A morning conversation with a luthier…. Venice, April 2022

The curators made good use of the complicated, historic interior, corridors, halls, library, and even the courtyard of an old convent on an island near Venice. They wanted to showcase the creators, their workshop, and the art, as well as give visitors a chance to meet the craftsmen in person.

Venice in April. Blue skies, the turquoise of the lagoon. Churches, palaces, and houses are illuminated by light - pink at dawn, violet at dusk. Lots of people, but not as many as in full season. In the vicinity of St. Marcus square, groups of high schoolers, families with children, lovers. A music quartet performs on a small stage in front of one of the cafes, pleasing the wine-sipping crowd, and occasionally posing for photos with tourists.

A few streets, bridges away, a row of pubs over a quiet canal. Over the aperitifs, wine, coffee, and snacks sitting on the tables – animated discussions in several languages. On almost every chair a paper bag with the words Homo Faber on it. On the necks of fun-having people of all ages – badges with the same writing. Journalists, representatives of the organizers, authors…

The Homo Faber exhibition has a short history. It was originally supposed to be an event taking place once in two years, yet after the success of the first edition, the next one was postponed twice. Of course, it was due to the pandemic. Finally, it can be now viewed- and it is an artistic, organizational and financial success. How well that this valuable initiative has not been buried by unfavorable circumstances.

In an old convent

The organizer of Homo Faber is the Michelangelo Foundation, an international non-profit institution that aims to popularize and protect the achievements of masters of craftsmanship as well as to link the traditions of their art, passed down from generation to generation for centuries, with the world of contemporary creative arts (design). In an era of digitization and an increasing share of artificial intelligence (IA) in the production processes, the Foundation emphasizes the value of hand-made work.

The venue for the Homo Faber exhibition was granted by the Cini Foundation, which, since 1951, has been working for culture out of a former convent on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Starting from the occupation of Venice by Napoleon, the monastery was used by the military. It was later occupied by the Austrian and then Italian garrisons. So the island went on with its life, separated from the "proper" Venice not only by water, but also by function.

As the World War II was over, the army left the island, and the Venetian authorities handed it over to the Cini Foundation, which took on the task of restoring the entire complex and placing it in a historical and cultural context. Currently, the island, with its well-kept buildings and gardens provides a backdrop for numerous cultural events. The former monastery houses, among others, a library with 15,000 works and an archive with collections on music, theater and art.

The founders of Homo Faber and the curators responsible for individual parts of the exhibition, made good use of the complex, historic interiors, corridors, rooms, library, even the patio. They wanted to showcase the creators, their workshop, the art, and also give the visitors an opportunity to meet the craftsmen in person. And what could be nicer than talking to a luthier in the morning?

15 worlds

Homo Faber 2022 consists of 15 separate exhibitions, prepared by 22 curators. It features the works of 400 designers and craftsmen from 43 countries. Twelve Japanese old-time craftsmen who have a status of "Living National Treasures" in their country were showcased.
As a part of Homo Faber 850 objects are put on display. To make each one of them the artists needed many hours, days, sometimes weeks or even months. It can therefore be said that the exhibition pays tribute not only to human creativity, dexterity and knowledge, but also to resolve, determination and perseverance.

"It may take up to six months to turn a gourd into a lamp," declares Przemek Krawczyński, the creator of openwork, intricate works of art, who participates in the exhibition. As one can read in the artist's bio, at first making such lamps was a hobby up until 10 years ago when he committed to it full time. Today his works can be found in the homes of collectors all over the world.

In the exhibition devoted to paper works, a three-dimensional green and turquoise wall panel captures attention. It is the work of Anna Kruhelska. An architect by education with 15 years of experience in designing buildings and residences in Europe and Asia, she needed an opportunity for a more holistic artistic expression. The material that met her expectations in this matter was paper. The relief displayed during Homo Faber consists of 600 individual pieces of paper glued together in such a way that they create - with every movement of a viewer - a surface with a changing form. They shimmer like water in a lagoon, which they resemble in color. As the artist herself says, what is important is "playing with light and shadow, contrast".

The exhibition "Magnae Chartae" (curator: Michele De Lucchi), devoted to works made of paper, emphasizes the extraordinary plasticity of this material and the passion of contemporary artists to work with it. Paper, delicate, prone to destruction, can perfectly impersonate other materials. The dresses welcoming visitors at the start of the exhibition, which seem to be made of fabric, are, in fact, paper (Isabelle de Borchgrave). The creation inspired by Albertine, a character created by Marcel Proust in "In Search of Lost Time" is amazing. Works appearing to be lace, are paper cut-outs, sometimes placed on top of each other, creating spatial sculptures. Against the background of ingenious designs, origami cranes flying from the ceiling are a classic (Charles Kaisan), just like the paper umbrellas (the work of Matsuda Wagas).

The exhibition of porcelain works "Porcelain Virtuosity" (curators: David Caméo and Frédéric Bodet) in the 17th century monastery library provides an unusual decoration for the achievements of contemporary porcelain artists. They are deeply aware of the tradition and they play it, sometimes very boldly, trying to establish a dialogue with the audience. With great success. In the noble, dark library, showcases exhibited, among others: two-headed dogs, sculptures made of porcelain pretending to be destructive, the parts of which are connected with wire, broken Chinese vases placed in glass shades imitating their traditional forms (Bouke de Vries). Meissen porcelain figures in the atmosphere of the lecherous Venice of the 18th century (Chris Antemann).

An exhibition of porcelain works entitled "Porcelain Virtuosity" (curators: David Caméo and Frédéric Bodet) put on display in the 17th century monastery’s library provides a decorative stage for the achievements of contemporary artists working with porcelain. They are deeply aware of the tradition and they play with it, at times very boldly, trying to establish a dialogue with the audience. It is done with great success. In the showcases in the noble, dark library one can find among others: two-headed dogs, porcelain sculptures pretending to be destroyed with individual parts connected with wire, shattered Chinese vases placed in glass containers imitating their traditional forms (Bouke de Vries). Meissen porcelain figures in the atmosphere of the lecherous Venice of the 18th century (Chris Antemann).

Crowning the exposition is a large spatial form resembling an underwater find. Pitcher? Seashell? A fragment of a coral reef? A 2-meter high sculpture, consisting of 60,000 tiny amphoras, jugs and bottles made (how else) of porcelain (Gregoire Scalabre). And - in order not to lose sight of the tradition - a 19th century dark cobalt vase with golden ornaments from the Sèvres manufactory. Its creators from 200 years ago referenced their predecessors from the Renaissance, who in turn were inspired by antiquity.

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It is impossible to describe gallery after gallery, work by work. The Homo Faber exhibition leads to hundreds of places, both geographically and historically. It adds a context of tradition to the present. It shows how much a human-artist draws on the past in his search. How inextricably he is linked with it, even if his art is an ironic commentary on history, a variation, a joke, or a contradiction.

Living treasures

The originators of Homo Faber emphasize the value of working with hands, the manual creativity which draws on the eternal human needs and reflexes. They want to ensure that the threads of traditional professions and technologies are not broken. They emphasize how important it is for old artisans to pass on their knowledge to young people. Not only for the latter to recreate the artisans’ work, but for them to be able to relate to their predecessors when designing and producing art.

Placing the "12 stones" exhibition in the Hall, in which the blackened image of Titian reigns, was deeply thought-through. These dozen stones are old Japanese craftsmen who deal with techniques such as metallurgy, wicker, ceramics, sewing, and box making. Records of the old masters' activities are displayed on the monitors. A craftsman mixes something, pours it into a mold, then adds wood to a primitive hearth. In the end, we can see the wonderful effect of these seemingly modest treatments. The same for millennia.

Titian, whose work almost blows this room apart, also was an old master. He painted until old age, his work evolving but never losing any of its artistry.

The trend of thinking about the need for human creativity enriched by contact with other art-makers seems to be of particular importance at a time when, during the recent isolation, many ties have been severed, and digitization has gained new fields. Machines and artificial intelligence can do everything faster, cleaner, more accurately, and produce millions of copies. However, it is the man who has to design the pattern that the machine will execute. He can also make it himself, creating extraordinary and unique work.

– Beata Modrzejewska
–Translated by Sally Jastrzębska

TVP WEEKLY. Woronicza 17, 00-999 Warszawa. Editorial team and jornalists

Exhibition “Homo Faber”, 10.04-1.05.22,Venice, San Giorgio Maggiore Island,
Main photo: Phot. Private archive of Beata Modrzejewska and Grzegorz Sieczkowski
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