Designer: Charles Kaisin Title: Undefined Magnae Chartae Curated by Michele De Lucchi Homo Faber 2022. Nicolò Zanatta©Michelangelo Foundation

The Second Edition of Homo Faber Was a Celebration of Craft and Heritage

Presented by the Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship, Venice’s Homo Faber exhibition showcased the best of European artisans and galleries.

All eyes are on Venice at the moment, but while the art crowd sips champagne at the Giardini, the craft world has had its attention on an island to the west of the world-famous biennale. At the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, a cultural center in a former monastery, the Switzerland-based Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship is holding the second edition of Homo Faber, a large-scale exhibition of contemporary making. Across 15 exhibitions, more than 350 designers and artisans from over 30 countries showed work demonstrating their techniques and processes, offering visitors a mix of traditional practices and new ideas. 

traditional jar decorated with black and white face designs
CALABASH OF PEACE RAW FACES Artisan; Djakou kassi Nathalie Nigeria Exhibition space: The Artisan: a crafted Tea Room Curated by: Tapiwa Matsinde Homo Faber 2022

In his 1968 book The Nature and Art of Workmanship, David Pye, a professor of furniture at London’s Royal College of Art in the mid-century, described craft as ‘the workmanship of risk’—unlike processes that lead to predetermined outcomes, it depends on the judgment, dexterity, and care of the maker. Homo Faber is a grand celebration of this idea—with works ranging from Finnish origami artist Juho Könkkölä’s intricate human figures made from a single piece of paper to ceramics and kimonos and lacquer work by 12 of Japan’s National Living Treasures. Part of an exhibition curated by designer Naoko Fukasawa, the works on view in the latter rely on knowledge embedded in the hands and heads of people and passed down through generations. 

woven bowls
Artisan: Noboru Fujinuma Title: Energy 12 Stone Garden Curated by Naoto Fukasawa, Tokugo Uchida Homo Faber 2022. Simone Padovani©Michelangelo Foundation

One space shows collaborations between historic porcelain manufacturers and contemporary artists and designers, including Paris-based Argentinian artist Ruth Gurvich’s delicate forms and grand cabinets by Brazil’s Campana brothers. Students from Swiss design school École cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL) have created a playful series of interactive works in collaboration with artisans who make “mechanical art”, while curator Tapiwa Matsinde has filled a lounge space with domestic objects, particularly focusing on makers from Africa from work by Lagos based furniture brand Ilé Ilà, founded by Tosin Oshinowo, to baskets by the Ilala weaver community from the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa.

box decorated with geometrical designs
Atelier: Bernardaud Title: “Fauna Brasilis” Designed by: Campana Brothers Porcelain Virtuosity Curated by David Caméo, Frédéric Bodet Homo Faber 2022. Simone Padovani©Michelangelo Foundation

Since the event’s last edition in 2018 there has been an uptick of interest in craft, as people searching for tactility and sensory stimulation in the face of successive lockdowns have turned to sewing, pottery, gardening and baking in their hoards. Hand skills have also entered the cultural discourse in other ways—as a foil to our increasingly digital lives, as a counter to automation and as part of a slower, more conscious and sustainable pace of manufacturing. The subheading for Homo Faber—crafting a more human future”—strives to position the work here as not just as a show of luxury items for the homes of the rich or parallel art world, but as part of a necessary ethical turn. 

Social commentary is embedded in several works: a special commission by design studio Zanellato/Bortotto of mosaics inspired by the floors of the city’s Basilica di San Marco allude to the erosion caused by the city’s exposure to the sea, while many of the artists chosen for an exhibition titled Next of Europe create work tackling urgent subjects such as migration, racism and climate change. 

tool holding branch above a sculpture of a bird
Artisan: ECAL(Denis Flageollet, François Junod, Nicolas Court, Charlotte Therre) Title: Encounter Mechanical Marvels Curated by Nicolas Le Moigne, Simon Kidston Homo Faber 2022.

Homo Faber leaves one with no doubt of the appeal of handcrafted objects and the extraordinary talent, patience, skill and ingenuity of those who make them. Nonetheless, amid the beauty on display, one feels as if the event has not quite answered its own call to action by demonstrating the importance and transformative power of the making, rather than the aesthetic and artistic value of objects––nor the diversity and global span of radical making traditions. One hopes that future events will embody the kinds of risks Pye described as central to craft, revealing more of the mess, humanity, politics and social context behind these works––how human skills have shaped our world and continue to do so.

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