Exploring Narratives of Non-functionality and “The Great Mundane”: ZOOM Studio Visit with Sculptor Beatrice Bonino.
We caught up via Zoom with Paris-based, Italian-born sculptor Beatrice Bonino for our first ZOOM studio visit. Beatrice discussed with us the unconscious elements to her practice, her affinity towards ancient ceramics, and how her PhD in Sanskrit enriches her work within sculpture.
The initial steps of Beatrice’s journey leading to sculpting in Paris can be traced to her deep affinity towards archaic cultures. She was in her last year of studying Ancient Greek Philology in her home country of Italy when she stumbled into some classes on Indian philosophy. She became instantly fascinated.
“I realized how amazing it was, and I said to myself, I might as well change and go for another ancient language... I started to learn Sanskrit quite fast, getting more and more interested in scientific prose, and in particular in traditional grammar and philosophy of language commentaries. My professor then told me, well, if you want to study philosophy of language, you should move to Paris and meet this professor.”
So she did exactly that, and now, six years later, alongside her work in sculpture, she is a PhD scholar in Sanskrit, the five-thousand-year-old sacred language of Hinduism.
“I definitely feel a tear between these two passions, but I don’t know if I believe in this way of living; of dedicating half of my time to sculpture and half to the academic work. I think that at some point, I will have to choose one.”
“I think what [my sculptures] have in common is this sort of organic, rather obscure aesthetic... It’s good that I have interviews about it because it makes me think about my practice - otherwise it’s pretty unconscious.”
I was curious if a relationship was present between her academic studies of ancient languages and her artistic practice.
“What the study of ancient languages gave me is this discipline in research. Now I apply the same to my art, spending hours studying the sculptures and artworks of my favorite artists. In these moments, time seems to me a weak phenomenon. If no one declared its flow, it might not flow at all... I recently read an interview with the African potter and curator Magdalene Odundo in Magdalene Odundo: The Journey of Things, and at some point she stresses the importance of what she calls ‘visual literacy’, to be preferred to a one-dimensional reading. For an artist it is important to be able to read marks, to read the objects.”
“The objects I make are non-functional. They have no proper use in everyday life; the glasses, plates, vases... You can’t use them to put water in, or flowers. But I cannot say that they are empty, they are certainly full of my thoughts. The healing power of making. I, in fact, believe that everything that happens while I create an object, namely a vase, imbues, impregnates the form and the matter of it. I transfer the thinking, the idea to my hands, as some Indian philosophers theorized. I somehow believe that intellect or rather the faculty of perceiving and understanding is a moving organ, which doesn’t always reside in the brain... A piece is the summation of all the thinking, the process, the life that has got it to that particular point. These pieces I make, they remain unique pieces. They remain sculptures for me... For sure, the fact that I've spent almost 15 years now studying ancient languages — something that has no practical use in everyday life — has influenced the way I think and see things. So that it doesn’t shock me if an object that could be used, is not.”
“The Sedute chairs are situated somewhere between art and design. This project explores material and form dictating specific functional characteristics of each model; the form is the function, the material is the form. Our general inspiration often comes from looking far back to ancient objects and materials, yet the chair itself is timeless; always relevant. Although they might look like sculptures, you can use them. This is what we most like about them.”
“The Sedute are plaster based with a consistent general form. Each chair is hand sculpted, giving each its own persona. They are white, exemplifying the plaster in its purity and humble stature. Their texture depends on how many times wet hands have passed over the plaster, leaving some pieces rough and others rather smooth. They have a wood ‘soul’ — a wood structure. And then we play with this metallic grill to give the shape we want, then we cover with plaster. Everything is handmade, from the first to the last bit.”
Beatrice’s obscure, organic style is undeniably compelling, so I inquired about her influences, both conceptual and aesthetic. It quickly became clear that her fascination with ancient cultures is not limited to the study of languages, but rather she also finds inspiration in the remnants of their artistic expression.
“When I go to museums what I aim for is the prehistoric art... Like the neolithic pots, what remains of them are often just pieces, but still, they really touch me... Cycladic art for sure, and recently, Egyptian. Most of my inspiration, I think, comes from ancient art. The rough, thick, neutral style... The absence of colour... It certainly refers to the ancient sculptures. Pots are somehow always contemporary though, to the extent that human beings have never stopped making these objects. It is an object that is revered and understood by everyone, therefore important to all.”
“I once read this interview with François Halard, the photographer, who was talking about the practice of Giorgio Morandi, this Italian painter who spent his life painting the same bottles in his studio and nothing else. He said doing things over and over again is not about an obsession, but to make your practice sharper and more personal. And I think this is what it’s like for me as well. The effect of repeating always the same shape and always the same objects is to make the mind somehow personalise them to the extent that I recognise them as mine.”
I was interested in her artistic evolution; how she feels her style has developed over time.
“I started [ceramics] with the wheel, but I wasn’t content. The force of the ‘spin’ really influences the shape, and I wasn’t feeling free enough to do what I wanted. Hands and body are too steady when you sit at the wheel, I need to move around the object I create. And the wheel is too fast, I need time to think of the shape, even if most of the process of shaping is for me intuitive. So I began hand-building a few days after... This is where it all started.”
“What’s maybe surprising about all the objects is that they all come from what I could define as the great mundane. Like the glasses and pots and jugs are nothing that abstract, but the fact that you can’t use them, even if they are objects that you would normally use is maybe what defines them... And at the beginning I think I wanted to be even more extreme, by making these big black pots that would just sit in a corner of the house because I didn't even want them on a table. Then I started to make smaller objects, like glasses and plates, but just in order to express even more this detachment between the function and the object itself.”
“Even if my research has grown, I think I can’t deviate from this aesthetic. It’s in me somehow. It’s in my hands. I’m not that aware of it and I can’t really control it.”
Thank you to Beatrice for the insightful conversation. You can find links to her work below.
Words by Ewan Waddell.