Tradition Needs to be Constantly Challenged and Changed to Stay Alive. Interview with Sara Federici and Ursula Corsi by Waldemar Kerschbaumer

Published: 14.03.2023
Waldemar Kerschbaumer
Edited by:
Edited at:
Edited on:
Sara Federici and Ursula Corsi.
Sara Federici and Ursula Corsi

© By the author. Read Copyright.

The Italiano Plurale art collective presents a strong, complete, and diverse image of Italy’s art scene with a veritable mosaic of fresh talent and passionate ambassadors of applied art. Curator Waldemar Kerschbaumer carefully selects artists whose work not only meets the highest standards but also provides refreshing insights into Italy’s contemporary art production.

We introduce the members of the group with a series of interviews.
What led you to use ceramic/glass paste as the basic material for your artwork?

Sara Federici: Working with clay was something I had to do. I have always had the calling of ‘working with my hands’. Even if I’ve had this feeling inside since I was very young, it was only after I turned 30 years old that I was able to listen to this inner need. What better material than clay that lets you touch, manipulate, shape, mould, transform and in general be hands-on and creative? I love clay because it is endlessly challenging and so versatile. It seems like there is so much to learn about it. I’m constantly finding new possibilities and creative processes.

Ursula Corsi: Glass paste is the material of classic mosaic for excellence, thanks to its characteristics, such as the variety of colours, brightness and versatility. Nevertheless, in my job I also like using materials which are not related to the classic technique.

Sara Federici: Camel Vase, 2022, 21 x 23 cm
Grey grogged stoneware. Coiled built and fired at 1280°C
Photo by Sara Federici

Ursula Corsi: Roman Pop, 2019
Glasses, stones, marble, wooden frame

You both live and work in Tuscany, do you think it is a particularly attractive area for artists, art buyers or for the promotion of art in general?

Sara Federici: Tuscany condenses all the values that make attractive the 'Made in Italy' brand in the eyes of the world: there is a distinctive and recognizable landscape, some of the most famous art cities in the world, and historical traditions handed down for centuries from generation to generation. Tuscany is a region very prosperous for a variety of artistic productions: from painting (restoration and decoration) to sculpting (Carrara marble, wood, wrought iron and composite materials…). Many craft people work with leather and dressmaking, as well as many goldsmiths and master potter laboratories.
However, even as this historical and cultural context aid in helping craftspeople reach high levels, it can also be limiting. If we are merely coping with the great tradition of ceramics, no creative processes are going on here. One must appreciate and be adept at traditional ceramics, and recognize its value, but one must in some ways go against it to be an artist. Tradition needs to be constantly challenged and changed to stay alive both from the artist’s creative point of view, and also from the creative point of view of the person viewing and touching the ceramics.

Ursula Corsi: Undoubtedly, Tuscany is a region full of history and culture. Since I live in Versilia, the marble market has stimulated the parallel growth of all those activities related to this precious material. Therefore, this place has experienced a huge development in the artistic and artisan sector. For this reason, several artists decide to work in this area.

Your art is constantly evolving. Which technique do you currently favour?

Sara Federici:
My journey with ceramics started on the wheel. I am entirely self-taught, so the art of throwing on the wheel seemed like the best place to start. From the beginning, I never wanted to use the standard glaze colours, but to create my unique glazes and slips to represent a colour palette that reflected my creative vision. If the wheel came more naturally to me, mixing the correct amount of ingredients, and firing at the right temperatures, to create ‘my colours’, was a long process of trial and error (with many filled notebooks!).
Even if my first works were functional, a cup, a plate, a teapot, or a light, I was always interested in transferring my ideas of design and elegance. Little by little, most of my works became purely decorative and artistic. It wasn’t an easy process for me since I felt compelled to be an exacting craftsperson first instead of an artist.
I also branched out from using solely the wheel to using the slab and coiling technique, which opened an infinite world of creative forms for me. Today my favourite technique is coiling, even if I enjoy exploring many different techniques. Often my best pieces are a mix of techniques.

Ursula Corsi: Due to my curiosity, I have always experimented with different techniques to create my work. Now I prefer using the direct method because it allows me to valorize different aspects, such as the surface and the weaving of the work. For this purpose, I also use unusual materials for this technique, such as recycled materials, like old tiles and metals.

Sara Federici carving - work in progress, 2022
Photo by Lucia Papaleo 

Ursula Corsi's work in progress

Which piece are you particularly proud of?

Sara Federici: I’ve yet to make the piece I’m proud of! I am very hard on myself, and I don’t think I will ever be fully satisfied with one of my pieces. When pieces come out of the kiln, I see the most minute defects, and how I could have done something better. All this said the latest piece I’ve done often gives me some encouragement, as a step closer to my vision, even if I will most likely never reach it. Unique one-off pieces are always more satisfying to me, especially when they involve the coiling technique. The latest work I am proud of is called Two Bottles.

Ursula Corsi: The project of trays with the designer Davide Aquini was incredible to me. I believe that the synergy of minds can create amazing works and that is the reason why I love working in collaboration with other artists. Moreover, I am glad to have made my contribution to decorating buildings and churches situated in different parts of the world.

Sara Federici: Two Bottles, 2022, 17 x 37 cm
Grey grogged stoneware; Coiled built and fired at 1280°C
Photo by Sara Federici 

Ursula Corsi: Blue Experience, 2017
Glass tiles, stones, wooden frame

Where does your inspiration come from?

Sara Federici: It probably sounds a little cliché, but I found myself very inspired by nature. The pattern, the texture, the colours. In general, I look around me and find inspiration in everything. Often a detail, the vein pattern of a certain leaf, for example, acts as a starting point for a work. I find the whole creative process very personally absorbing, but I also work quite intuitively, so there’s a good balance there.

Ursula Corsi: For me, art is a way to question the world. On the one hand, this is marked by the artistic work of the previous artists. On the other hand, the world keeps on presenting new questions. I think that art is a way to hold together these two dimensions.

How do your clients perceive your work? Do you have a certain user or use in mind?

Sara Federici: My pieces are designed with thought and evolved with care. They give a valuable, elegant and light impression. My clients appreciate these qualities. Subtle texture continues to be the most important part of my style, as seen in my intricate etching, incising and even carving of stoneware and porcelain. Throughout my career, I have always been attentive and curious about how others create spaces and moods through interior design. Being a small but daily part of the context of other people's homes and spaces is something that I find extremely humbling and rewarding.

Ursula Corsi: I usually work on the order. Customer expectations and requests are diverse. Some of them leave space for my interpretation, while others present me with a well-defined project. Thus, it is impossible to generalize. Obviously, the key element is the context where the work will be placed.

How do you feel about having to put a price tag on your creations?

Sara Federici: It has never been an easy task for me. I am quite emotional about this: calculating the right price implies many different considerations, not only mathematical ones. I would like to find someone to take on this component of my work, but for the time being, I need to live off and earn from my work, so I force myself to do the best job possible.

Ursula Corsi: Certainly, it is very difficult to give economic value to my work. An artist is an artisan too and today it is important to be completely subjected to market rules. Therefore, being an artist also means accepting that the price of the work usually does not correspond to the effort in terms of commitment and working hours.

Do you have an underlying concept that you express in articles, books, galleries, museums, etc.?
What do you think of contemporary Italian painting/jewellery art?

Sara Federici: All my works and my whole artistic output concentrate on an approach that highlights clean lines and essentialism. I am interested in the form itself. In fact, I only use delicate and natural colours, which never overwhelm the form, but rather aid to enhance it. I believe that in Italy ceramic pieces are still relegated to the category of decorative art or craft. I feel this craft should be considered of equal artistic value to fine art when the level is high. I see some improvement, but the road is still long in comparison with England, the Northern European panorama, and of course China, Korea, and Japan.

Ursula Corsi: When I work, I always refer to my professional development. It is related to a local tradition which has always been actively connected to the old mosaic tradition. More generally, I believe that art should talk about the current era, without forgetting the history that brought us here.

Sara Federici: White Stripe Vessel, 2021
30 x 15 cm and 12 x 7 cm
Grey grogged stoneware. Coiled built and fired at 1280°C
Photo by Sara Federici

Ursula Corsi: Flore, golden tray, 2018
Glass tiles, stones, marble, iron structure

When does a ceramic/mosaic become art?

Sara Federici:
Art remains the highest expression of human creativity; a unique moment where one can externalize their innermost thoughts and feelings. I am speaking of art from the subjective view of the maker but also the viewer. Therefore, I feel that a piece can only become a work of art when, beyond the obvious necessary technical skills, it can transmit emotions, and create necessarily subjective thoughts and feelings in a viewer.

Ursula Corsi: True art can stimulate the relationship between the artist and the customer. It is something difficult to define.

You are part of the Italiano Plurale artist collective, what made you join?

Sara Federici: When I was asked to join the collective ‘Italiano Plurale’ I immediately liked the idea of meeting talented artists and craftspeople from around Italy and sharing my experience with them. It’s also been a community that’s supported me to continue to make the one-off vases that remain my true inner calling.

Ursula Corsi: I have always been attracted to the opportunity to get to know new people from the art sector. For this reason, I've decided to become part of this world.

What is next on your calendar?

Sara Federici: I will take part in several ceramic fairs in the upcoming months.  Now, I’m still exploring different clays and mixtures of clay to alter the colour and surface texture of my ceramics, and I’m developing new glazes. New notebooks! I keep practising and will never stop.

Ursula Corsi: I will exhibit some of my works at Villa Ciani in Lugano on the 25th and 26th of March for the Fine Craft Art & Design YOUNIQUE. During summer, I will attend an art festival in Piedmont.

About the Interviewee

Sara Federici was born in Florence, Italy in 1977. She completed a BA degree in English and French language and began a career as a language teacher. At the end of 2010, she decided to change her career and dedicate full-time to creating with her hands professionally as an artist through the medium of clay. She soon specialized in artistic vases and lights for over a decade at her workshop and storefront at SFceramica in Florence. Entirely self-taught, she began with learning the art of throwing on the wheel, while also experimenting to create her own glaze and slip recipes for her own unique colour palette. Subtle texture continues to be the most important part of her style, seen in her intricate etching, incising, and even carving of stoneware and porcelain.

Ursula Corsi was born in 1970 in Seravezza, a small town near Lucca. She studied artistic mosaic in Pietrasanta's historic workshop Favret as well as in Spilimbergo (two of the major hubs of mosaic production in the world), and mosaic restoration and maintenance in Faenza. Since then, she has been involved locally and internationally to create both private decorations and public sculptural pieces. Collaborating with different artists and designers, she fashions unique and evocative decorative pieces.

About the author

Waldemar Kerschbaumer
is the Creative Director and founder of the advertising and web agency adpassion based in Bolzano, Italy. He spent 7 years working for a local weekly magazine and over 10 years in different advertising agencies before founding his own company. adpassion caters to a variety of different sectors, from business to education and museums, and private and business clients as well as artists.
Italiano plurale was born in 2018, when Waldemar Kerschbaumer was asked to select Italy’s best and most promising jewelry artists for the Vienna Jewelry Days. The big leap came after just a few months: The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s annual PMA Craft Show settled on Italy as their guest country for 2020 and Waldemar was asked to curate and select the best Italian artists from various art categories. His previous experience promoting artists and having their work shown at international events proved an invaluable asset in the early days of the project. Italian artists expressed the need for support, especially for a whole host of excellent yet underrated artisans.

Sara Federici. Vase: Intertwined Lines, 2022. Grey grogged stoneware.
. Slab built. . 31.5 x 27 cm. Photo by: Sara Federici. Sara Federici
Vase: Intertwined Lines, 2022
Grey grogged stoneware.
Slab built. 
31.5 x 27 cm
Photo by: Sara Federici
© By the author. Read Copyright.
Ursula Corsi. Object: Bjork, 2015. Coloured glass tiles, dark stones.. Photo by: Maurizio Bottazzi. Mosaic. Ursula Corsi
Object: Bjork, 2015
Coloured glass tiles, dark stones.
Photo by: Maurizio Bottazzi
© By the author. Read Copyright.
Sara Federici. Vessel: White Stripe Vessels, 2021. Grey grogged stoneware.
. Coiled build. . 30 x 15 cm and 12 x 7 cm. Photo by: Sara Federici. Sara Federici
Vessel: White Stripe Vessels, 2021
Grey grogged stoneware.
Coiled build. 
30 x 15 cm and 12 x 7 cm
Photo by: Sara Federici
© By the author. Read Copyright.