BEING TONI CUMELLA Review

by Christopher Pierce, AA Intermediate 9 Unit Master

‘Ceràmica Cumella: Shaping Ideas’

Curated by Mis-Architecture (Christopher Pierce and Chris Matthews) with AA Exhibitions

Architectural Association Gallery, London, 29 September to 8 December 2012

Fundación Metrópoli, Madrid, February to May 2013

 

From a curator’s perspective there are some things that ‘Ceràmica Cumella: Shaping Ideas’ has not done. That’s a strange place to start – I know. But we’re thinking of this as its fifth ‘event’. There’s the unfolding A1 exhibition guide, which if you read you’ll see what we wanted the show to do, learn a few things about its origination, and also get an idea about our unit’s relationship with ceramics. If you’ve been to the show, you’ll know that for the past couple of months fifteen, hundred-plus kilo, 3.5 metre-high steel ‘towers’ have stood like soldiers in the AA Gallery, laden with eight, roughly 2m2, timber crates worth of static ceramic fragments lifted straight out of Toni Cumella’s truly wondrous workshop. Those have been watched over internally by about eighty of Frederic Amat’s ceramic eyeballs and flanked externally along the adjacent staircase by hundreds of his ceramic blood teardrops. You might have been at the effervescent Benedetta Tagliabue’s evening lecture in early November where she recounted the start of Toni’s ‘architectural’ life with her and Enric Miralles and/or Toni’s and Frederic Amat’s conversation on the exhibition’s final day at the AA in early December when they discussed solo and more recent collaborative affairs. Having arrived at that point this text is only going to briefly look back to look forward – to the show’s existence as a travelling exhibition that will now head to the Fundación Metrópoli in Madrid and then, with a little bit of luck, to Paris and to New York. Asia’s still too scary for a Catalan artisan – have you seen how they manufacture most ceramics in China? It’s like cooking a Domino’s pizza.

 

After seventy-five or so days, neither Chris nor I think enough people still have any idea who this warm and charismatic, slightly scruffy, sixty-something Catalan ceramicist is – who I think looks a little bit like Al Pacino in 88 Minutes. In the show, he’s outflanked by the great and good of contemporary architecture, whose personas, which are hard enough to beat off one-on-one, collectively engulf you like a tsunami. In laymen’s terms, Toni’s about 5’-11”, maybe 175 pounds and likes to play basketball. In our terms, he’s an uncommon talent possessing alchemical power. Could you see that? Ultimately he might be the moulder and manufacturer of a form of mud, but we haven’t yet unpacked that phenomenal, transformative process enough for any viewer to really appreciate what happens in the course of a collaboration and how he imagines/invents/creates so many of the forms, textures, colours and finishes that we typically attribute to someone else. If you craned your neck and adopted bad posture, you’d have seen in the eight imitation iPads running linearly along the gallery’s northern wall a set of drawings and photographs that try to tell this tale. But these weren’t sufficiently pronounced or put together meaningfully enough for any visitor, let alone an untrained one, to have patience to piece that story together. Chris and I have been around these things for five years. I still wouldn’t say we have much of an idea, but we have seen the process at work and I think that we’ll need to be a lot less opaque in Madrid.

We also think that we need to show off the results of all the endeavours in the workshop to greater effect. Can any of the individual projects be understood from the show? Neither of us want the exhibition to be a glorified GA, but we also want you to appreciate the extraordinary effect that the pieces collectively produce – each of them requires more explanation. That’s always been secondary to us, but maybe that’s because we’ve been as entranced by the process as the product (a common cry we hear from our unit’s critics). One of the greatest conundrums has been to strike a balance between the gallery and workshop. I think we leaned too far to the former. Sound would have been good and some of his almost mythical machines would have added a different dimension. We also need to present more of the associated sketches and drawings. These are a unique and telling part of each collaboration. You saw three, slightly ill-positioned ones: one by Amat and two by Pep Duran. I’m not sure how much more of this kind of material we can get our hands on, but it gives a good sense of working processes, which are not as machined as you might imagine. In fact, you won’t know it, but Toni’s co-opted a casserole dish-making factory for the Chinese in Spain to produce those phenomenally revolved pieces for Renzo Piano in Santander. And let’s be frank, do you have any more knowledge now about the differences between the four main ceramic fabrication processes? No. As anyone who knows us well enough knows, we got distracted at the key moment by the sheer beauty of all the work together and forgot to even note it in the wall didactic. It’s also true that you get no idea of the tortoise-like pace of these processes.

 

Finally, nowhere did we pay special mention to two people that Chris and I couldn’t have done or be doing this without – Catarina Cruz and Naiara Vegara. It’s a travesty that they were not mentioned in the guide and while we took them out for a dynamite dinner at the Boundary it’s time to get their names in print – even if it is only digitally backlit.

 

For more information:

Mis-architecture website

AA Exhibitions

Ceramica Cumella

Ceramic Cumella A1 Exhibition Guide
Image Credit: AA Print Studio

Frederic Amat’s Blood Teardrops and ceramic Eyeballs
Image Credit: Sue Barr

The 3.5 metre-high metal cages installed in the AA Gallery that carried the phenomenal variety of ceramic sculptures
Image Credit: Sue Barr

A glimpse into Cumella’s studio
Image Credit: Toni Cumella