If voice, the privileged tool of communication, becomes form, it can also become object, with all the practical and symbolic implications of this concept. Carla Riccoboni interviewed by Alice Rendon

Published: 17.11.2023
If voice, the privileged tool of communication, becomes form, it can also become object, with all the practical and symbolic implications of this concept. Carla Riccoboni interviewed by Alice Rendon.
Alice Rendon
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Segni Sul Volto workshop. Object: Petal-Voice, 2021. Digital render of piece. . Photo by: Annarita Bianco. Segni Sul Volto workshop
Object: Petal-Voice, 2021
Digital render of piece. 
Photo by: Annarita Bianco
© By the author. Read Copyright.

One year after the conclusion of Segni Sul Volto in collaboration with LAO of Florence, Carla Riccoboni presents her new works in Padua at the San Rocco Oratory. Alice Rendon interviews Riccoboni as they reflect on the different iterations, experiences and outputs from this workshop.
The theme of the seminar/workshop SSV – Segni sul Volto (Signs over the Face) (2021-2022) was the face - penalized by masks during the pandemic period - as the main means of communication between human beings. The project, supported by Le Arti Orafe – which provided energies, materials, tools, workshops, and the expertise of its goldsmith assistants – was an opportunity to explore the ethical, cultural, social and anthropological value of applied facial decoration, but also to reflect on the ongoing changes of our present and future prospects. The 11 participants who took part in the working group were designers, architects, goldsmiths and jewellery artists of different ages and backgrounds (Annarita Bianco, Micol Ferrara, Gisella Ciullo, Cristian Visentin, Giulia Morellini, Tongqiang Bai, Barbara Uderzo, Simona Materi, Letizia Maggio, Silvia Sandini and Claudia Zanella).
SSV opened with a seminar that gave the floor to experts from different backgrounds: anthropologist Francesco Bravin, jewellery historian Maria Laura La Mantia, art historian Alessandra Menegotto, lecturer, designer and researcher Chiara Scarpitti, and professor of Design and Creative Arts Roberta Bernabei.

This was followed by a second phase of collective design, conducted online, and a third phase in person at the LAO workshops. The work concluded with a final collaborative effort at a distance, and the results were presented with a dedicated exhibition and conference at the Florence Jewellery Week 2022, the spearhead of all Italian jewellery weeks.
Artiste in Dialogo (Artists in Dialogue) is the title of the group jewellery exhibition curated by Dr. Mirella Cisotto Nalon that opens on 17th November at the Oratory of San Rocco in Padua. On display, are the works by Karin Roy Andersson, Bettina Speckner, Barbara Uderzo, Flora Vagi and Carla Riccoboni, who, alongside the most significant pieces of her historical production, presents Voci and Veli, her more recent works born a year after the SSV experience. One of the three pieces produced during the workshop will also be exhibited on the occasion.

Dear Carla, as a teacher in the History of Contemporary Jewellery at LAO, Giò Carbone appointed me to work alongside you as coordinator, to accompany you in the SSV project. Dialogue, between the two of us above all, has been a founding element of the whole work, a pivot on which the very existence of the project has revolved, and, in a similar way, I now find myself questioning you about the outcomes of this experience that was as ambitious and dense in content as it was overwhelming and complex for all those who took part in it, including myself. I myself could not resist diving headlong into the project: I wanted to stimulate the group to break free from any personalistic urges, merge efforts into a single collaborative solution, and pour into a common creative ocean. Continuous confrontation has animated our many appointments: being open to each other's input, absorbing stimuli and moving forward from there, in a continuous adaptive response as the only way forward for shared progress. I ask you today, after some time, what do you think are the contributions and what are the limitations of this plural experience? How do you judge the results achieved?
Indeed, SSV was a very exciting research work, which deeply involved all of us. It was not easy to confront collectively after the isolation for the pandemic, which had opened many questions, about the changes taking place, the role of goldsmithing, new technologies, the future. Working together on these complex issues allowed us to arrive at a remarkable theoretical depth and brought out a wealth of ideas, unthinkable with individual work. Some of the proposals remained anchored in craft traditions, but there were also very innovative ideas emerging, novel applications of technology – for example, the idea of jewellery that could interact with heat, wind, humidity (Annarita Bianco). Reflections also emerged on the need for protection from the intrusiveness of the outside, the need to put filters between oneself and the world. The difficulty was precisely arriving at a synthesis, respecting and valuing all individual contributions. Your intervention was impactful; it was important because it brought the initial choices to their logical conclusion. If the confrontation was collective, the final project also had to express a unified vision. During the week in-presence spent in the workshop, a very close-knit atmosphere and exchange of skills were naturally created, despite the difference in cultural and professional backgrounds among the participants.
At a distance of time, it seems to me that the final results of the work – the three objects, so dense with meaning – are a bit cold, hermetic, celebratory since they express the concepts more philosophically than artistically.
They talked about wearable, modifiable, performant and customizable device that amplifies, enhances or even negates, certain senses and emotions* about the first piece, the relationship between uniqueness and plurality of voices* on the second one, and the relationship between voice and sight* about the third one.
It lacks that emotion that makes one intuit with immediacy the meanings, the creative passage, the synthesis proper to artistic making, which is probably an individual prerogative, not a collective one. This is perhaps the limitation of the work, but it does not detract from the validity of the path taken; on the contrary, it still leaves this possibility open. The group recognized itself in the observation of Simona Materi, one of the participants, who said, We did not succeed in making a form, a pure form [...] The objects we made are supports, not syntheses [...] The petal itself, removed from the support, loses its evocative power [...] We did not make objects, but an experience*.

The theme of sound vibration being organized into signs has somehow permeated the history and evolution of your career path since the late 1970s. 
At a distance of time, one could trace an ascending parabola, starting from the free pen transcription of airborne oscillations, namely noises and suggestions resolved in 10 m signs (the Rotolo); passing through the vocabulary of forms chained to each other to articulate silent discourses in the precious and non-precious matter (the Alphabet series); finally arriving at the weaving of impalpable Voices to form metallic Veils.  
In the three pieces made within SSV, the words of all the participants translated into graphic signs by the algorithm are superimposed in watermarks in a choral effort. Can you tell us how the group came up with this idea? How was this theme then resolved in your individual work following the collective experience?

Yes, there has definitely been an evolution, and I would like to reiterate that it was precisely the experience of SSV's collective work that gave me the impetus to arrive at Voci and Veli. When I introduced myself to the group at the beginning of the workshop, I told my professional story and showed my work, the goldsmith collections and the Rotolo, a visual poetry work of mine from 1979. At that time, I had not noticed any particular interest in it. Later, however, when the group was going through the design phase, the emotion aroused by an ancient Chinese poem resurrected the intuition that voice could become sign, or form. In the Rotolo I had turned sounds into 'freehand' signs; now, in 2021, an algorithm could automatically transform our voices into lines, signs, colors, which could be processed at will. Thus the 'petal-voice' was born, an image composed of the whole of our voices, translated into lines oriented to form a petal, in memory of Chinese poetry. If the voice, the privileged tool of communication, became form, it could also become object, with all the practical and symbolic implications of this concept. Voice enables the concept of fusion, of layering of identities [...] it cancels identity without destroying it: it makes it invisible even if it is present*. Listening to everyone's voice [means] giving voice to everyone*.
I continued to think about these themes even after the workshop ended, imagining its new applications. I wanted to create simple jewels to visualize a phrase, a sound, to give voice and shape to personal or collective needs, to "wear your own voice". I made the first pieces with laser cutting, the Voci collars and bracelets that will be in the exhibition. But for me, who did not belong to the digital generation, making these seemingly simple objects required a team of skills and multiple collaborations (I thank Claudia Zanella and Agostinelli Srl for the precious help) that limited and stiffened the results.
I realized that there is something violent, authoritarian about technology. It is a rigid way of working, contrary to 'thinking by doing,' which instead proceeds softly, leaving room for emotion. After the omnipotent vertigo of algorithms, I needed to find human measure again, my own measure. I had absorbed, and processed with great interest the contents of the collective research, felt the need to express them in my turn, but the technological tools blocked me. Hence the idea of dissolving necklaces and ornaments from my goldsmith history into an abstract, material symbolic form, like a veil: a wearable weaving in precious metal, made by hand. Even with hand-woven silver thread, one could give voice to important instances, to our fears, our dreams as well as to the great problems of our society. This transition led me back to the Rotolo. I started working again with the same freedom, with the same joy, turning emotions into signs, rhythms through my hands, with a technique that involved long, human work times, the times of thought, reflection, care... I rediscovered and worked with imperfection, with the imbalances and re-balances typical of contemporaneity.

During the long gestation of the project, we often found ourselves openly discussing the involvement of CAD/CAM processes in the creation of ornaments. You know, your artisan soul romantically reminds me of historical figures such as John Ruskin or his epigone William Morris, who railed against the cultural and sensory impoverishment caused by the mechanization of processes, or even Walter Gropius, who called the artist an "empowered craftsman", whose inspiration can only blossom within practical exercise, from making with his hands. What, then, are the joys of measuring oneself directly with raw material?
Assuming, however, that research jewellery is an artistic language endowed with its own independent critical perspective with respect to any other form of expression, and as such must ignite and open to reflection, doubt, and debate, do you think it can disregard addressing from within the complex question of new creative frontiers? In other words, if contemporary jewelry reflects, to paraphrase Giorgio Agamben, the shadows and lights of its contemporary, can it then avoid also measuring itself against the potential – and therefore the limits – of technological advances?

I do not feel nostalgic, I am not against progress, although in recent years, perhaps because of my age, I am rediscovering more and more every day the importance of the 'human' measure, of feelings, of emotions. I experience every day the usefulness of the many technological tools at my disposal, but also the annoyance of the increasingly pervasive dependence they create in my personal sphere. Like everyone, I ask myself questions, but I don't find answers. Technology creates easy enthusiasm for the prospects it opens, but I think it is necessary to maintain a very critical spirit toward it. It opens frontiers that were unthinkable just a few years ago, which stimulate research but leave fundamental and ethical questions, about meaning, goals, limits, and consequences, in the shade. Is it right to explore technologies just because they are available? Does the field of goldsmithing really need to proceed on this path, on this kind of innovation? What if it becomes instead (or even) the privileged sphere, the guardian of human measure, of historical techniques, of the exercise of hand intelligence? Part of the SSV group, the younger and more trained people, interpreted this collective experience as "a practice and process that allowed us to explore the hybrid forms of coexistence and interaction between individuals, technology and nature"*. These are important reflections that I think are fair to report, but they presuppose an inevitable and inescapable acceptance of technological development with all its consequences. Does it really have to be so?

Padua is an exhibition setting of great significance if we dwell on the values with which your latest work in particular is imbued: "craftsmanship, memory, beauty", as you yourself said. How, then, does this latest landing place in your professional journey, Voices and Veils, confront a heritage as dense as that bequeathed to us by the great Paduan masters? Considering the current panorama offered to us by the countless voices that animate an expanding field such as contemporary jewelry, what are the conceptual evolutions with which you had to measure yourself? How did you finally come to weave metal?
Padua represented for my generation the most important center of goldsmith experimentation. In Padua, researchers of great value such as Babetto, Pavan, Visintin, Zanella, have worked for three generations, applying classical goldsmithing techniques to the contemporary. I had met Mario Pinton, who in the 1970s in parallel with the one-of-a-kind piece had also given impetus to serial productions for the Atelier des Orfèvres in Longarone. My personal story is more related to seriality, to the area of Vicenza, an industrial center of goldsmith production where I have lived for many years now. Personally, I had no specific goldsmith training. I felt like a goldsmith when I started receiving the first awards for my Alphabet chain collection, which is actually a design object based on an interlocking system. If Padua had the merit of preserving and elaborating goldsmithing techniques, in Vicenza the goal was to achieve the maximum aesthetic result, containing processing costs. Vicenza then developed on the industrial chain and stamped goldsmithing. I was left with the positive design imprinting that makes research jewellery accessible to a wider, less elitist audience. This invitation to exhibit in Padua seems to me a recognition of this second mode of work, which complements and completes the Italian contemporary jewellery scene. Indeed, my historical pieces, the Alphabet chains, the Venezia and Madreforme collections will be on display. Voci and Veli represent the other, lesser-known side of my interests, such as the Rotolo and the Bisanzio necklaces, where my predisposition for meticulous work and perhaps my artistic sensibility emerges.

The exhibition, organized by the Municipality of Padua, opened 17th November at 6 p.m. and will be on view until 18th February, 2024.
On 28th November at 3:30 p.m. Carla Riccoboni will lead the public on a guided tour of her work on display, in the company of the curator.

*quotes by participants in the SSV project.

About the Interviewee

Carla Riccoboni
, designer and goldsmith researcher, pioneer of self-production, has been included by Alba Cappellieri among the "masters" of contemporary Italian jewellery. Signs, rhythms and writings form the formal basis of her research, resolved in terms of refined geometric sequences such as the ALPHABET chains or aimed at recovering ancient repertoires, such as the VENEZIA and MADREFORME collections. Her pieces are mainly made using the traditional mechanical techniques of Vicenza's industrial goldsmith's art, such as "shearing" and - since 2007 - "stamping", after the discovery of about 2500 old mother moulds from Vicenza's goldsmith's history.

About the author

Alice Rendon is an Italian art historian specialized in contemporary jewellery history. She holds a Master's degree in Art History from University of Florence with a thesis dedicated to jewellery by 20th-century Italian artists. Since 2019, she has been teaching Contemporary Jewellery History at Le Arti Orafe school in Florence and, together with its director Giò Carbone, she is the curator of the Florence Jewellery Week 2022 and the PREZIOSA YOUNG 2020 and 2021 exhibition-competition.
Carla Riccoboni. Textile: Voci: Hijab, 2023. Silver thread. . 45 x 90 cm. Photo by: Lino Zanesco. Carla Riccoboni
Textile: Voci: Hijab, 2023
Silver thread. 
45 x 90 cm
Photo by: Lino Zanesco
© By the author. Read Copyright.
Carla Riccoboni. Necklace: Gamma, 2008. Silver and lacquer. . 2.3 x 2.3 x 120 cm. Photo by: Sergio Maraboli. From series: Gamma Collection. Carla Riccoboni
Necklace: Gamma, 2008
Silver and lacquer. 
2.3 x 2.3 x 120 cm
Photo by: Sergio Maraboli
From series: Gamma Collection
© By the author. Read Copyright.
Carla Riccoboni. Textile: Veli, 2023. Silver thread. . 45 x 20 cm. Photo by: Lino Zanesco. Carla Riccoboni
Textile: Veli, 2023
Silver thread. 
45 x 20 cm
Photo by: Lino Zanesco
© By the author. Read Copyright.
Segni Sul Volto Workshop. Object: Second Piece, 2022. Sculpture in gilded brass, 'petal-voice' guilded in silver. . Photo by: Annarita Bianco. Segni Sul Volto Workshop
Object: Second Piece, 2022
Sculpture in gilded brass, 'petal-voice' guilded in silver. 
Photo by: Annarita Bianco
© By the author. Read Copyright.
Carla Riccoboni. Drawing: Il Rotolo, 1979. Ink and tracing paper. . 35 x 1000 cm. Photo by: Cesare Balbo. Carla Riccoboni
Drawing: Il Rotolo, 1979
Ink and tracing paper. 
35 x 1000 cm
Photo by: Cesare Balbo
© By the author. Read Copyright.
Carla Riccoboni. Claudia Zanella. Set: Voci, 2023. Steel. . ø 23 & 9.5 cm. Photo by: Cesare Balbo. Carla Riccoboni
Claudia Zanella
Set: Voci, 2023
ø 23 & 9.5 cm
Photo by: Cesare Balbo
© By the author. Read Copyright.
Segni Sul Volto Workshop. Object: Third Piece, 2022. Iron. . ø 26 cm H:10 cm. Photo by: Annarita Bianco. Segni Sul Volto Workshop
Object: Third Piece, 2022
ø 26 cm H:10 cm
Photo by: Annarita Bianco
© By the author. Read Copyright.