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Valentina Cameranesi

Milan: The personalised icon on Valentina Cameranesi’s laptop is a fortune cookie. The small baked item is a perfectly shaped object. Perhaps similar in its perfection to the work of Valentina Cameranesi? Valentina studied industrial design at L’Istituto Superiore per le Industrie Artistiche in Rome. Initially she was fascinated by the idea of becoming a haute couture designer, attracted by the handmade and the bespoke. But while working as an in-house designer for Diesel she was deeply touched by a Gino de Dominicis exhibition she saw at the Maxxi Museum and decided to pursue an independent artistic career. Her central object of interest became the shape of vases: from the amphora and the krater to the bottle and the urn. At a formal level, her use of shapes and aesthetic illusions and decorative styles has the ability to suspend the surface of what she designs.

I recognised her artistry for the first time in an installation she created for Salone del Mobile in 2013 and have followed and reinforced her practice professionally and as a friend ever since. There’s no surprise that Italian brands like Bloc Studios, Pretziada, and SEM are aware of her prodigious artistic competence and that she is currently developing work for more brands and clients. The Roman-born Valentina is a gentle and shy person with a tendency towards superstition; she has the impression that it must be a very Italian thing. ‘We see too many signs’, says Enrico Pompili, her partner in the joint creative consultancy Cameranesi Pompili, which focuses on styling and set design for Alla Carta, Cassina, and Simona Vanth, among others. Those signs are also at the origin of their work together; the pair met on a Sportmax job, where they were hired to art direct and develop an installation. Valentina muses, ‘Working together is like a love story: you don’t need to know all the details, but you know it is there’. I wonder if there’s a relation between the cookie and the work of Valentina Cameranesi and I figure it has mainly aesthetic connotations. Although Valentina looks at that perfectly shaped cookie every day, she doesn’t need to open it. Obviously it would say, ‘You will always draw for a living’.

Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi

In preparation for this interview I skimmed through all our email and text message exchanges. I realised that ‘It makes me happy’ is something you say a lot.

I say it when I have a sense of fulfilment, when I am connected to something. When I feel happy.

You also say that you are a mushroom or a grandma.

There is a Valentina that can be quite still. I do many things, but I need to be seated and slow sometimes—basically not moving and silent.

Do you think of your vases as bodies?

In a way, I’m making creatures. When I make vases it’s easy for me to do something that I have full responsibility for. Because it’s a decorative object in the first place, it takes the pressure away. Falling in love with a vase is easy; it’s something you want to have around you.

What do you want the ‘creatures’ to be?

I want them to be desired, to be touched. A vase is bigger than a jewel and smaller than a sofa.

Tell us about the process of making the vases.

There’s a complexity in producing a vase with a distinct shape. I start by making small sketches, and then I do real-size drawings for the artisans. Depending on the material I either shape it—for example, when I work with ceramics—or I subtract the material if I’m working with stone. My intention is not to force the material. I go with the material; I want it to inform me.

There is a strong sense of shape in these bodies, in these creatures. Where does this come from?

The first collection I designed in 2011 took inspiration from Gino de Dominicis’s paintings and drawings. He draws scary big figures, monstrous bird-like faces. I’ve always had a fascination for marionettes like Pinocchio as well, who was designed as a wooden puppet but dreamt of becoming a real boy. All these references come back in the vases.

Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi
Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi

Each time you send me a PDF with new sketches I get the impression that you never focus too much on one vase. Instead you concentrate on a few vases at the same time.

I also never go to the supplier with one or two designs, but with six or more. My interest is in the relationship between the vases. I like variety. One of the vases might be quite large for a huge bouquet and another can have a gentle, small shape for only one flower.

Do you think of them in terms of a collection?

I think of them as a family, rather than a collection. It’s a growing family connected to various materials, suppliers, and people involved.

You did a show titled ‘Panorama, A Show for Happy Eyes’, curated by Annalisa Rosso during Salone del Mobile in 2018.

It was set in a former store in Milan. I wanted to make a fake boutique where I designed all the display units myself and placed my objects within the display. I wanted the furniture sketches I did over the years to become real. It used a lot of metal, ceramics, glass, and fabric—the four materials I mainly use in my work. There was a sense of not seeing everything clearly in the show; it was layered so that you discovered through seeing. Isn’t discovering things what makes your eyes happy?

Were you referring to something specific in the title you selected?

There’s a text titled Eyes to Wonder—or sometimes translated to Oh, Happy Eyes—by Ingeborg Bachmann, which was a reference for the show. The girl in the novel always avoids wearing glasses, even if she needs them. She was neurotic.

Do you see yourself in that girl?

I could be. Not all the time.

Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi

Do you think you have a clear understanding of who you are?

There is a Roman way to answer this, which is ‘yes and no’.

Why is it Roman?

Because we say sì e no. This isn’t something you would hear in Florence or Milan.

What about your place? It is also sì e no?

You mean the mess I live in?

Why do you think of it as an untidy place?

Because it isn’t perfect, or it isn’t the ideal place that people imagine a home to be. It’s very hard for me to make final choices, even if I have to make them professionally all the time. In my home I like to have possibilities, and sometimes I make sure that I’ve kept a dimension of possibility, because I want things to be able to move around. It drives my boyfriend crazy, because he likes to keep things in dedicated places, and I don’t.

Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi
Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi

What would that ideal place look like for you?

It would be a room that’s approximately 7x8m, with a huge window. In fact, one of the longer walls would be a full window. Daylight is the most precious element in a space. The window would have sections made from powder-coated steel in white. From the window you can see a large garden that’s not constructed, but rather spontaneous and wild. It’s full of wildflowers: fiori di campo. The walls in the room would be a subtle, light blue—not baby blue, but a violet blue. A monochrome black linoleum floor covers the distance between all the rest. There’s a very large table in the centre of the room; it’s a wooden table that serves as a surface for everything else: the objects I’m working on, a lamp, photos, something to eat. It would be basically a large island. A set of eight metal chairs with white linen are located around the table. There would also be a bookshelf made from chrome metal that’s 3.6m high—as high as the room. The bookshelf is for storage, for things to look at; the table is for now. I imagine the room to be quite light and serene but serious at the same time.

Would there be any art?

A big print by Félix Labisse titled Lucrezia and a big print by Camille Vivier in a wooden frame. I would hang both on the light blue wall. I was gifted both of these works, and they’re very personal to me.

What themes are you attracted to in art?

I’m naturally drawn to marine subjects and still lifes. I like tiny paintings in general. Then there are also paintings of flower bouquets. I’m specifically attracted to dark ones, where the colour red pops. Red stands out more than other colours in paintings, and it’s really beautiful.

Are there any works that you’d like to have in your imaginary room?

Either sculptures by Betty Woodman or paintings by Léon Spilliaert. But I also imagine having sketches by textile designers in metal frames on the wall. They don’t have to be sketches by well-known artists; it can be work bought in a flea market. The aesthetic effect is more important to me than the name.

Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi
Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi

Are there more places you would like to create an aesthetic effect for?

I can think of three: pasticcerias, beauty stores, and shoe stores. I’d love to work on more space-related commissions in general.

I assume there would be a lot of fabric. I mean, the extensive use of fabric in your work is clear. You’re obviously fond of it.

It has many more possibilities than we expect it to have. You can manipulate it, you can shape it, it has endless opportunities. I sometimes envision a house made of fabric. The Japanese make architecture out of paper, so I should be able to make a house of fabric, right? What I like about material as well is that there’s not a real inside or outside. You can use both sides, and sometimes the ‘wrong’ side is more intriguing. Fabrics have visionary potential. Petra Blaisse is a fantastic example of someone applying fabrics on a bigger scale to extend the idea of tapestry.

Your own first textile-related work was the jacquard fabric you designed for a hotel room at the Reine Jane, in Hyères. The room was a commission you did with Enrico Pompili.

The room is very simple. There’s a big concrete bed that comes out of the floor; it’s fully integrated. It’s not a designed room, it’s more a ‘set design room’. The door of the bathroom is drawn and looks like a piece of furniture that allows you to go into the bathroom. It gives the idea of something calm, but it’s also a bit fake, even though it’s real. The fabric I designed for it was not the first time I’d worked with fabrics. Previously I’d designed a few commissioned prints and jacquards for fashion-related clients, like Diesel. But the fabric for the hotel room is the first one that I did as I wanted.

Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi
Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi

You also use the jacquard fabric in your own home. Why is it called Omega?

It’s an homage to the Omega Workshops, a group of artists related to the Bloomsbury Group. It was the visual part of the Bloomsbury Group; they made a lot of hand-painted, decorative objects, a proper design- and art-related enterprise, where Vanessa Bell painted exceptional and stunning book covers. I’m naturally drawn to the spontaneous and decorative, because it’s a method that I operate within myself. When I designed the jacquard, I was imagining a sketch. A jacquard melts all designed shapes into one; it makes material out of a pattern. The design becomes the material. Imagine fluid and organic shapes combined with geometric gestures; a preliminary collage connects it into one surface. When you make a jacquard pattern there’s no winner within the elements of the pattern.

Give me a metaphor.

It’s not like pencil on paper; in a jacquard, both are basically the same thing.

You asked me for a book recommendation shortly after Salone del Mobile last year. I suggested Witold Rybczynski’s Home: A Short History of an Idea. Did you read it?

I haven’t yet. Everyone is currently into essays. I like them, but I naturally tend to read fiction, like short novels. You jump into somebody else’s life and get to be someone else for a little bit. Recently I fell in love with Goffredo Parise, who wrote one of these novels you’d read in high school. He started a series of short novels based on the alphabet but stopped at the letter s because he ran out of ideas. He says poetry is like love: at some point it goes away.

Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi
Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi

If you were to hold a dinner and could invite seven people—thinking of your imaginary room—who would you invite?

OK, seven is enough, because more would be too much to handle for me.

So who would be there?

They all have to be alive, right?

Yes, ideally.

And I don’t have to know them?

Not necessarily. Let’s say that it’s any possible group of people you want to have around you for a seated meal.

It can be pretty much fantasy, then. That’s a difficult one. To be honest, I would invite the last seven people I called. It would be you, Enrico Pompili, Adrianna Glaviano, Charles Negre, Camille Vivier, Felix Burrichter, and Joanne Burke, who I worked with on the last duo show we held at Operativa Arte in Rome. And my boyfriend, if he behaves.

Oh yes, Marco Klefisch! You’re in a relationship with a creative director and illustrator. I remember when Enrico, you, me, and him had dinner at the Grand Hotel in Milan. I have rarely seen someone who adores a woman publicly.

Marco is less embarrassed. I am more rigid. He is also very spontaneous, which is one of the traits I love about him.

You wouldn’t invite Silvia Fiorucci to your dinner?

I would have to get an extra chair, but I would also want her at the table. She’s supported my work for some time now. She collected a few glass pieces from the ‘Panorama’ show that was curated by Annalisa Rosso, and then she commissioned me to make a tableware set consisting of glasses, vases, a candleholder, and three pitchers.

Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi
Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi
Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi
Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi
Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi
Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi
Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi
Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi

Were you thinking of jellyfish while working on the tableware set?

Sea creatures were very much on my mind. The pieces are made from borosilicate, which is a type of glass normally used for chemicals. It’s not Murano glass, which you can freely blow into shape. It was quite a challenge to work with the supplier, but it was rewarding.

What kind of challenges were there?

It’s a small family business in Paderno Dugnano. It’s literally a mother, father, and son. At first they were concerned and a bit scared of the drawings. Once we got to know each other we mastered all the challenges together. The mother was very grateful for this collaboration. She was thankful that she found out what her son was capable of, in terms of production.

Do you have a title for these glass pieces?

The title is Etere. It has a mythological meaning. He’s the son of Father Time, Chronos, and the brother of Chaos.

Together with Enrico Pompili you work in styling and set design, arranging things for the context of someone else’s work, while you design your own work and objects as well.

I create a mise en scène, invented situations in rooms. My own designed objects naturally go into these rooms.

So you are making props?

You’re right, the objects could be considered as props as well.

Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi
Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi

Your vases were certainly props in the ‘Féminin’ show in Toulon, in the south of France.

When I was invited by Villa Noailles to do the show in 2017 I was given a location, a former hair salon that stated the word féminin on the window. ‘Féminin’ became the name of the show. I placed all the vases in the space like ladies in a salon waiting to be done. I wanted to create an environment rather than an exhibition. The vases were a subject, but most important was the atmosphere and the feeling when you entered the space.

You asked Adrianna Glaviano to create a short film about it.

Adrianna has a unique way of capturing things. She has a good balance between romanticism and sharpness. For the film we invented this afternoon in Toulon, merging video photomontages from the ‘Féminin’ show with material from this southern city. Toulon is full of little details, and there is a big sense of nostalgia. The feeling of the end of summer. It’s very vernacular, it’s not a grand palace or an exotic place.

Then you asked me to narrate it.

I like your voice. It’s strong. It was a matter of narrating the visual material in an elegant way. You wrote the text for the show and knew how to make it abstract enough to not create the feeling that the show was the end, but that the short film, also titled Féminin, and the photographs have a continuation and have also become the artwork—not only the documentation.

Becoming artwork.

Yes, I think of it that way.

You unintentionally and intentionally make artwork that other practitioners use as props. I recently visited Lucy McKenzie’s show at Cabinet Gallery in London. I recognised your vases in two of her paintings.

From the beginning, the representation of the object has been as important to me as the object itself. To see my work through somebody else’s eyes is like making a new piece. The fact that she integrated my work is a great compliment. Her ideas are great and so deep, but at the same time enjoyable. Her work is very layered, but the output is not a distant, conceptual thing. I love it very much.

But there are many others who make use of the work you produce.

I don’t want the work to only be mine. I want it to become a common ground where authorship shifts. Camille Vivier, who I met during a shoot for Alla Carta in 2013, shoots my vases as an author. Her pictures become an artwork, and, as you said, my pieces are props. Camille has an intimate, very distinctive vision of shapes and femininity. We share references that enrich the vases and that not only celebrate the shape of the vase but make the object something else.

Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi
Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi

A more personal question now: who is Valentina?

I am quite shy. My objects are filters for that. They initiate conversation. These collaborations maybe don’t naturally come from me; instead, the objects invite others to get onboard.

Last year you moved in with your boyfriend, Marco. I recognise many things that I saw in your previous apartment. Like the room divider you made and painted, or the large black cupboard with the print on the façade. You’re still using a lot of fabrics that you drape on sofas and beds. On everything, in fact.

You must watch the science fiction movie Annihilation, about this prismatic alien creature that blends into everything and transforms all creatures so that they all become one. Since I moved in with Marco he sometimes walks in and says that I act like this alien. It’s an ongoing process where I slowly distribute all my things everywhere when he’s not watching. It will never stop; I will never stop.

The birdcage seems to be something new in your cosmos.

It’s something I would never own or would never buy for myself, but it’s from Marco’s father. He inherited it and is very attached to it, even if it falls apart. I like having it in our common space, and it belongs to us now. I’ve tried to put flowers in it many times, but Marco won’t allow me.

Flowers! You’re intrigued by them. You use them in your work, you have them around you, and when we enter a supermarket you make sure to buy some.

Do you remember when we went to Esselunga to buy burrata for you? Back then I bought very light-coloured chrysanthemums. You told me to dry them, and I did. I chose the book Women and Clothes by Heidi Julavits, Sheila Heti, and Leanne Shapton and put the flowers between the paper. In the book they talk about clothing, but they say something else through this. The flowers we got are still there.

What do you say through your clothing?

The power of dressing and its possibilities are impressive. I have my fantasies about it, but I don’t know if I’m successful in showing this. I dress in a mixture of my mum, who was a power dresser, and my aunt, who’s a romantic. There are a lot of suits with vertical stripes in my wardrobe. But I would never do horizontal.

What other patterns do you like?

Bold stripes always come first. Then Prince of Wales and micro floral patterns. The good thing is that printed flowers never hurt, while real flowers sometimes do.

Apartamento Magazine - Valentina Cameranesi
art, ceramic, interview, set design, still life
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