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homo faber: the 12 national living treasures with naoto fukusawa in venice

Naoto Fukusawa in Designboom


The last time Designboom spoke with the designer, professor, and curator Naoto Fukusawa, he told us that after having worked in the design field for a long time, his sharp eyes could identify the process behind the objects and designs he lands his gaze upon, from their materials to their shape transitions.


He may have described such a vigor-infused instinct as a selfless beauty beyond one’s imagination, the blossoming of ethereal imagery in mind conjured. The groundedness of Fukusawa accommodates a repertoire of crafts without segregation. As he told us, the pure, casual, and free power of the imagination designers and craftspeople invoke throughout their creation earns his respect and captivates his gusto.


As one rifles through his designs – which span from precision electronic equipment to furniture, interior spaces, and architecture – they may witness the pervading thought of serenity in the way the curves seamlessly bend, the shape intentionally cocoons, and the material personally interacts. The comfort and doctrine of his creations embody the hopes and expectations of the living and non-living beings, the conveyance of vocabulary such as ‘design dissolving in behavior’, ‘center of ‘consciousness’, ‘normality’, ‘outline, and ‘archetype.’


As Fukasawa sustains to unveil and investigate the impetus for design found in people’s unconscious behavior, he steps inside Fondazione Giorgio Cini, orchestrates the second edition of Homo Faber Event with MOA Museum of Art Director Tokugo Uchida, and endows the viewers with the heart of Japanese craftsmanship as he curates the articles of artistry by the 12 National Living Treasures of Japan for the exhibition.

homo faber: the 12 national living treasures with naoto fukusawa in veniceAll images © designboom



12 Stone Garden


Entering the room of the 12 Stone Garden may resemble ushering oneself into a secluded, deserted cathedral whose position savors the nurture of nature. The solitude heightens as warm light spills from the tall windows enveloped around the room and the artificial light underscoring the masterpieces of the National Living Treasures on the platforms.


Symmetry and asymmetry commune as 12 geometric, stone-shaped blocks anchor the masterpieces of the Japanese artisans. Designed and imagined by Fukusawa himself, the arrangement channels the spirit of his dedication to the beauty of form and the power of silence. Observing the works of art the master artisans, Fukusawa, and Uchida brought to Venice immediately entails the reason Japan treasures them all as national figures.


Takeshi Kitamura, a textile artist, employs ancient weaving techniques and recreates traditional methods in Nishijin, the historical home of textiles in the Kyoto region of Japan. The scroll of his gold-thread textile titled ‘Flowers’ glistens under the warm light and displays the rows of stitched leaf-like imagery. This sits beside a rectangular, light blue fabric that reminisces the hue of the clouds and the movement of the sea as it forms a wave and receives the title ‘Mountain Stream.’

homo faber: the 12 national living treasures with naoto fukusawa in venice



Japanese craftsmanship


The weaving and braiding of bamboo’s fine sticks into fine baskets and other objects marks the entrance of Noboru Fujinuma, a bamboo artist whose designation was passed down from the 8th century Chinese Tang culture. His ‘Spring Tide’ bamboo flower basket interweaves through infinite loops, erasing the imprint of its beginning and end. The open spaces intentionally made around the body of the basket form gaps that see through the stems of the flowers, an insight into the connection of the non-living with the living beings. 


The retainment of traditional techniques also bonds with the artistry of Kazumi Murose, who makes ‘urushi’ lacquerware using the technique of ‘maki-e’, which dates to the 8th century, to create highly refined modern designs. ‘Maki-e’ uses a fine brush with lacquer to paint a picture on a surface and dusts powder over the damp finish, delineating the drawing before the design dries out. Murose’s ‘Journey to the West’ work materializes as a harp whose dark-wood pillar stands out with the inscription of overlapping budding flowers in gold, crawling all over the surface.


A famed emblem of Japan reconstructs the way viewers perceive its look as Sonoko Sasaki introduces ‘Green Shadow’ kimono of ‘tsumugi’ fabric with patterned ‘kasuri’ fabric. Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun awardee dyes tsumugi-type silk yarn in colors derived from grasses and leaves using the ‘kasuri’ weaving technique. One of her many results conceives a broad-shoulder kimono whose palette reminds the saturated silhouette of grasses in the late afternoon and the peaceful pace of the swans gliding along the water.

homo faber: the 12 national living treasures with naoto fukusawa in venice



Fukusawa and the National Living Treasures


Just as Homo Faber Event puts it, it is impossible to mention all the National Living Treasures who have been recognized from the postwar period up to the present time. The gathering enlightens the viewers on the ever-evolving and generational techniques and traditions Japan has treasured in its den.


Through the artisans’ refined sensitivity to materials and processes and the depth of their technical knowledge, handing down the experiences of the masters to the future generations using handmade production poses a necessity amidst the growth of technology.


The means of Japan’s protection over its arts run through the profound relationship between a master and their apprentice, the assurance of producing dynasties of artists who keep the tradition alive for generations to come and preserve the wealth of secret knowledge based on experience and experimentation. The concept of National Living Treasures carves a path to explicitly appreciate esteemed Japanese arts and artifacts, among its many fields.




The curation of Naoto Fukusawa


As Fukusawa comments on the works produced by National Living Treasures, which radiate with exquisite and multifaceted beauty, ‘I have heard that the concept of a National Living Treasure – those who are designated as Preservers of Important Intangible Cultural Properties – has spread throughout the world from Japan; I am thus truly honored to serve as a curator for this exhibition.


It is the greatest joy to be able to present the works of 12 master artisans on the wonderful stage of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, in the context of Homo Faber Event. Being able to share this collection of incredible beauty with everyone through the exhibition entitled 12 Stone Garden is also very meaningful. It is joyous, and likely without precedent, to exhibit the work of so many of Japan’s National Living Treasures overseas.


This exhibition is co-curated with Tokugo Uchida, director of the MOA Museum of Art in Japan. He was the chairman of the National Living Treasure selection committee for the Japanese government. Japanese handcrafted objects are born of a union of the environment, materials, processes, time, continuous research, and finely-honed techniques, with all potential effects emanating internally.


They even go so far as to reflect the way of life of their creators. The distinguished techniques practiced by the artisans have been recorded on video by photographer Rinko Kawauchi and are displayed in the gallery. To see their delicacy is a breathtaking experience. The role of a National Living Treasure Is not only to keep these techniques alive but also to innovate.’

homo faber: the 12 national living treasures with naoto fukusawa in venice

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