Segni sul volto: a journey through the project

Article  /  Research   Essays   GisellaCiullo
Published: 24.07.2022
Gisella Ciullo
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Segni sul volto 1st piece. Model: Rita Ceceri..
Segni sul volto 1st piece. Model: Rita Ceceri.

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Segni sul volto (Sign on the face) is an experimental collective project born with the aim to create a collaborative space for discussion and design, after the rift caused by the pandemic.

This artiocle is a descriptive essay about the research project Segni sul volto, narrated by one of the participants, Gisella Ciullo, as a result of her internship at Klimt02.
It was ideated in 2020 by the Italian designer and goldsmith Carla Riccoboni with the coordination of the art historian Alice Rendon and involved 11 selected participants from different parts of Italy. It was hosted and fully supported by LAO Le Arti Orafe School, one of the most prestigious jewelry schools in Europe, always open to research and experimentation.

Segni sul volto can be considered an innovative research project, as introduces the idea of collective design (shared work by a group of people on a common project) in contemporary jewelry, a field in which the artists are used to be the only authors of their own work, generally working alone in their studio. From this perspective, the work of a jeweller is different compared to the work of an architect or designer, commonly team-oriented and used to collaborative activities. The intuition of Carla Riccoboni was to gather people with different backgrounds and ages to develop a common project on a specific theme - the face -, allowing an intense experience of sharing and debate, after the isolation due to the pandemic. It was a challenging but very stimulating confront, that brought, as a result, a match of personalities who have shared a path for several months, until the realisation of 3 face pieces, exhibited at Florence Jewellery Week 2022.

The willingness to try my hand at a collaborative jewelry project was the main reason why I decided to apply for this open call, together with the motivation to work on a very inspiring theme. Infact, the face is a topical subject nowadays, due to the predominant role played by masks in recent years, which have changed the paradigm of communication, relationships and many other aspects of our life.

The selected participants are professionals with a range of different skills:
Tongqiang Bai, goldsmith.
Annarita Bianco, designer and goldsmith.
Gisella Ciullo, designer and jewelry maker.
Micol Ferrara, designer and jewelry maker.
Letizia Maggio, artist and jewelry maker.
Simona Materi, artist and goldsmith.
Giulia Morellini, goldsmith.
Silvia Sandini, architect.
Barbara Uderzo, artist and jewelry maker.
Cristian Visentin, designer.
Claudia Zanella, architect.

Thanks to the contributions of each one, the group was able to implement a hybridization process of heterogeneous knowledge and experience. "Through 'praxis' (=making), we have reflected and try to interpret current reality: we live in globally connected and technologically mediated societies, complex systems in which the various human, non-human, biological and technological entities are inextricably linked and all contribute equally to shaping our reality. Segni sul volto has been a practice and a process that
has allowed us to explore the hybrid forms of coexistence and interaction between individuals, technology and nature". /Annarita Bianco.
The input of each participant was fundamental to achieve a process of identities fusion, a key element based on the decision to renounce one's individualism in order to realise objects representing "everyone and no-one at the same time, in a solution of stratified identities" (Alice Rendon), thus expressing the profound awareness of being connected, interdependent and part of an indivisible whole.
"The entire process can be summarised through the word hormesis, the adaptive response of the parties to a series of both theoretical and practical stimuli". /Simona Materi. Gathering together people from different backgrounds and generations led to interesting results in terms of hybridisation of new technologies and craft techniques.

The project was developed in 4 main steps:
1. Lectures by a panel of experts.
2. Individual work by the participants.
3. In-presence workshop at Le Arti Orafe School, Florence.
4. Online designing.

1. The first phase was rich of many interesting contributions that offered significant inputs to the group. After an introduction lecture held by Carla Riccoboni, a series of online meetings with several experts took place. The anthropologist Francesco Bravin made us reflect on the concept of identity and the deepest motivations of the human need to transform and decorate the body. Prof. Maria Laura La Mantia (jewellery history teacher) explained the complexity and the symbolic importance linked to the human face; the art historian Prof. Alessandra Menegotto focused on the theme of the portrait in the History of Art; Prof. Chiara Scarpitti (designer and PhD) gave a lecture on the future scenarios of contemporary jewelry linked to new technologies; Prof. Roberta Bernabei (Associate Professor in design and creative arts) presented a short journey into the world of non-verbal communication connected to the human face.

2. The second phase was important in order to decide the project path to follow. The participants individually developed some first ideas by connecting the suggestions received from the lectures and their personal visions, until a summary of common points was reached. The group decided to start the design process from a poetic suggestion - that has fascinated everyone - from the verses of an ancient Chinese poem by Cui Hu (IX SEC a.C.):

"Last year the girl's face was as rosy as the peach blossom in the garden.
Now the peach blossom is still smiling, but we don't know where the girl has gone"
.  /Tongqiang Bai

Based on this, everyone tried to provide their own interpretation, assuming the element of the petal as a formal guide to develop modular elements or textures. Some of the aims expressed by the participants have been the creation of one or more pieces that "engage the senses to investigate, enhance, reveal the invisible deep" (Cristian Visentin) and the focus on opposite concepts: "Identity/alterity - digital/analogue - ephemeral/permanent - tangible/virtual - connection/exchange - adaptation/change" (Barbara Uderzo).
In addition, the reflection on a neo-humanistic approach, considering the inescapable encounter between virtual and human realities (particularly in the pandemic period), led to the desire to introduce a technological element as a link between man and machine. The human voice became the expression of the identity of the group and the use of a coding language to transform it into a graphic sign was decisive. Each of us recited out loud the poem, recorded it, and, thanks to the algorithm, the voice became a silhouette, a 'petal'. In this regard, it was natural to compare this technological process to the one made by Carla Riccoboni in her Rotolo, a work created in 1979 in which she transformed everyday sounds and noises into hand-drawn signs on a 10 meters long sheet of paper. This comparison highlights, on the one hand, a similar approach, and on the other hand, the use of different media according to the different historical contexts in which the two projects have been made.

3. The third phase, in my opinion, was the most important. It allowed the group to meet each other in person and to create connections between the people involved, sharing practice by working in the laboratories of LAO Le Arti Orafe Jewellery School, in Florence. It was a really intense experience! The school headmaster Giò Carbone offered us the possibility to use all the equipment we needed to develop the project. It was very exciting to collaborate with other people after two years of isolation in a workshop in the centre of Florence, among traditional craft studios and ateliers. It was a deep full immersion in the design process and practice.

Graphic transposition of participants' voices.

4. The last step was probably the most challenging, as the design process continued remotely. It wasn't always easy to discuss, agree on different ideas and move forward with the project through the barrier of a screen. "During the face-to-face workshop, I felt more inspired to share my thoughts. Despite the difficulties encountered, I found a human relationship, which was lacking in front of the screen" (Giulia Morellini).

Segni sul volto video

At the end of this journey that lasted several months, the final products of the group consisted of 3 pieces, that were displayed at Palazzo de' Bardi, during the Florence Jewellery Week.
• The first piece can be defined as a "wearable, changeable, performative and customisable device that amplifies, enhances or even negates, certain senses and emotions" (Micol Ferrara). It's a brass gold plated cylindric structure covered by interlocking 'petals'. The graphic transcription of the sound of the participants' voices was printed on each petal. The petals/voices could be removed, or their position could be changed: "an object that comes to life with the face, that can veil or unveil, that collects, embeds fragments of nature" /Claudia Zanella.
During the exhibition the visitors could interact with the object: they could take away a petal as a gift, and replace it with another empty petal, on which they could write or draw, leaving a word, a sign, a trace of their passage. In this way, an entropic process took place, a transformation that allowed the meeting between one's own and other people's identities. “The visitor can play with the petals, make a change by altering their position or even just taking one away: that will be our gift. In this way, a connection will have been made” /Letizia Maggio.

Segni sul volto 1st piece.

• In my opinion the second piece is the one that better summarizes the concept of the entire project, by expressing the relationship between uniqueness and plurality of the voices. It is made of a brass gold plated wire structure that holds a laser cut and engraved plate. Each engraved line is the graphic transcription of each participant's voice.

Segni sul volto 2nd piece.

• The third piece introduces the relationship between voice and eyes. Through our sight, we are able to perceive a voice transformed into a graphic sign. However, occluding the sight, the piece is a sort of invitation to move the gaze into the depth of the invisible. The structure is made of 13 laser-cut iron voice shapes, corresponding to the number of the participants. Each silhouette was generated from the graphic representation of the individual voices, and by overlapping them, their choral aspect is shown.

Segni sul volto 3rd piece.

Segni sul volto exhibition venue.

Segni sul volto exhibition venue.

On completion of the project, one of the rooms of Palazzo de' Bardi hosted the stunning and high-impact installation realized by the photographer Lucia Baldini. She used lightness and transparency to allow the overlay of the facial signs, each person's features, so that "the one became community". "I would like to make a portrait of each of you and then build a 'container' that puts in transparency, in watermark each of your individual identities, thus creating a sum of uniqueness capable of drawing a new identity. A single identity that has become collective and has been able to use and at the same time abandon its own ego, building a final work as a synthesis of the whole creative process" /Lucia Baldini.

Lucia Baldini's installation. Photo by Lucia Baldini.

Exhibiting Segni sul volto project in the setting of the FJW was a very important opportunity to reflect on the future of jewelry. This work, together with many other interesting lectures and pieces, gave its contribution to set the stage for a new vision of contemporary jewelry, in particular regarding face jewelry, a theme featured in several other works on show. In addition, the innovation brought by the collective design, gathering together different generations, backgrounds and cultures, lays the foundations for continuing to use this approach, trying to improve it, analysing its critical aspects and strengths. "An experience to be definitely redone, where LAO must be the bearer and disseminator of the collective design that I believe can be the future for the new generations.“ /Silvia Sandini.


About the author

Gisella Ciullo was born in the province of Lecce, Italy. In 2016 she graduated in Architecture in Rome. After attending a graphic design course, she worked in this field for more than 3 years. Her strong passion for the art of jewellery has led her to create jewels as a self-taught since 2012. Over the last two years she has done several internships with contemporary jewellers in different parts of Europe and with Klimt02.