Irene Cattaneo: “Venice is a place where anything is possible”

February 7, 2024

The Italian artist has always been fascinated by light and matter. Based in Venice, where she first discovered glassmaking in Murano, she has created a dreamscape of colorful clouds which she has named “Clouds and Coulds.” This is a unique dialogue between the material and tradition. Mirroring our campaign where Paris meets Venice, she is now exhibiting a selection of her work entitled “Carpe(t) Diem” at Samaritaine. Here, she shares with us her emotional relationship with art and her sources of inspiration.

You started your career in fashion. What did you like about this world?

Having studied at Saint Martins School of Art, I initially worked as a buyer in the fashion industry. When I lived in New York, I did a lot of people-watching. The subway was like a never-ending runway show! I loved checking out their style, just as I’ve always loved studying nature and art. That’s what feeds me. And then, over time, I realized that I wanted to move over to the creative side.

How did art become your job?

At 25, I was living in Beirut, a city where artisanal crafts are everywhere. Creative yet functional pieces were in demand, and this became my signature. Making things that were beautiful and useful at the same time. I’ve never really considered myself to be an artist as such. It just happened naturally for me. It was more the people around me who pushed me towards art. I only really embraced the idea of being an artist in my own right when I came to Venice five years ago. That’s when I decided to focus fully on it and develop my personal aesthetic.

Your key inspiration is light. What do you find so fascinating about it?

I’ve always been captivated by the beauty of nature. My fascination with clouds and their coherent inconsistency has always helped me feel grounded. I’m a nomad, constantly moving from place to place - Milan, London, New York, Venice - and yet I feel at home everywhere, by simply observing nature. It, too, is ever-changing yet at the same time constant. I love this antithesis. Light, on the other hand, is a medium that interacts with everything around it. You can feel it, but you can’t touch it. It’s pure emotion, and that’s where my inspiration comes from. I design and create my work, but I don’t want to over-intellectualize art. It all comes from emotion.

What materials do you like to work with?

I first started working with brass for my light-up accessories. I then shifted to glass, the material that captures the most light, but I like to experiment with different combinations. I also use marble and bronze, depending on the emotion I want to convey. Glass poses a special challenge because the result hinges on your relationship with it. You have very little time to shape it before it cools.

What appeals to you about traditional Murano glassmaking techniques?

Alchemy - the transmutation of matter into various shapes, objects and colors. I’m always present when the artisans are working on my pieces, and I keep my sketches with me. I don’t blow the glass myself, but I shape it when it’s hot. This teaches me a lot, especially the importance of being able to let go. You have to embrace the freedom of the material in the process. It will never be totally as you imagined it. Besides, I’m totally immersed in what I’m doing at that moment, and nothing else disturbs my thoughts.

What does Venice symbolize for you?

Venice is a place of tranquility, a form of escape... This city constructed on water incarnates a utopia, a place where anything is possible.

And Paris?

The stimulation. I look at the people, the architecture, the extraordinary light in this city... It’s so inspiring.

What do Samaritaine and Fondaco Dei Tedeschi have in common?

Being close to both the sky and the water. These two buildings also demonstrate the importance of geometry in their architecture, as well as a rich history.

What is the message behind your “Carpe(t) Diem” series at Samaritaine?

Words are very important in my work, and I’m a big fan of anagrams and oxymorons. Walking through Paris and looking up at the sky, I noticed how the clouds looked like carpets. And taking the time to look at them reminded me of the importance of making the most of every moment: “Carpe Diem.” Playing with the titles, as I like to do, it became “Carpe(t) Diem.” Like real clouds, where everyone sees a different shape, you can perceive whatever you like through this series, whether it’s a lamp, a tree or a cloud. That’s the freedom of the imagination!

What’s the most apt cliché about Paris?

“Paris is always a good idea”

And for Venice?

There’s a dialogue in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities where one of the characters says, “Every time I describe a city, I say something about Venice.” When you really love something or someone, you take it with you wherever you go.