Catalog text by Élisabeth Védrenne
If, as Andrea Branzi wrote, “objects are compagnons in the lives of men... which tell a story”, then Martine Bedin’s vases tell stories of light and shadow, of walls and stones, of architecture, of a Rome at once antique and contemporary. A story of fragments of life and of life’s shadow: death. In fact, of both faces of a same thing. Each thing comes with its own Shadow, the title of this series of fifteen vases. Each white vase has its black shadow, each black vase its glimmer.
Why does one speak of Rome as eternal? Perhaps because of its cannibalism, nourrishing itself of its own substance, of its successive deaths, and because its ren- aissances are built upon its remains, from its own ruins. A city of bricks and marble, it grew up lazily upon its heap of well compressed pebbles, with here and there open pockets of air, just like inside Martine Bedin’s paunchy vases, replete with cubes strangely reminiscent of the squarish sanpietrinis, which, after paving Saint Peter’s Square, slowly wear out along Roman backstreets.
Martine Bedin is an architect. Her work in Milan with the Memphis group could only have strengthened her taste for construction, design and structure. Later, she would draft numerous ideal houses and realise “la Maison Rouge” in Bordeaux. Over the years, she would invent a genuine language of images, a vocabulary of miniature architectures. Furnishings, cupboards, libraries, objects, jewels, vases (particularly the splendid Piotr vase of 1985, leaning like the Tower of Pisa, and layered with verde francia and bianco carrara marbles), constitute more and more often subtle layered compositions. The latin word construere means piling up in layers, place in orderly layers. This talent for composites, for layered compositions, this inclination for building with sediments, layers, like cakes, originates probably with her master Ettore Sottsass. Remember the totems, the ceramics pieces and the Ziggurat, the furniture shaped like so many multilayered Babel towers... How could one not recall the series of his cylindrical vases with women’s first names: Justine, Juliet etc..., created by the great designer at the Manufacture of Sèvres in 1994, those vases with their bent heads which seem to be nodding... and seem to echo some vases of this Shadow series, whose unstable balance makes them look as though they are about to crumble by the wayside? From Sottsass as well comes her love for the archaic forms of utilitarian objects, and what is more archaic than a pitcher whose wide hipped form was invented by man since the beginning of time? The inside of the archetypal vase is necessarily empty, since it is traditionally conceived to hold water, symbol of life, and also cut flowers, symbol of passing time. The vase has become urn, holder of her metaphors. If Martine Bedin seems to have definitely left behind the industrial world and if the objects she creates are more and more often unique, sophisticated pieces showing the knowhow of an accomplished craftsman, she has yet preserved a part of their role, of their use.
It seems important to me to emphasize that Martine Bedin upholds the definition Sottsass gave of design: “One must distinguish between the word ‘design’ and the expression ‘industrial design’. In English, Design means a project and he who creates a design, a draft, a project, has been doing it since prehistorical times. Whereas the job of the one who designs for industry has only existed for a mere two centuries. If a man who lived a few million years ago, put together a few shells for his lady love, he was working on a project, thence a design.” Martine Bedin seems therefor not to have cut away from her origins.
The vases from the Shadow series hold the type of space necessary to contain a flower or “a bunch of daisies’ heads picked by children”, a jolly signal of the love of life, but an even stronger signal of time’s fragility.
Only that her vases hold no water. They have swallowed stones. They have a belly full of pebbles, which overflow sometimes at the collar, like stones that have been thrown.
The other peculiar thing about these vases is that they look paunchy only from the front; from the side they appear flat, thinly sliced. As though one saw them after they had gone through X rays, with the dense parts white and the empty ones black. This game of empty and full, of white and black, spheres and cubes, symmetry and dyssymmetry, order and disorder, flat and thick... is complex and more mysterious than appears at first sight. Very much complete and refined, artfully hewn out of many times polished marbles and ebony, dense, even hard, these vases generate a sort of disturbance, perhaps because of that very perfection. Then again one thinks of Rome, of its stone filled innards, of its Testaccio hill built from the piling up of terra cotta shards, of its ruins broken to bits, of its fragments of marble set in its walls, of the unsealed pavements of its antique vias... These vases keep bringing one back to Rome over and over, a somber Rome, with Piranesi’s funereal urns, a Rome unreal, metaphysical à la De Chirico, where the shadows cast by statues seem more real than the statues them- selves, a Rome impenetrable, immortal, cast in marble. A city bathed in the white and dull cold light of the full moon. The marble in the vases is taught and very heavy, but with a soft satin polish that has no gleam. A lunar white, as though blunted, all forms swallowed. A deep opaque black, reflecting nothing. The black and white of silence. The sort of silence one imagines resides in the center of the earth, just where for millenia precisely, marbles have been forged.
The Shadow vases bring back an obsessive memory. When I was little, I was often taken to Cerveteri, North of Rome. There I liked to frighten myself entering the Etruscan tombs dug deep down the soft tufa stone. There were no tourists then and so one could stay all alone with oneself and one’s imagination, the unknown darkness and silence gradually being tamed and wrapping around you like a shady scarf. And I played at losing touch with life and the colours from the laurel bushes outside, at “feeling” the unspeakable presence of death constructed undissociably from this opaque silence and that mute shadow, that invaded you like a deafening, tactile, almost inhuman breath. I felt incredibly calm, protected, while at the same time icecold, hard as marble. I had forgot- ten that experience, albeit so powerful: Martine Bedin’s talent unearthed it from within the shadows of my memory.
(From exhibition catalog: Martine Bedin, Ombre, p.4-7)