Between 1987 and 1988 in Sardinia, in Nuoro, a really important exhibition for the history of “artistic carpet” had been organised in Italy for only a month, but it was long enough to show objects of great quality.
Unfortunately, this interesting experiment was almost completely forgotten.
This experience was born from the venture of the A.R.P Studio in Oristano, managed by the architects Fresu and Erby, and the architect Peter Pfeiffer. They invited 24 among artists, architects and designers (Luca Alinari, A.R.P. Studio, Enrico Baj, Andrea Branzi, Arduino Cantafora, Fernando De Filippi, Lucio Del Pezzo, Michele De Lucchi, Edoardo Franceschini, Bruno Gregori, Ugo La Pietra, Vittorio Mascalchi, Alessandro Mendini, Bruno Minardi, Aldo Mondino, Marcello Morandini, Adolfo Natalini, Franco Raggi, Aldo Rossi, Mimmo Rotella, Ettore Sottsass, Emilio Tadini, Matteo Thun, Emilio Veronesi) to make a carpet and asked the community of wavers of Zeddiani, in particular the sisters Brai to handmade produce it.
The aim of this venture was, on one hand, to bring new attention to the traditional technique of Sardinian waving, and on the other hand, to renovate the visual composition of the traditional carpet, by letting great artistic personalities interpret it.
This kind of operations was not new in Italy; certainly, the most important example of this kind of textile experimentation was seen in Futurism, which from 1910 started to create the first “Futurist” carpets. It is also good to underline the collaboration between Mario Schifano and the Bosmann Factory or the one between Giuseppe Capogrossi, Arnaldo Pomodoro and the Beuvais Factory, in which the two artists designed some drawings for the carpets.
Though, the experience of Nuoro, compared to the previous ones, had some innovative elements. First of all, for the first time, they included a large number of artists, 24, all belonging to different artistic tendencies. Moreover, they chose not only artists, but also architects and designers, which even today makes this carpet collection an important cross section of the artistic situation of Italy in the 1980’s.
In addition, this operation aimed not only at the transformation of the selected artists’ works of art in simple textile objects, but it also aimed at the creation of a strong dialogue between the wavers and the artists, a dialogue which reached with the physique presence of the artists on the island. This dialogue wasn’t always easy, because it was based on the achievement of a balance between the local tradition of carpets and the various and new inspirations coming from the Italian artists.
Precisely, for these innovative elements this initiative was sustained by the Ethnographic Institute which decided then to organise the exhibition Taccas. Nuovi Tappeti Sardi at the Ethnographic Museum of Nuoro. The “taccas” are the nicks on the horizontal top beam of the Sardinian loom.
The project, started in 1980, and it had been organised in details from A.R.P Studio and Pfeiffer.
First of all, they chose the village of Zeddiani because, at that time, there was still a strong connection with the tradition of carpet waving.
Second of all, the wavers used the vertical loom and the carpet technique “stuoia”, which allows to reach a high level of execution. This technique is the oldest of the island and the less contaminated by new methods. Furthermore, nowadays the Sardinian carpet has a particular meaning because it is an handcrafted product with a precise identity, because in the past it developed in an isolate land allowing the carpet to preserve its technical and linguistic features unaltered.
Then, the artists were invited to make some graphic projects, all of the same size, then trace them over transparent graph paper, in which each square corresponded with a precise number of warp threads.
Often, the accurate translation of the artistic works wasn’t so immediate, but it was a result of new arrangements, as the acquisition of a new planning structure.
In this case, the manual colouring’s process was really interesting because it could obviously increase its complexity in relation to the number of tone variations proposed by the designer. For example, the Fernando De Filippi’s carpet Orfeo was made with 20 shades of light blue.
Therefore, we notice how this operation was an opportunity to innovate the “stuoia” technique, which, thanks to the problems raised by the artists, has made some progress. Though, above all, this operation was useful to recover the typical creativity of Sardinian’s carpets, which had been dull, for a long time, in the repetition of compositional modules that, at this point, were repetitive and typical. Indeed, the art historian Gillo Dorfles, in the introduction of the exhibition’s catalogue, underlines that the problems of this kind of objects are the risk “of repeating too much modules without having the courage or the opportunity to create new and original ones.”
Obviously, some projects were more successful than others.
Some carpets are only a copy of the work of art on a base of woven; in this case the carpets are more like paintings to hang up than something to live, step on and look at from above. This is what happens with the Enrico Baj’s carpet that portrays a theory of movement, an homage to Muybridge, that loses its strength if it is seen lying on the floor.
Then, there are some carpets where the constructive, architectural element is prevalent; it is the case of Aldo Rossi’s carpet, who takes advantage of this opportunity to show, in a monumental way, one of his first projects, the monument to Resistance, in Segrate, that there assumes a rhythmical value.
A.R.P. Studio draws on the carpet an illusionistic construction, a staircase of a well which leads to the deepest part of the spring. This choice is linked to the ancient tradition of Oristano’s inhabitants who periodically meet, for ritual reasons, at the Saint Catherina’s well. In this case, the carpet becomes the key point of the community.
Instead, other artists took in consideration Dorfles’s thought which underlines the constant of the visual layout of the carpet, since it is an object to be seen from above and that must be thought to present the same view respectively in each of its sides. In these carpets the decorative element is essential and, therefore, the purpose to renew the compositional style of the Sardinian traditional carpet is achieved.
For instance, Ugo La Pietra’s carpet depicts a group of islands that metaphorically underline the use of the carpet as an oasis within a room, able to produce feelings and emotions really different from the ones produced by other furnitures. This is because the carpet is a soft element able to instill warmth and a feeling of belonging.
Although this kind of experiences are nowadays really common and are proposed almost in a mechanical and not very creative way, it is good to underline the innovative origin of the Sardinian project that, by using the world of the artist Alessandro Mendini, emphasizes the fact that “the carpet is an object among the most exemplars of the post-industrial era”, able to combine craftsmanship and technology, experimentation and tradition, art and functionalism.