Celebration and Catastrophe in the Ceramics of Diego Cibelli

There is a crucial starting point and destination for 35-year-old artist and designer Diego Cibelli: his hometown, Naples, which is much more than his birthplace. A state of mind and spirit, a kind of inner lining that has always accompanied him throughout his training, first in industrial design in Naples, then at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, where he deepened the field of humanist geography. “A fundamental field of research that inspires the objects I produce: it explores the feeling of belonging to places and the reasons why a territory becomes a fabric that allows an open dialogue between man and landscape”. I meet Diego in his workshop in Naples – a tangle of evocative and luminous spaces in which his hands, and the hands of his collaborators, give life to the creations they shape. While telling me his story, he proudly shows me a spooky porcelain Arcimboldo being assembled. “I spent more than ten years in Berlin, but the city was miles from my way of seeing things. I realized that there are influences that don’t come from the research we do, but from where we feel we belong. Naples has influenced me a lot, both emotionally and in the way I perceive the things around me. The city has a wealth of layers and contrasts, but it also manages to exude beauty in even the ugliest things. I seek to transpose this beauty into the things I create”.

Ceramics and porcelain are Diego’s favorite materials. The Neapolitan artist creates unique pieces based on the shapes of domestic objects: vases, cushions and containers, but also jars, teapots, animal figurines, flower festoons, fruits and vegetables. All these humble objects become the elements of a language that is played on opposite registers: memory and everyday life, courteous and prosaic, contemplative and functional. “I studied design in Naples because industry is rare here and the object is freed from the functional dimension. In Naples, people experience the object in a much more open dimension – it becomes a manifesto in itself. The ideas that come to mind here are those of Andrea Branzi, for whom objects can be used to convey conceptual and environmental values. Objects are archives that tell the story of man’s ongoing dialogue with his environment”. This is perhaps most effectively explained by one of his most recent collections, eloquently titled “Feed Me with Domestic Stuff”, comprising a selection of totems made up of aggregates of porcelain shapes taken from molds from the Manufacture Royale de Capodimonte as well as everyday objects – tubes of toothpaste, toothbrushes, jars of face cream, candles, make-up brushes, razors. The skilful composition of the totems transforms them into enigmatic presences, halfway between animism and ready-made, with all the sparkling and irreverent spirit inherent in the Neapolitan spirit.

“Each of my works comes from the study of archives. I could never imagine anything that does not come from these numerous and varied archives: prints, engravings, casts, and everything related to the territory. Many people are afraid of tradition, while I find it beautiful because it permeates objects and relationships. Capodimonte porcelain, for example: it was an instrument of power that Charles III of Bourbon wielded when he arrived in Naples. This material was considered an extremely important technical achievement and helped to give the court international prestige. So was the “Antiquities of Herculaneum on Display”, an eight-book collection of engravings that was also sent to other monarchs, along with reproductions of finds from archaeological excavations undertaken by the king. They certainly gave neoclassicism a decisive impetus. Culture was an instrument of power and porcelain was the white gold of the Bourbons”.

The exploration of the archives also underlies “Festa e Catastrofe” (“Celebration and Catastrophe”), an in situ exhibition for the Galleria Alfonso Artiaco in Naples (until September 10). For this, Cibelli was inspired by the protocol of 18th century parties, which lasted for whole days, with a staging designed by the neoclassical architect Antonio Niccolini, creator of the Teatro San Carlo. In the Artiaco gallery, room after room is lined with totems inspired by those created for fireworks, obelisks for medieval games, bas-reliefs, triumphs and profiles evoking carriages. “But the materials are mixed,” explains Cibelli, “with porcelain and ceramic combined with iron elements and a wooden wheel, for example. The whiteness of the porcelain is underlined by the black pigment of the volcano. side of the obelisk, you can see cracks and splinters.” Silent traces of the disaster can be spotted in every room of the exhibition, coexisting and intertwining with the signs of celebration. They brush against each other, sometimes overlap, like two sides of the same coin, just as Naples teaches us.

Antonelle Galli

Captions and Credits
Images courtesy of Diego Cibelli

01 and 06 ‘Trionfo’ (‘Triumph’), exhibition Festa e Catastrofe (Celebration and Catastrophe), Galleria Alfonso Artiaco, Naples, 2022. Credits Grafiluce

02 Festa e Catastrofe (Celebration and Catastrophe) exhibition, Galleria Alfonso Artiaco, Naples, 2022. Credits Grafiluce

03 and 2022 ‘Obelisco per giochi medievali’ (‘Obelisk of the medieval games’), exhibition Festa e Catastrofe (Celebration and Catastrophe), Galleria Alfonso Artiaco, Naples, 2022. Credits Grafiluce

04, 10, 11, Feed Me Household Stuff collection. Credits Francesco Squeglia

05, 07-09 L’Arte del Danzare Assieme exhibition, curated by Angela Tecce and Sylvain Bellenger, Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, 2021. Credits Grafiluce

12-15 Festa e Catastrofe (Celebration and Catastrophe) exhibition, Galleria Alfonso Artiaco, Naples, 2022. Credits Grafiluce

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