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Artisanal Intelligence’s Herbarium – a project inspired by Emily Dickinson

«To be a flower is a profound responsibility». Exploring the properties of dyeing plants and flowers in contemporary craftsmanship to foster a reconciliation between man and nature

In ten editions of the Artisanal Intelligence project, more than a hundred designers have participated and some of them have exhibited their collections supported by artists such as Sissi Olivieri, Isabella Ducrot, Thomas De Falco, Alì Kazma and Miltos Manetas. Artisanal Intelligence takes place twice a year in various artistic spaces, galleries and ateliers around the Eternal City, selecting artists focused on mixing technology and craftsmanship, trying to find innovative solutions challenging the perception of today’s modern condition. In an era of waste and overproduction they trace back natural traditions, which allow modern generation to find productive answers respecting the environment. In January 2020 they presented Herbarium with an exposition held in Rome at Guido Reni district, a project which shows plants and flowers properties along with producing fabrics. It was inspired by Emily Dickinson’s dedication to her own herbarium, which influenced her poetry over the years. Long before she began writing poems, in 1845 Emily Dickinson undertook a parallel art of composition – the gathering, growing and classification of flowers, which she considered as a manifestation of the Muse not that dissimilar to poems. 424 flowers have been collected revealing her botanical zeal with scientific rigor, along with an elegy for time composed with passionate patience. Dickinson’ herbarium is the intersection of science and poetry that emanates the same interest in sensuality and mortality that marks her poetry.

A.I. Artisanal Intelligence curated by Clara Tosi Pamphili and Alessio de’ Navasques is a platform aimed at identifying and promoting innovative forms, new artisans and artistic expressions in coherence with creativity and the historical realities of Italian manufactures. The founders met each other about twelve years ago thanks to a mutual acquaintance. In their cultural background they share a degree in Architecture, which is connected to their current work of challenging Italian young designers’ scene as well as promoting Roman cultural heritage. Since 2010 when the project initially started their encounter became a fusion of complementary elements, which established a border area between the figures of artist and the artisan: they are now interchangeable. Clara Tosi Pamphili and Alessio de’ Navasques have anticipated the times through research on custom with the focus on contemporary art, embodying one of Artisanal Intelligence’s primary objectives: the union of craftsmanship and visual arts. «In those years a crisis in the fashion industry led to a re-evaluation of handcraft. Reading history at that time made us realize how craftsmanship could be a new key, a practice born from a crisis. Alessio has brought the right light into the project, that of contemporaneity, establishing Artisanal Intelligence DNA» explained co-founder Clara Tosi Pamphili.

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Herbarium A.I., Les Doigts En Fleur, video by Martina Cavadini 2019, Ph A. Otero

Compared to the time in which Emily Dickinson used to pursue scientific study by collecting dried plants in her book, today the founders of Artisanal Intelligence show how nature is not merely the primary inspiration of poems, but an essential source in craftsmanship. «It’s not a mystery that fashion is one of the most polluting sectors in the world»,said Clara Tosi Pamphili, «Today we are approaching a conscious behavior in the way we live, eat, purchase and dress». Herbarium, as the founders stated, is a journey throughout nature’s multiple gifts, as well as an invitation to a more conscious and responsible use of what the world could offer in terms of today’s natural techniques, in relation to the acknowledgements of the past. The narrative and visual plot of the project describes Emily Dickinson’ enthusiasm in an interactive place of confrontation, where archives of tools, books and antique herbariums were displayed. The poetess considered nature as an element to be aware of, something to praise, not a threat – Artisanal Intelligence is aimed at proving how the fashion industry could protect nature changing it into creative substance. «In a time in which there’s a lot of talk about reusing and sustainability, yet quite neglecting our traditions, Herbarium has managed to claim past techniques in the common modern purpose of saving the planet» said de’ Navasques. Scenography was conceived by the founders including various archive materials and old botanical books borrowed from Valentina La Rocca, owner of Antica Libreria Cascianelli together with the Botanical Garden Museum of Rome. Various temporary and permanent workshops were hosted, letting guests to enrich their knowledge on what nature could offer to create fibers or natural dyes. As de’ Navasques clarified: «if all of us could go back in time searching for ancestral and popular cultures, we could see how past techniques we used to employ were absolutely sustainable. Through the rediscovery of natural dyes, we can see how colors were obtained directly from the plant and how each tone corresponded to a precise era depending on the plants that had been discovered».

One permanent workshop hosted L’Atelier di osservazione della materia, the exploration through tradition and culture out of the creation of contemporary accessories by the jewelry designer Chiara Cavallo, who joined a project in Africa with European and Senegalese artisans. They have been guided by two local artisans, Serigne Bamba Guye and Ibrahima Diatta in the creation of a modern jewelry collection. In her jewels she combines artistic research with craft techniques creating simple shapes that express universal concepts. Her vision on natural resources defines the environment along with the plants as traditional craftsmanship tools. In the collective workshop by Veronica Raccah different techniques can be used by guests to create a page of an imaginary textile herbarium based on Codex Seraphinianus. Andrea Bonito, curator of Giardino dei Semplici proposed this section to discover dyeing plants and all their properties, with a description of the compounds coloring the fabrics. Through the memories and words of Maddalena Marciano, who described natural dyes both in the fashion industry and in film settings, Herbarium focuses on the merge of flowers with raw materials and the different combinations of colors depending on the fusion of these elements. An exposition aimed at preserving the bond with the historical and artisanal traditions in a vision of a full reconciliation between man and nature, material and spiritual.

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Herbarium A.I., La ruota del Khadi: l’ordito e la trama dell’India by Franchetti

Documentary filmmaker Gaia Ceriana Franchetti, founder of the research area Indoroman, presented Khadi’s history and geography; Khadi is a hand spun and hand-woven fabric from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh mainly made out of cotton. This is an artisanal heritage handloom textile made entirely in hand crafted processes—from spinning the threads on a charkha (spinning wheel) to weaving on handloom. Mahatma Gandhi was a strong proponent of handcrafts, in particular handloom Khadi. This technique has been associated with Gandhi’s movement as a symbol of political and economic independence from British empire. This hand-woven natural fiber cloth originating from eastern regions of the Indian subcontinent was promoted to inspire self-reliance of the people along with the support to ancient skills and traditional crafts. The documentary La ruota del Khadi: l’ordito e la trama dell’India by Franchetti was filmed over three years of travel: it describes Indian textile arts through the narrating voice of Mahatma’s niece Tara Gandhi Battacharjee. An intense vision is conveyed in Marina Viola Cavadini’s Les Doigts en Fleur where the artist lets guests merge into a tableaux vivant in which performers’ bodies blended with the surrounding flora and the architectural elements. By wearing accessories made with tactile and visual properties, performers’ gestures evoke some sensorial experiences, bringing people to witness a metamorphosis between corporeal and immaterial humans and plants, organic and inorganic.

Artisanal Intelligence, which has initially started within Altaroma has always kept an independent nature – a visionary network where creative impulse can be shared: «Our intention is not confined to the research and promotion of new artistic expressions. We foster the revaluation of old creative systems connecting them with our contemporary world», explained Clara Tosi Pamphili. On the heels of Artisanal Intelligence two more projects are designed in parallel with Herbarium: Romaison, an exhibition which narrates the dialogue between fashion and costume. Between archives and production Romaison combines historical cinematographic findings with contemporary fashion experiments: Ara Pacis became an extended museum aimed at preserving and promoting the work of tailoring and costume studios. Expanding over the idea of what the fusion between identity and re- invention could be, Artisanal Intelligence promoted B&W- Black&White, the Migrant Trend, a collaborative project that foster a migrant trend in Italian haute couture through research activities, exhibitions, connecting fashion professionals, institutions, and scholars with migrant tailors and designers. Migrant people bring with them all their aesthetic traditions, which merge with those of the hosting country; B&W highlights the migrants’ positive contribution to innovation combining it with ethical practices, inclusion and sustainability. Artisanal Intelligence keeps promoting experimental projects aimed to link the fashion industry, art and design, celebrating creativity while breaking boundaries between different disciplines for a seamless artistic experience.


A.I. Artisanal Intelligence curated by Clara Tosi Pamphili and Alessio de Navasques, researches and promotes innovative forms of craftsmanship and artistic expression, while keeping in mind the historical realities of Italian manufacturers. Artisanal Intelligence’s aim is to work with public and private institutions in order to support young designers, craftsmen and artists in Italy and abroad. The project initially started within Altaroma in 2010 and has grown into a full-fledged cultural rendez-vous ever since, by becoming an autarkic artistic exhibition system that is coveted by premium international fairs.