In Venice, a Biennial Crafts Exposition Returns

Centuries of cultural ties between Japan and Europe have inspired some of the programming at Homo Faber, a biennial showcase of contemporary artisans, which is scheduled to run from April 10 to May 1 in Venice.

Japan’s tradition of bestowing the title National Living Treasure on selected craft masters particularly impressed the event’s coordinators at the Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship, a Geneva-based nonprofit organization created in 2016 by Johann Rupert, chairman of the luxury group Richemont, and Franco Cologni, the Italian entrepreneur, author and former chairman of Cartier International.

“For us, that was an eye-opener,” said Alberto Cavalli, the foundation’s executive director and general curator of Homo Faber. “Every country should make a point of seeking out and recognizing these kinds of artisans as treasures.”

It was something he kept in mind while planning the event in partnership with the Japan Foundation.

“As a curator,” he said, “I wanted to move from simply acknowledging beauty to a deeper understanding of what is meaningful.”

Objects made by 12 of those honored artisans have been selected for display in a stone garden inside the Palladian Refectory at Fondazione Giorgio Cini, the biennial’s main venue. They include items made with lacquer from the urushi tree; kasuri, fabric woven from fibers dyed to create patterns; and dolls made with toso, a mixture of paulownia sawdust and paste, applied to a paulownia wood core. Organizers had hoped some of the artisans would travel to Venice, but as of mid-March it was still unclear whether any would be able to attend.

Related presentations are to include scenography designed by Robert Wilson for his version of “Madama Butterfly”; registrations will be taken for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and an ikebana workshop, offered free of charge.

Homo Faber’s first edition, held for 16 days in September 2018, drew 62,500 visitors to the foundation complex on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, organizers said. The pandemic forced the postponement of this second edition, which had been planned for 2020, to this year.

In addition to extending the event to three weeks and focusing on sustainable techniques, from leather working to textiles and objects made of seaweed, organizers for the first time will be inviting visitors to follow self-guided tours around the city to observe artisans working in their own surroundings. More than 60 ateliers and galleries plan to participate.

At the Cini complex, art students from all over Europe are to be on hand to guide visitors through 15 exhibitions representing the work of more than 350 craftspeople and designers from 38 countries. Tickets for adults are 10 euros ($10.95) for one day and 18 euros for two days if purchased online in advance; reservations are encouraged because pandemic restrictions limit the venue to no more than 3,000 people per day.

“Over the past four years, we understood that in order to be a cultural movement, we needed to bring the maestros together with a new generation of artisans, designers, architects and maybe even clients,” Mr. Cavalli said. So the Next of Europe gallery is to highlight works by young artisans including King Houndekpinkou, a French ceramics artist who explores the connection between Benin and Japan; Vanessa Barragão, a Portuguese tapestry weaver who works with recycled textiles; and Mauro Lorenzi, a third-generation member of Lorenzi Milano, a business that specializes in making objects by hand from natural materials such as bamboo, horn and mother-of-pearl.

A rehabilitated schoolhouse within the complex, restored and reopened for this event, is to be the site for an exhibition curated by Judith Clark on craftsmanship at 15 luxury houses, including Hermès, A. Lange & Söhne, Buccellati and Lemarié.

In addition, a deconsecrated chapel that has not welcomed the public for decades is to become a laboratory for paper crafts and related arts like calligraphy. Mr. Cavalli called the room’s theme a metaphor for the fragility and resilience of the host city and, by extension, humankind. “A generation ago, the future appeared full of promise. For this generation, the future looks like a threat,” he said.

“It’s not my place to say whether craft can heal the world, but we certainly are convinced that craft can change young people’s perspective about their lives,” he added. “Though it might sound ambitious, we believe that the possibility of craft, of transforming a dream into something unique and meaningful, is the only sustainable future.”