We can only imagine, or speculate, or dream, of the effect that Venice must have had on the four young Japanese noblemen who, impelled by the Jesuit Alessandro Valignano, arrived in La Serenissima in 1585. Portrayed by Tintoretto and showered with precious gifts – including some of the famous glassware whose high level of craftsmanship was a jealously guarded state secret for the Republic of Venice – the gentlemen (who were at the centre of a complicated political plot also involving Pope Gregory XIII and the Kingdom of Spain) certainly could not have suspected that 300 years later, Venice, by now part of the young Kingdom of Italy, would again relaunch and revitalise the ties between our country and the Land of the Rising Sun. Commercial ties, of course, related once again to precious craftsmanship such as silk products, but also and above all, cultural relationships. Because in order to give birth to beauty, to allow inspiration to become fruitful, to open oneself with wonder to the refined exoticism of a distant fascination, it is necessary first of all to understand each other: precisely for this reason Venice became not only a place of commercial exchange, but also an important centre of linguistic, artistic and cultural dissemination.
Today, thanks to the second edition of "Homo Faber: Crafting a more human future", Venice is once again a place where craftsmanship, beauty, splendour and inspiration come together and manifest themselves in a contemporary and evocative way. The event spotlights the excellence of international master craftspeople, focusing in particular on those of Japan, the revered craft traditions of the Land of the Rising Sun and its influence on European creativity and craftsmanship.
The event supports talented artisans, their valuable know-how, the unique stories and territorial influences that enrich their masterpieces. Some exhibitions invite visitors to meet the artisans and share moments with them as they work, while others bring the craft to life through inspiring staging. Visitors have the opportunity to explore the connection between contemporary craftsmanship and the broader realm of arts and design. In one of the exhibitions, some of the world's most prestigious luxury maisons present the outstanding craftsmanship behind their production. In another, director and visual artist Robert Wilson conjures up his iconic Madama Butterfly to take visitors on a journey into the magical world of theatre. The role of new generation automata is explored in the exhibition Mechanical Marvels, while a 'crafted' tearoom probes the link between craftsmanship and our everyday lives.
Elsewhere, craftspeople and ateliers reveal the essential role of the artisan’s touch in the creation of design objects.
Inspired by a philosophy of sustainability, the event highlights the importance of ensuring the survival of craftsmanship, with a special focus on the younger generations through interactive educational activities aimed at different age groups. The Young Ambassadors Programme will animate the exhibition spaces with its talented students selected from the best schools of applied arts and design from all over Europe, who will be on hand to offer visitors guided tours of the exhibitions.
Homo Faber Event broadens its horizons to explore the cultural relationship between Europe and Japan. This edition honours the official recognition that Japan gives to its best masters, designating them as Preservers of Important Intangible Cultural Properties.
Visitors can admire the exceptional objects handcrafted by 12 National Living Treasures – exquisite porcelain, a lacquered harp, hand-dyed kimonos and much more. An impressive photo exhibition by Rinko Kawauchi takes visitors behind the scenes into the secret ateliers of these treasured master craftspeople.
And so on.
The Japanese term makoto indicates the fertility of inspiration. It reminds us of viriditas, the life force of which St Hildegard of Bingen spoke. It is the generative energy of beauty, which spreads from the hands to the materials and which, through techniques, creates forms that continue to nourish the eyes and heart with splendour. Because beyond distances and differences, beyond interpretations and inventions, what brings wonder (and allows us to grow, to flourish, to bear fruit) is always beauty.
Photo 1 @Robert Wilson_Lovis Dengler Ostenrik
Photo 2 @Rinko Kawauchi - Michelangelo Foundation
Alberto Cavalli is General Director of the Fondazione Cologni dei Mestieri d'Arte. He has a degree in Political Science from the Università Cattolica in Milan. A journalist and writer, he contributes regularly to numerous magazines and is the author of essays and editorials. Since 2014 he has held the chair in "Mestieri d'arte e bellezza italiana" at the Milan Politecnico. In 2016 he was appointed Executive Director of the Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship. He is the chief curator of Homo Faber Event.