The Collective Messy Lab is a group of ceramists who for several years, here at the ecovillage, have been organizing ceramic workshops, clay manipulation, handmade and/or lathe molded, experimenting with new techniques, shapes and creative uses. The workshops are aimed at adults, families, children, experts and beginners of all nationalities, connected by the same passion and curiosity: creating with the earth. A chat with Francesca Simondi allows us to learn more about this beautiful reality, its connection to the ecovillage and the surrounding area, with an interesting news

Photo by Francesca Simondi, from the laboratory "Argillanononstop. The secrets of the lathe"
Photo by Francesca Simondi, from the laboratory "Argillanononstop. The secrets of the lathe"

A few days ago the three workshops organized by the Collective Messy Lab  ended: Argillanonstop. The secrets of lathe (3-8 August), The colors of earth, lathe and hand modeled (10-15 August) and Altering the shapes, lathe and hand modeled (17-22 August). The workshops have achieved great success and the works produced, even by hand at first experiences, fill us with admiration for skill and creativity…very good all, students and teachers!

The day of the ceramists was marked by theoretical and practical lessons in the morning, picnic lunches, free afternoons for trips to the mountains, the city and the sea and evenings in company, on the terraces of the stone village.

Chatting on the terraces, at the end of a dinner, there was also the opportunity to listen to Francesca Simondi, president of Messy Lab, who told us about the birth of this project, its connection to Torri Superiore over the years, to become not only a meeting expected every summer but also the beginning of a new experience, the “Artist’s Residence” thanks to the victory of a call. The ingredients are all there (especially clay, passion and creativity!) to discover a story in progress…

Francesca, how was the Messy Lab project born?

“The project, the initial idea, was born 5 years ago, in 2015. I had recently started making ceramics with my teacher in Turin. She was looking for a place by the sea where she could do the courses and it occurred to me that there was this workshop here. That’s how the idea came about, without me already having a clear idea of what it would become. In 2015 I came to Torri during the Assembly of Members and I proposed to take care of fixing the workshop, cleaning it, reorganizing it, giving it a little life”.

That’s how it often is in Torri: a new project is grafted or born from a previous activity. So, here there was a laboratory…

“There was already a laboratory for many years. Claudia lived here and used it as her personal studio for many years, because she is a ceramist, a craftswoman. She used the laboratory until about 2012 and for three years this space was unused. It occurred to me that since this is a village with an ancient history, with a nucleus of medieval times and since the handicraft had an important value at the time, it could be nice to recover it, but no longer as a personal studio, also because I don’t live here, but as a school, a small school or a cultural association that could offer activities of clay manipulation, modeling by hand of lathe, etc…. so creative and cultural activities, but combined with tourism”.

It is beautiful this idea of the artisan workshop, of manual work through the use of local materials. Probably, already in medieval times, the ancient inhabitants of Torri used these spaces to make products of self-consumption and a surplus to sell in nearby towns. But let’s continue with the story!

“So there was this idea of combining life in ecovillage, ecotourism or sustainable tourism, and at the same time doing a manual, creative activity. In the beginning it was just a project, we fixed the space and it didn’t have its own identity and history”.

Francesca tells that the group of ceramists of Messy Lab, has met and formed, attending the lessons of the ceramist teacher of Turin, Lilli Morgando. In 2018 the group finally joined as the Cultural Association of the Collective Messy Lab

“At first it was tiring. Now there are five lathes that are here but before we used to take everything back and forth. We are six girls. Of the board I, Marilia Nogueira, Anna Gaude (president, vice president and secretary). The three of us have opened a small workshop in Turin, in Borgo San Paolo. Then there are Silvia Martinis and Paola Ceriotti, who have a personal space in Turin and have collaborated with us since the beginning, from 2018-2019 and this year they did the courses here in Torri (“Altering the shapes” combining lathe and modeling).

In addition to the five of us, Stefania Spanedda joined in 2019. She is a Sardinian girl but lives in Piedmont and together with her partner they are creating a rural tourism project in Piedmont. She is a teacher but she is also a ceramist, in particular she works raku and is specialized in hand modeling. They have a reality similar to that of Torri. When she came in, it was thought that Messy Lab would become more and more an association promoting the culture of ceramics but at the same time with a focus on everything that is rural and sustainable tourism“.

Stefania and Alessandra, Francesca tells us, live in Cascina Malerbe near San Raffaele Cimena, near Chivasso in the province of Turin. They manage both the ceramics laboratory and the whole bakery and organic farming part. A beautiful example of recovery of rural spaces and revitalization in a creative and sustainable way. I am fascinated…

Photo from the laboratory "Altering the shapes, lathe and hand modeled" held by Silvia Martinis and Paola Ceriotti
Photo from the laboratory "Altering the shapes, lathe and hand modeled" held by Silvia Martinis and Paola Ceriotti

Women, clay and creativity. Even if we know that in reality the workshops (this year, despite Covid’s sold out) also attract men, perhaps initial fellows of their partner but then also conquered by the magic of manipulation, the lathe in operation, the jug that takes shape… and here they are shaping, happily focused on their work! 

Although it is not difficult to understand how much satisfaction comes from creating an object made by oneself, with care and patience, it is surprising to perceive how much the manual work and in particular that of a ceramist, create the conditions to experience a peaceful joy (just see the smiles on the faces of the students and teachers to recognize it!).

Francesca smiles, too, telling how much clay has helped her to overcome difficult moments, to make important decisions and to support her in her projects…

“We feel the need to return to a contact with the earth that comes from its being part of nature and brings us closer to feeling more human and less machine…nice to think how much the power of a natural element can bring you closer to yourself, to your needs”.

And speaking of projects:

Francesca Simondi with the first ceramics ready to be baked in the oven
Photos by Marilia Nogueira, from the laboratory "The colors of the Earth, lathe and hand modeled" held by Marilia Nogueira

The call "Places of Culture" Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo

The Ceramics Collective Messy Lab and the Ecovillage Torri Superiore have obtained funding from the Call “Places of Culture” for the project “”TELL_US – Artist’s residence, enhancement of tourism and intangible heritage of artistic and craft ceramics”. The project is realized with the support of the Compagnia di San Paolo Foundation.

A victory that opens the doors to a new experience for both Messy Lab and the Ecovillage.

“We had already tried, it had gone wrong last year but this year we have enriched it…we managed to involve as a partner the Munlab Ecomuseum of the clay of Cambiano, Exibart, l’Opera Barolo, the Museum Carlo Zauli of Faenza, Print Club Torino, Torri Superiore Ecovillage, Fondazione Merz, Guilmi Art Project, l’Atelier A of Apricale,  under the patronage of the Municipality of Ventimiglia, Legacoop Liguria, GEN Global Ecovillage Network, RIVE Italian Network of Ecological Villages.

“The project is developed between Liguria and Piedmont. The first phase involves the redevelopment and restructuring of the place. The second phase involves the selection of two artists who use ceramics or ceramic artisans with an artistic approach. It is expected that they will live in the ecovillage for three weeks and during this period they will relate with the community in the realization of a permanent installation”.

Community, artists and works of art: the opportunity of a creative relationship

Two artists/craftsmen will live in community, together with us, they will create a work that draws inspiration from here and leave it permanently to us and this place. It will be, then, a work both physical and relational, in dialogue with the place and its inhabitants. The curiosity for this innovative approach is intertwined with a perplexity: “Francesca and if it happens that the right tuning for the birth of a work won’t be created?”

“An open call will be written, a public call and will be very detailed. It will contain a lot of information. It must explain well what are the expectations of the resident community, the association, what are the needs and delimit the spaces well”.

Even the works already produced and therefore the artistic style of the artist/craftsman will contribute to get to know us and relate us.

“It is important that the artist is willing to relate to this reality. The work is born during the residency, it can change in the course of the work…the moments of meeting with the community will be important, to create participatory art“.

It will be a reciprocal listening, a dialogue that turns into art through matter.

I ask Francesca if she considers it a challenge. “No” she answers me “It is an opportunity…for everyone!“.

Our chat ends but we are already waiting for this new experience. 

We will follow this creative and work in progress meeting, also on these pages as well as we’ll wait for the new courses of Messy Lab. We know we aren’t the only who wait form them but also tourists and, with great pleasure, also by the more and more numerous citizens of Ventimiglia!


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