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Outside the Walls: A Journey to Italy and the Founding of an Artists’ Residency

Posted September 8, 2014 in Classes & Presentations

Guest blogger and KCAD professor Israel Davis writes about his summer trip to Trieste, Italy, where he founded an artists' residency at Ceramica Artistica Prospettiva (Ceramic Art Perspective) and helped give four KCAD community members an experience they'll never forget.

Over the past 4 years, I have been developing a relationship with a ceramics center just outside of Trieste, Italy called Ceramica Artistica Prospettiva (Ceramic Art Perspective, or CP). This relationship began in 2010 when I spent a month there co-teaching a kiln-building workshop with my longtime friend and mentor, Bill Farrell who taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for many years before retiring. I was invited to return in 2012 by Luca Gandini, owner and director of CP, to teach screen-printing on clay and to lead a firing in the wood kiln that Bill and I designed and built. For that visit I received funding from Structural Concepts, a company based in Muskegon, MI, to take along KCAD alum and current KCAD ceramics studio tech Kayla Thompson to assist me in the class.

It was then that I began to speak with Luca about the possibility of developing an artists’ residency at CP. My proposal was simple: to lead, direct, and organize a group of individuals who were ready and willing to invest in an immersive creative experience. He agreed, and so over the next year and a half I began to plan the next trip. I would pay a fee to CP for the rental of equipment, space, and the use of materials, and I would also organize housing and travel. In exchange, CP would offer half of its space and equipment, the assistance of its employees, and coffee and lunch at its small restaurant. And just like that, the CP artists’ residency was born, and I was its Director.

students going to ItalyThe Italy trip crew (from left to right): Salvador Jimenez, Israel Davis, Jovonnah Nicholson, Kayla Thompson, Nathaniel Large

So, on June 8, 2014, alumni Salvador Jimenez (’14, MFA Drawing), Jovonnah Nicholson (’09, Sculpture and Functional Art), and Kayla Thompson (’11, Sculpture and Functional Art), and current Sculpture and Functional Art student Nathaniel Large traveled with me to Trieste for the inaugural residency. We were to be there for three weeks. The three alumni came as the first invited resident artists, and as Luca had also invited me to teach screen-printing on clay again, I asked Nathaniel to come along as my teaching assistant. For this trip I again received funding from Structural Concepts to pay for housing, studio, and partial travel for each participant. I also received support from Speedball Art Materials for underglaze and screen-printing supplies.

My vision for the residency wasn’t to simply arrive at the studio, make work in CP’s space, and go home to our apartment each night. I wanted the residency to be a truly immersive experience. I wanted it to feel like we were living and working amongst the people in Trieste. And furthermore, it was important to me that the artists selected for the residency would be willing to interact with the people of CP. To me, our role as visiting artists was to supplement the experience of the people working there, and my invitation was made with that in mind.
students working on a wood fire kilnWorking on building a wood fire pizza oven

CP is part of a larger non-profit organization, known as a social cooperative, called Duemila Dieci (Two Thousand Ten). This is a statement from their website: “Duemila Dieci is a social cooperative type B that provides employment for disadvantaged people through cleaning, catering, and food services, ceramics production, computer maintenance and consulting services.” Basically, the mission of the cooperative is to provide employment opportunities and job counseling services to those people who have diminished capacity due to mental illness, people who have had trouble maintaining employment, and those who have led troubled lives.

israel davis teachingIsrael Davis (far right) teaching screenprinting on clay

For these individuals, the experience at Duemila Dieci is both an educational and monetary exchange. The people there come from all walks of life and engage in a sense of community that appears almost family-like. In fact, Luca and his stepson Silvio run the ceramics center, and during our stay Luca’s other son, Jacopo, translated for us. Lunch is served family-style everyday at one big table and everyone takes espresso afterward. Everyone was very hospitable and treated us to meals, car rides, and inside scoops on the good spots to go to in town. They even took us to the beach in Croatia and to the bus station for our overnight trip to Venice, where we saw an incredible exhibition, in conjunction with the Venice Architecture Bienniale, which included Ai Wei Wei, Anish Kapoor, and other contemporary artists. We also visited the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and the Academia Museum.

We took the bus from Trieste to CP everyday. We made meals in our apartment and maintained a 9-5 schedule, except on weekends, though we worked for a few hours on Saturdays. We focused on making work for the wood-kiln, preparing for the firing, and constructing a wood-fired pizza oven from scratch. I made objects to demonstrate techniques for screen-printing on clay, and we all gave short presentations on our art and practices. We all embarked upon our own creative interests but made time to collaborate as well.

The pizza oven was our ultimate collaboration and also our main contribution to CP and the cooperative. Its construction was based upon a Roman arch design in honor of being in Italy. In the process, we learned a lot about how to fire a wood-burning pizza oven from Luca (wood-fired pizza is highly prevalent in the region). We received many compliments on our oven and its design (which differs from the spherical design of a traditional Italian pizza oven). Best of all was the collaborative chimney that we all made together to commemorate the occasion.

inspecting finished work in ItalyInspecting finished work outside of CP

There are many other stories that I could tell. Living in the city of Trieste for three weeks, commuting to work, being lavished with Italian hospitality, and making ceramic art culminated in a moving display of friendship, mutual admiration, respect, and renewed energy to continue to produce and investigate.

But one compliment from our hosts really stood out from all the others. It was said many times in many ways, but I think Luca said it best when he pulled me aside and told me, “Izzy, when you are here, everyone is always smiling. The people you bring with you are talented, open, and sharing. You all engage with the people of CP, which truly complements the educational goals of the cooperative.”

We brought ourselves to Italy not to just make art in a different country, but to immerse ourselves in the culture and community of the place we were in. There is something special there in Trieste. I am already planning the next visit.


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