Homo Faber celebrates craftsmanship in Venice
Back for a second edition, Homo Faber Event (until May 1, 2022) highlights the importance of collaboration and the transmission of skills across generations
In a dark gallery of Venice’s Fondazione Giorgio Cini – home to the Homo Faber 2022 event, an exhibition of contemporary craftsmanship, which runs until May 1, 2022 – a series of mosaic panels dazzle as they capture the light, their colored surface patinas creating a kaleidoscope effect. Crafted from copper, brass and steel and treated with some 50 different oxidizing and brushing techniques, these ornamental panels are a tribute to the 12th-century mosaic floors of the city’s St. Mark’s Basilica – a contemporary reinvention of the region’s age-old craftsmanship.
Venice Tracing, as this installation is called, required months of intense research and collaboration between the Venetian design studio Zanellato/Bortotto and the metalwork experts at De Castelli to mimic the erosion of the original mosaics, caused by the floods. “We wanted to reflect the fragility of the city,” explains Daniele Bortotto. After its presentation at the Homo Faber event – under the theme of this year’s event “Living Treasures of Europe and Japan” – the installation will travel to De Castelli’s Milan showroom for the Salone del Mobile 2022, then collaborators hope to sell the works to raise money to restore the floors of the cathedral.
Homo Faber: pushing the possibilities of craftsmanship
“12 Stone Garden” installation, curated by Naoto Fukasawa and Tokugo Uchida and featuring works by 12 Japanese master craftsmen
Such feats of teamwork and craftsmanship, rooted in regional traditions, abound at the second edition of the Homo Faber event, launched in 2018 by the Geneva-based Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship. Everywhere you turn in this epic showcase – spanning 15 exhibits and more than 850 objects – you hear about the thousands of hours of labor that went into making the works (a lace-like wood carving by Belgian sculptor Julien Feller took 3,500 hours, and counting, according to an exhibit guide). It’s a showcase of craftsmanship on steroids.
The foundation called on 12 curators to direct the exhibitions: German designer Sebastian Herkner, British design author Tapiwa Matsinde and American experimental theater director Robert Wilson (guest editor of Wallpaper* in 2010), among them . Many have pushed artisans out of their comfort zone in order to reframe traditional skills for contemporary living.
‘Pattern of Crafts’, curated by Sebastian Herkner
Herkner, for example, invited European designers to reinvent the mosaics outside the nearby Basilica of San Giorgio as designs for use in interiors. José Vieira – one of Portugal’s last tinsmiths, who typically made household items such as jugs – created a metal mosaic panel with an undulating pattern inspired by water. Meanwhile, Belgium’s oldest stained glass workshop, Atelier Mestdagh, replaced the lead normally used to fuse pieces of glass with copper, giving its mosaic clean lines and a luxurious feel. “I wanted to show how some of the more difficult techniques can be applied in a contemporary way,” says director Katrien Mestdagh.
In this sense, the Homo Faber event shows artisans at the top of their game. It’s not a showcase of craftsmanship for everyone, it’s about pushing the possibilities of the discipline, highlighting exceptional skills and encouraging creators to think about how they can attract a contemporary audience. Judging by the crowd at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini on opening day, it works.
The program highlights the importance of collaboration and the transmission of skills from generation to generation. High point: ‘Mechanical Marvels’, a spectacle of hypnotic sculptures created by ECAL students in collaboration with masters in watchmaking and automata in Switzerland. Each installation uses traditional craftsmanship for new purposes; for example, a mobile pays homage to the ballerinas and the automatons of traditional music boxes. Its dancing glass rods dangle from a carbon frame, powered by an apparent mechanism that imbues their movements with an eerily human choreography. You can’t help but be transfixed.
Craftsmanship as performance
“Waiting for Peace and Darkness” curated by Robert Wilson
To bring the craft to life for visitors, curators treated the making as a performance. You can see artisans practicing their techniques in live demonstrations or watch films showing the skilled hands of 12 of Japan’s living national treasures (master makers awarded their title by the country’s government to safeguard intangible cultural heritage ). Designer Naoto Fukasawa mounted his kimonos, wickerwork and ceramics on sharply angled plinths, to give them an edge.
Even more theatrical, an installation entitled “Waiting with peace and dark” by Robert Wilson. He transformed a 1960s swimming pool into a black-and-white setting for Japanese-inspired furniture and costumes made for his productions, with a soundscape to accompany them.
“Waiting for Peace and Darkness” by Robert Wilson
An important aspect that is not fully highlighted is the role artisans can play in the fight against climate change. While handmade objects remind us of care and value in today’s disposable culture, craftsmanship is not immune to ecological criticism, disciplines like glassware and ceramics being extremely energy intensive. Many pieces made from natural or recycled materials – without the use of machinery or ovens – can be seen in the living room, but it is difficult to find examples of true ecological innovation, such as the use of biomaterials, whose many manufacturers are the pioneers today. .
Another missed opportunity is the chance to give a stronger voice to the artisan artist – creators who use their manual skills to critique society and call for change. In the “Next of Europe” exhibition, curated by Jean Blanchaert and Stefano Boeri, you can discover powerful works in glass by British artist Chris Day and in ceramics by Algerian artist Rachid Koraïchi, but their stories about legacy of slavery and the traumas of migration get lost as they vie for attention with more than 150 objects in the exhibition space. Such works give craftsmanship an additional purpose in modern life.
The Homo Faber exhibits champion skill rather than concept – it is primarily a showcase of craftsmanship in a design context rather than fine art, perhaps a conscious decision to differentiate it from Venice Biennale 2022 with which it coincides. Whatever your opinion on this, the Michelangelo Foundation is to be commended for its dedication to fostering excellence in craftsmanship and securing its future with this extraordinarily ambitious spectacle. §