Ceramics Monthly: How do the historical ceramic traditions of Grottaglie play into the process and concept of your contemporary ceramic work?
Giorgio di Palma: My works are more related to an era than a territory. They bring us back to the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Behind the aesthetic and under the glazes hides a strong connection with Grottaglie, my hometown in southern Italy. The city has always been producing functional ceramic items, but in the 1950s plastic—then a synonym for progress—changed our taste and needs, undermining a time-tested system.
My choice was to remove the functionality but maintain the typical materials and techniques of my motherland: terra cotta and a low temperature. My challenge is to make art with terra cotta in the ceramic world where the higher the firing temperature, the higher the value of a piece.
CM: What do the local potters you work with think of your (often humorous and cheeky) tromp l’oeil pieces?
GP: Grottaglie is an incredible place. The Fame Festival began here several years ago and was the first and one of the first and most important street art festivals in Italy. Thanks to the festival, I could make my first street installation in 2011 in Grottaglie.
Nowadays, there are many artisans in Grottaglie who deeply know what I do and actively support it. For example, I do not have the same experience and ability of some local potters who have been throwing on the wheel for many years. They like to work with me as I continually ask for new forms and sizes different from the clay containers they usually create. But, from the other side, there are potters who see pieces of installations and miss the message. It is awful, especially when they recreate some of my sculptures to sell to their customers as the perfect wedding gift, for the sole purpose of earning money.
CM: When you make work and install it in public, you must interact with curious passersby. Are there any reactions to your work you remember in particular?
GP: Some of my art installations are in my city, but many others are far away. My work ends when the installation is done and the picture is taken. From that moment on, the work doesn’t belong to me anymore, but to the community.
I am always curious to receive news regarding people interacting with my installations. Once, in Sicily, some kids saw my ceramic soccer ball stuck on a lamppost. Helped by an elder, they used a stick to try to bring it down to play with. Of course, they broke it. In Grottaglie, one of my fake surveillance cameras was destroyed by someone who was afraid of having been filmed while they were dumping waste on the street. In any case, I never replace broken work because I think it is an unrepeatable creative event linked to a particular moment and environment over time.