“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” – Confucius

Homo Faber 2022

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In times like these, when tyrants feel violence is justified, the need for intellect, aesthetic and empathy is paramount. The motto – ‘Crafting a more human future’ – of Homo Faber cannot be more apposite. Standing up for the beauty of creation, and the amazement of the ever-curious free mind, the Homo Faber opened its gates on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore between 10 April – 1 May, 2022.

Homo Faber was brought alive by the Geneva-based non-profit Michelangelo Foundation (Johann Rupert, founder of Richemont and Italian entrepreneur, Franco Cologni) in 2018 on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. The monastery founded by Benedictines in 982 became an important theological, cultural and artistic centre over the centuries. The 16th century church standing today was designed by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio and was built between 1566 and 1610. Since 1951, the old monastic building has been home to the Cini Foundation, which restored it and works to revive its cultural significance. An effort, the Homo Faber fits into perfectly. An effort, which due to the increasing tendencies of covid-fatigue, selfish ignorance, the lack of empathy and populism, has an increasing significance today.

The collaboration of foundations goes beyond hosting the event on the island. Young Ambassadors, an initiative of the Cini Foundation, gathers the most remarkable students from the Michelangelo Foundation’s network of Applied Arts and Design schools and universities in order to ‘enrich the visitor experience with their passion and knowledge’. They represent an enthusiastic and well-prepared rising generation of artists and curators, whose energy makes the encounter with handcrafts even more vibrant. Beyond making the visitors’ experience more unique, they multiply the reach of Homo Faber and convey its messages and inspiring spirit to their social networks. Young Ambassadors make the ancient fresh again, relevant to their age group. They stand at each craftsmen and hall section and engage with visitors: with deep and relevant knowledge they talk to spectators about the artist and the craft presented, facilitate the discussions between artists and visitors overcoming language barriers and help navigate the complex exhibition site. When the goal is to nurture an open, culturally demanding generation who absorbs and preserve the accomplishments of the past and use it as a source for innovation, their participation is probably the single most important achievement of the event.

After the first Homo Faber in Autumn 2018, organisers had to cancel the second edition of the bi-annual event due to the pandemic in 2020. A new beginning is very much needed after already being two years into covid-19 and a terrible war happening. 

The global psyche has been under growing strain and studies have already proved that the arts (consuming and performing them) can potentially improve both mental and physical health. Art itself requires the interpretation of the viewer, which assumes a certain openness, curiosity and intellect. As the French Surrealist artist Marcel Duchamp put it in his paper, The Creative Act: ‘All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.’ 

Symbolic perhaps, but the 2022 event took place in the season of renaissance, Spring, in rejuvenating sunshine during our stay in mid-April. Organisers even extended the invitation to the various local artisanal workshops across Venice. Let me give you a short walk through of a few different exhibition spaces. 

Homo Faber 2022 exhibitions

15 exhibitions, 22 curators, over 850 unique works crafted by more than 400 designers and artisans from 43 countries – the whole Homo Faber concept in 2018 was the beginning of ‘a new cultural movement aiming to celebrate and support master artisans handcrafting objects of true excellence’. This year the organiser invited Japan, as a ‘Guest of Honour’ to join this celebration. 

Japan has exquisite craftsmanship traditions and the country puts great emphasis on its exceptional cultural heritage. Delicate and most precise details, exquisiteness, together with minimalism are characteristic of Japanese aesthetics.

The highly refined traditional arts of Japan include for example performing arts (music, dance and drama – rooting from different times of Japan), gardening, tea ceremony and ikebana (flower arranging) – these two can be experienced by visitors of Homo Faber in a participatory workshop – as well as architecture, painting, ceramics and sculpture. 

The ’12 Stone Garden’, envisioned by Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa, displays meaningful objects in the 16th century Palladian Refectory. Among the works of the 12 National Living Treasures are ceramics, kimonos, intarsia wooden and lacquered objects – all selected by Naoto Fukasawa and renowned Japanese museum director Tokugo Uchida. 

The ‘Italy and Japan: Marvellous Liaisons’ exhibition – curated and produced by the Fondazione Cologni dei Mestieri d’Arte – draws attention to two countries with amazing talents and cultural references. Great Italian master artisans let themselves be inspired by Japanese savoir-faire.

Some of the exhibitions are entirely dedicated to one craft. The Magnae Chartae showcases the beauty of paper craft and handwriting, which is especially interesting in a world increasingly dominated by technology. Due to its delicate nature, paper art pieces are even more difficult to preserve but the exhibited works pay homage to the diversity and versatility of paper. 

The visitors can discover or rediscover the joy of writing with a fountain pen from Montblanc, known internationally for its exceptional writing instruments. The Montblanc pens have hand-crafted 18k gold nib with rhodium-plated inlay in eight different widths, from light and delicate to strong and powerful. The nib not only influences the style of the writing but also could make the writing a bit more difficult at certain angles – how a writer holds the pen is really individual. I tried a few, certainly the EF (extra fine) and F (fine) were the easiest to work with, but the OM (Oblique Medium) also offered  a really smooth writing experience. 

Another showcase, the Porcelain Virtuosity is all about the different styles of contemporary creations made of porcelain. The 17th century Longhena Library at Fondazione Giorgio Cini is a great setting for the minimalistic creations with sophisticated techniques by Japanese ceramicists or even the more grandiose art works. 

The ‘Next of Europe’ displays a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ with an array of finely crafted objects from Europe’s best craftspeople and some of them are showcasing their art on the spot – it is amazing and really inspiring to chat with them. As Jean Blanchaert, the curator of this exhibition says – ‘In a world completely mechanical and completely dominated by the web, being able to use your hands to produce something beautiful and very often useful is very important. It’s keeping a link with our roots.’

Just as in 2018, the fabulous Eilean – 1936 Bermudan ketch fully renovated by Officine Panerai – was on the shores of the island. The former CEO of Officine Panerai Angelo Bonati discovered the yacht in 2006 in a devastated condition. He asked the naval restoration specialist Enrico Zaccagni and the Cantiere Navale Francesco Del Carlo in the Italian Viareggio to help him restore the Eilean’s former glory as true to the original as possible. Discover more about the yacht and the story here

We visited a few Maisons at the ‘Details: Genealogies of Ornament’ exhibition, please see a dedicated article here.