Artist and Director Orsoni Smalti and artist Dusciana Bravura whose selection process gave us so much to chew on.

One more observation:  This exhibit was not just about innovation for innovation’s sake.  Instead, it was about “the indissolubility of the relationship between preservation and innovation” as the Mayor of Ravenna wrote in his foreword for the exhibit catalogue.  Innovation was balanced with a reverence for the basic components of design that make the city’s Byzantine mosaic treasures so splendid.  Ravenna is much, much more than the caretaker/conservator of its Byzantine mosaic treasures.  It is quickly becoming an international cultural center for the art form.

Now, let’s talk about the winners. (please click on the photos for enlarged versions)

Movimento no. 18, 2011    CaCO3
60 x 90 cm Lime and mortar on Aerolam
Orsoni Award for the Use of Traditional Materials

CaCO3 writes about this work:

This work, produced using nothing but white limestone tesserae cut into long, narrow shapes, features an abstract, optical biomorphism.

“Movimento no. 18” is the continuation of an artistic journey that analyzes and investigates the mosaic through its constituting elements and through the extravagantly overstated andamento and inclination of the tesserae.

These are varied, allowing the surface to modulate in powerful curves and in relationships of order and disorder, accentuating flows of tesserae that stand out against a disjointed background.

The tesserae gradually transition between horizontal and vertical, defining delicate chiaroscuro dynamics that modulate the entire surface.

We recently wrote about CaCO3’s installation “Immersion” at the Arian Baptistry – the only RavennaMosaico event to be held in a UNESCO world heritage site.  The triumverate of Aniko Ferreira da Silva, Giuseppe Donnaloia and Pavlos Mavromatidis was also selected for Mosaic Art NOW’s Exhibition in Print 2011 and their Kelphos No. 1 was chosen as our cover image.

2011 has been a very good year for CaCO3 and we are told that their signature style is already being adapted (adopted?) by others.


Unspoken 10.22.10 – 07.07.10 2011  Samantha Holmes
Paper and iron thread on wood  55 x 55 x 5 cm
Banca Populare di Ravenna Award for Use of Unconventional Technique and Materials
From the catalogue curated by Lynda Kniffitz:

“Unspoken 10.22.10 – 07.07.11” is essentially a wooden sample board for mosacists, but instead of samples of coloured glass, its ledges house sheets of printed or hand-written paper, folded and fastened with a piece of knotted wire.

The sheets are laid alongside each other in horizontal sequences reminiscent of the arrangement of tesserae in the andamento of a mosaic.  The work has strong conceptual value, the sheets represent the flows of communication that failed or were interrupted due to the New York artist’s linguistic difficulties during her initial period in Italy.

We contacted the artist to learn more about Unspoken.  Here is what she told us:

The piece at GAEM, Unspoken, deals with the challenges of self-expression across linguistic and cultural barriers, but also personal ones. Faced with the inability to articulate my thoughts aloud when I first moved to Ravenna, I began writing them down in moments of frustrated expression. Unspoken acts as a bookcase of these unvoiced ideas, thoughts left unsaid during this period of verbal isolation. Written on receipts, train tickets, scraps of paper found in a given moment of reflection, each “tessera” represents a sealed account of an instant in time – folded, sealed with wire, stored away. What is contained within ranges from the mundane to the profoundly intimate, a written record of a private self in a period of transition.

 Photo via GAEM catalogue

In personal storytelling, unlike the religious or political thematics traditionally represented in mosaic, there is no common scripture – one cannot simply “read” or recognize the message held within. A tension develops between the public display of the notes and the intimacy of their contents, the desire on the part of the viewer to unfold them and his inability to do so, bound by the conventions of the museum space. The thoughts remain trapped, visible but illegible, suspended between the artist and viewer.

Unspoken 2011
Cement, wood, charred wood 100 x 80 x 6 cm
From Works of the World

Ms. Holmes also showed at AIMC’s “Works of the World” exhibit during RavennaMosaico.  Italian arts and culture commentator Roderick Conway Morris singled out this second Unspoken in “An Ancient Craft Gets a Bigger World Stage” (New York Times, Oct. 27, 2011):

. . . the minimalist piece “Unspoken,” by Samantha Holmes, consists of small, scorched and carbonized wooden cubes instead of more conventional glass or stone tesserae.

Photos courtesy of the artist
Ms. Holmes is a graduate of the Visual Arts program at Harvard University, studied graphics and digital design at Parsons New School for Design in New York and is currently attending the Academy of Fine Arts in Ravenna.  Her “cerebral” approach to her self expression in mosaic reminds us of the work of American artist Jo Braun.
Both Movimento no. 18 and Unspoken 10.22.10 – 07.07.10 will be acquired by MAR for their permanent collection.  Our congratulations to CaCO3 and Samantha Holmes for this significant recognition of their dedication to the history and future of mosaic art.
Additional works from the GAEM exhibit we liked:
 Sonya Louro do Rego  Fall, 2011
Shells and marble on wood and polystyrene  150 x 50 x 25 cm
Takako Hirai  Istinto  2011  360 x 125 cm  Marble, smalti
More mosaics from RavennaMosaico 2011 can be found in our previous post “A Contemporary Mosaic Moshpit:  RavennaMosaico 2011” here.
Enjoy –  Nancie
  • CaCO3 here
  • Samantha Holmes here
  • Art Museum of Ravenna (MAR) here
  • RavennaMosaico 2011 here
  • “An Ancient Craft Gets a Bigger World Stage” NYTimes here
  •  “Forward Mosaic:  Braun, Chinn and Drouin at the Villa Bagatelle in Quebec City” here

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  1. Stone Art's Blog

    Love these

  2. Nancie Mills Pipgras

    I wish you could have seen these in person, Maureeen. Next time you're going with us! As for the commentary, I have to thank the artists and the editor of the catalogue for their extremely thoughtful approach to talking about mosaics. There is a lot to be said for history!

  3. Maureen

    Wow work, with informative and helpful commentary. The close-ups for that first piece are wonderful.

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