Step by step, marvel after marvel: in the impressive ancient spaces of Fondazione Cini, on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, the merciless, prosaic reality of the world seems to be calmed for a moment, giving way to the living enchantment of beauty. Homo Faber is a highly varied, imaginative event organised by the Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship to celebrate talents of international and, above all, contemporary handcrafting. Now in its second edition (long-awaited after being repeatedly postponed due to Covid), Homo Faber 2022 focuses on ‘The Living Treasures of Europe and Japan’ and compares Japanese and European handcrafting culture on multiple levels. The fifteen exhibitions making up the event, located in various different parts of Fondazione Cini, all focus on different abilities and materials, from glass to paper, from porcelain to metal, and from fabric to fine mechanics built entirely by hand. The exhibition curators, coordinated by general curator Alberto Cavalli, form an outstanding and highly varied team from all over the world, including Naoto Fukasawa, Stefano Boeri, Judith Clarck, Michele De Lucchi, Bob Wilson, and Sebastian Herkner, to mention only a few.
Many of the exhibitions establish a dialogue with the spaces of the Fondazione, in a former Benedictine abbey; Porcelain Virtuosity, for example, set in Longhena library, a long hall with imposing Baroque walnut cabinetry on the walls and a floor of big diamond-shaped slabs of marble. Curated by David Caméo and Frédéric Bodet, the exhibition brings together innovative porcelain creations and works reinterpreting the ancient techniques that have made the material famous. The exhibition opens with two chestnut wood cabinets by the Brazilian Campana brothers with Bernardaud, covered with porcelain tiles: the first, Flora Brasilis, is pink and pale blue with organic designs, while the second, Fauna Brasilis, features regular circular motifs in hues of gold and black.
This is followed by the creations of artists and ceramists reinterpreting the sensual preciousness of porcelain, produced in collaboration with major European manufacturers, arranged on tables as in a cabinet de curiosités. The eye is drawn to magnetic creations such as Ruth Gurvich’s delicate Lightscape Collection for the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory, composed of bowls, vases and jars with gently imperfect lines, or The Ultimate Metamorphosis of Thetis, a breath-taking sculpture made especially for the exhibition by French ceramist and sculptor Grégoire Scalabre: a big inclined crucible covered with 60,000 tiny porcelain vases, all hand-lathed by the artist and glazed in a colour chosen from the colour palette of the Sèvres manufactory, like an underwater swarm captured in motion in the waters of the lagoon.
Palladio’s Sala del Cenacolo is transformed into an almost sacred enclosure with an installation exhibiting the work of twelve living treasures (a term used to refer to great master craftspeople in Japan), entitled 12 Stone Garden and curated by Naoto Fukasawa AND Tokugo Uchida. In big bowls of porcelain or glazed terracotta, lacquered wooden dishes, silver vessels, woven bamboo baskets or precious kimono fabrics, we recognise the same minimalist, almost silent touch, concentrated entirely on the perfection of the details rather than the effect of colours and shapes.
According to Naoto Fukasawa: “The designer and the artisan share the same mentality and the same goals: the spirit is identical. But the method is different, though they often work together. Artisans must be protected because they bring with them unique knowledge that could disappear with them. Their works are a condensation of quality.” Listening to him, I think it would be amazing if craftspeople were comsidered living treasures in Italy, too. Unfortunately, this is not the case, at least not yet; but Homo Faber has shown us the way!
All images courtesy of the Michelangelo Foundation, apart from 02, Courtesy of Fondazione Giorgio Cini.
01 Lorenzo Foglia, Polpo (Italy and Japan, Marvellous Liaisons exhibition), ph. Simone Padovani
02 Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, ph. Matteo De Fina
03 The curators of Homo Faber 2022, ph. Laila Pozzo
04 Porcelain Virtuosity, curated by David Caméo and Frédéric Bodet, Homo Faber Event 2022, ph. Alessandra Chemollo
05, 07, 08 Grégoire Scalabre, The Ultimate Metamorphosis of Thetis (Porcelain Virtuosity exhibition), ph. Simone Padovani
06 12 Stone Garden, curated by Naoto Fukasawa and Tokugo Uchida, Homo Faber Event 2022, ph. Simone Padovani
09 Katsuyo Aoki, Predictive Dream and Loom (Porcelain Virtuosity exhibition), ph. Alessandra Chemollo
10 Bouke de Vries, Guan Yin in a Sky of Saucers (Porcelain Virtuosity exhibition), ph. Alessandra Chemollo
11 Tracing Venice, curated by Studio Zanellato Bortotto and De Castelli, Homo Faber Event 2022, ph. Alessandra Chemollo
12 Panel Tracing Venice, De Castelli craftspeople, concept by Zanellato Bortotto, ph. Alberto Parise
13-15 WAITING for peace and darkness, curated by Robert Wilson, Homo Faber Event 2022, ph. Alessandra Chemollo