“Mappe” for Momogusa Galerie in Japan
Tazuko and I have known each other for several years and shared a passion, for linen yarns first of all, and also for all bast fibres, which remind us of their grassy origins and hence their vegetable nature.
We also share a need to weave very simple objects in which the attraction of their ordinariness and the subtle pleasure of observing their almost invisible details and differences take the place of what for others is the lure of creativity and the exploration of the eccentric.
When I visit flea markets I’m regularly attracted not by bed linen full of lace and embroidery but rather by small, often worn and patched pieces of fabric, and my haggling with the stall owners is invariably difficult and at the same time bizarre, because they naturally hasten to show me their best and therefore more expensive items, while I keep rummaging in their boxes in search of spoiled fabrics, trying at the same time not to show too much enthusiasm which would make the vendors suspicious. I generally tell them I cannot afford better quality fabrics and must make do with more modest artefacts, but when I’m back home and free to give vent to my feelings, I am fascinated by their time-worn appearance and even by their folds, because they let me guess the curious shapes of the wardrobes or drawers that once guarded them.
I explore those woven pieces rejoycing in finding stains, holes, darnings, torn threads and flaws that reflect the struggle between the material itself and its shaper.
In Italian these small woven pieces are called “canovaccio”, “cencio” or “mappatella”, all words that define a simple, all-purpose square of fabric.
In classic antiquity “mappa” was a cloth, generally made of linen, that was used to cover the dining table in front of a guest. It was not provided by the host, and it was brought by guest himself. It was also used to gather and carry medicinal herbs, as a head kerchief, as a towel to mop one’s face, as an apron that could be folded into a pocket, or even as container in which to carry home the left-overs of a meal or the food for a picnic, and a checquered “mappina” is often seen covering picnic baskets in many European paintings over the ages.
With the coming of Christianity “mappe” (both as napkins and table cloths) entered the liturgy as elements of purity, covering the hands that handle sacred objects and the altars, problably as a reminder of the Last Supper.
During the Roman empire “mappa” was also the name given to books and edicts written on cloth rolls, as well as the topographical representations used by agronomists.
Still more generally and figuratively, we also call “mappe” the representations of mental spaces (graphic representations of thought processes) or conceptual ones (graphic representations of relations between several concepts).
The geographical and figurative meanings of the word “mappa” are those still used in Italian, while the ancient meaning of a piece of cloth has only survived in Naples, where the diminutive “mappina” is the cloth square used to dry dishes, in the rest of Italy more usually called “canovaccio” or “cencio”.
The word “canovaccio”, which derives from the fact that it is mostly made of “canapa”, hemp, indicates not only a robust kitchen cloth and a type of material used in embroidery, but also the outline of a play in which actors are free to improvise, a succinct description of the general plot and the various scenes that was common in “commedia dell’arte”.
The many meanings of this small square of fabric as a simple, humble artefact with practical uses, as a symbol of holy purity, as a guideline for actors and as a tool to find one’s way when travelling, and at the same time the coincidence with the equally widespread use of the Japanese “furoshiki” or “koromo tsutsumi” seemed to us a powerfully inspiring theme tying our two distant cultures.
For several years Taz and I have been discussing and trying to represent a certain poignant idea of purity and innocence that strikes us when contemplating these small squares of fabric in which grace, poetry and careful handywork have been considered worthy of being preserved as reliquies by many women of past times.
My personal research is strongly linked to the time-worn and faded appearance of the artefacts I have been collecting, and that is the aesthetic aspect I strive to reproduce in my work, almost, I might say, an attempt at perfecting imperfection.
In order to achieve that I use elementary tools even when I could easily obtain more sophisticated ones and my work takes an estremely long time which surely would be considered sheer folly in a world in which time is money.
It is with this feeling of privilege that we present our work at the Momogusa Gallery.
Sissi Castellano, 2018
“Cencio” is the Florentine word to indicate a small and simple piece of fabric for many uses.
This “cencio” is old with a traditional design and colors, very used in the past. Often the “cencio” were cleverly mended and not always choosing the invisible mode.
These are my “cencio” in linen, cotton and hemp, where the mending becomes the occasion for a small decorative and color note, naturally natural.
The “cencio” in Florentine (which is also the most authentic Italian language, but also “mappatella” in Neapolitan) is a piece of cloth used for various uses related to simple daily life: as a tablecloth improvised and to collect lunch by going to work in the fields; as a feminine and masculine headgear; to garnish a dress that is a little too bare, especially if pinned with a clasp. But also to dry your hands and face.
Completely handmade up to a hundred years ago, they were part of the women’s wedding trousseau in Italy.
This will be the theme of the next exhibition at Galerie Momogusa in Japan for me and Taz.
blue and bright red, added to the natural color, are the classic colors of these small textiles; rust is the typical “poor” color used in central Italy to adorn the household linen.
Why we invest talent and money in the study of chemical or synthetic fibers when nature has already provided us with everything, as can be seen from the two genious examples?
Yak fiber sunglasses
Sealed gown dress
That’s why I decided to produce small accessories in Mongolian horsehair with natural dye-dyed fish skin inserts!
Handwoven horsehair textile
Il colore naturale, estratto dal mondo vivo, è stato, insieme ai pigmenti minerali, l’unico per millenni, precisamente fino al 1856, anno di scoperta del primo colore di sintesi dal quale sono successivamente nati tutti gli altri.
Solo 161 anni sono passati e ci separano da una sensibilità cromatica che ha accompagnato la nostra storia, eppure ne abbiamo già perso ogni memoria e insieme capacità di cogliere la differenza tra questi colori e la loro copia sintetica.
Persino gli storici, nella classificazione dei tessili antichi, difficilmente annotano dettagli riguardanti le tinte dei manufatti; cosicché le didascalie di molti musei tessili e del costume non riportano alcuna nozione al riguardo.
Il campo tessile e tintorio che ben conosciamo non è così diverso da altri campi quali l’alimentazione: perché riteniamo vantaggiosa una polpetta di carne sintetizzata in laboratorio? Per quale motivo di fronte alle decine di fibre naturali, vegetali e animali, di cui disponiamo investiamo tanto nella scoperta di nuove fibre?
Perché l’industria della moda nel momento in cui urge la necessità di dimostrare una qualche forma di sensibilità ecologica sceglie il riciclo di materiali chimici o naturali, ma elaborati con prodotti chimici, invece di prendere nuovamente in considerazioni materiali naturali che millenni di utilizzo dimostrano essere di eccezionali qualità?
Questa piccola mostra non vuole solo stimolare la curiosità storica o invitare a riflessioni sulla sostenibilità ambientale e sulla salute, ma vuole soprattutto riproporre la “grande bellezza” del colore naturale che il mondo industrializzato trascura quando non rifiuta totalmente, semplicemente perché ha perso l’abilità ad utilizzarlo.
Mano a mano che passa il tempo, l’estetica si sta sempre più assoggettando ai caratteri fissi del manufatto industriale anziché a quello decisamente più mutevole della natura.
Sono le leggi dell’economia e dell’industrializzazione che hanno fortemente condizionato il nostro sguardo; un nuovo modo di pensare un manufatto “bello e perfetto” che sempre più si dissocia dalla perfezione visibile in natura per accondiscendere alle leggi della chimica e delle macchine.
Per molti secoli l’uomo si è assoggettato alla natura e, imparando le sue leggi, ha provato a costruire un rapporto di complicità della quale sono esempio tutti gli attrezzi e le procedure geniali e sorprendenti che possiamo ancora ammirare nei musei etnografici di tutto il mondo.
Con la scoperta della chimica di sintesi l’uomo ha creduto di poter governare la natura senza più dipenderne e trova in essa comode soluzioni a tutti i nostri problemi.
Standardizzazione e omologazione diventano regole rassicuranti e imprescindibili: colore piatto senza la minima variazione o/e disunitezza e totalmente coprente, confini tagliati al laser, superfici lucide e insensibili alla luce.
Diversamente dal colore sintetizzato, quello naturale è un colore composto anche quando estratto da un solo vegetale. Un colore è prevalente ma altri concorrono a formare la nuance così come ben sperimentarono i pittori divisionisti alla fine dell’Ottocento quando capirono che ciò che i nostri occhi percepiscono come celeste, per esempio, è in realtà una tinta formata da tanti diversi colori.
In questa mostra vorremmo mostrare il colore organico naturale come il colore più bello, ricco e complesso che esista alla quale nessun colore di sintesi è minimamente paragonabile.
Sissi Castellano e Stefano Panconesi
Natural colors extracted from the living world of plants and animals, together with mineral pigments, were the only colors for thousands of years until 1856, when the first synthetic dye was discovered.
Only 161 years separate us from a cromatic sensibility which lasted for millennia and yet we have already lost the memory of it together with the ability to distinguish between colors and their synthetic copies.
Even textile historians barely mention details about the colors of the artefacts they analize, and as a consequence the labels in many textile museums lack all information on the subject.
The world of textiles and dyes that we know so well is not very different from other fields, such as nutrition: why do we consider lab-grown meatballs an improvement on natural ones? Why do we invest large sums to produce new fibers, when we already have so many natural ones, both vegetable and animal?
Why does the fashion industry, in order to prove its ecological awareness, choose to recycle chemical materials and chemically processed natural ones instead of reconsidering fully natural materials that thousands of years have shown to be of extraordinary quality?
The aim of this small exhibition is not only to rouse historical curiosity and invite to reflect on environmental sustainability and health, but also to show and revive the “great beauty” of natural colors, which the industrialized world has been neglecting, when not downright refusing, simply because it has lost the ability to use them.
Aesthetic values are increasingly subjected to the fixed characters of industrial products rather than to the ever-changing character of nature.
Our minds and eyes have been conditioned by the laws of economics and industrialization, and a “beautiful and perfect” artifact is one which obeys the laws of chemistry and machines and is further and further removed from the visible perfection of nature.
For many centuries man bowed to nature, learned its laws and tried to build a relation of complicity with it, and that resulted in all the tools and the surprisingly ingenious techniques and practices we can still admire in ethnographic museums all over the world.
With the advent of synthetic chemistry man thought he could control nature and find handy solutions to all our problems.
Standardization and homogenization have become reassuring, inevitable rules, with flat colors devoid of any variation or irregularity covering whole surfaces, laser-cut edges, and glossy surfaces totally insensitive to light.
Unlike synthetic dyes, natural colors, even when they are extracted from a single vegetable, are made up of several colors: there is one dominant one, but several others concur in forming a particular shade, as was well know to divisionist painters at the end of the 19th century, when they realized that what our eyes perceive as blue is in fact the result of a whole range of colors.
With this exhibition we intend to show the beauty, richness and complexity of natural colors, unsurpassed and unsurpassable by any synthetic ones.
Sissi Castellano and Stefano Panconesi