The demure creative scene of Trentino – interview with Yayoi Nakanishi


Mini Expo WazArs, 20 September 2014

Stefano Fait: Why does a former designer working for a famed Japanese footwear company undertakes this type of venture instead of applying for a job as a designer?

Yayoi Nakanishi: My knowledge of Italian is not as good as I would like it to be and then there is the economic crisis. Having said that, as I come from Tokyo, there is also the challenge to develop a local potential that I see but has yet to be fully realized.

It is there, but we can’t see it?

Well, to all appearances, there is little creativity here, and one would not associate Trentino with artistic imagination. It is certainly not renown for that, in Italy or elsewhere. Apart from a couple of international festivals [i.e. Trento Film Festival; Experts at Trento Economics Festival in Italy highlight need of supranational EU vision,, 3 June 2014], if one thinks of Trentino, what springs to mind is mountains, lakes, ecology, technology. However, it would be unfair to conclude that pioneering craftsmanship and artistic innovation are non-existent. They are hidden.

timthumbAnd why is that?

Perhaps this has something to do with common prejudices against manual labour, which is often associated with poverty, ignorance, emigration (trentinoheritage), and all things passé?

Hard to say, but it is still a mistake. Human beings are creative by definition and transformers of nature. Material reality and the mind are our playground. When we cannot express ourselves, reinvent ourselves and reinvent our environment we fall into depression, apathy; we can no longer give meaning to our lives.

I think we should also mention fast fashion, which is cheap and easy (5 Truths the Fast Fashion Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know, Huffington Post, 19 August 2014). It’s possible that it is gradually extinguishing our personal inspiration, curiosity and desire to create something new and special. Large companies churn out designer clothes at affordable prices, designed for the “average consumer”: small producers have little choice but to adapt. As a result, Trento’s shop windows look gray, white, black, dark blue, beige and khaki. Other colours are seldom to be seen.

Could it be that Trentini feel uncomfortable when standing out from the crowd? It might be a legacy of our rural past (and present): you don’t want to be envied, you don’t want to look different.

Maybe. But then again, it is also true that those colours confer an elegant look, with ease. They are wanted and they sell. The only problem is that they somewhat impoverish the wearable color palette and the imagination of buyers, who become less daring. Once again: it is a matter of collective approval and conformity. An eccentric spontaneity is barely tolerated.

transatlantic-globe-22So how do we come out of this? How can we rediscover our true nature?

The Web can be useful. You browse, see what’s up in the rest of the world, learn and compare the styles and tastes of other cultures and people. You can buy on the internet what you could not find locally. Or you can shop while travelling. In a globalized world distances are greatly reduced, while stimuli and ideas multiply. You need will and perseverance. Non-professional photographers have now the opportunity to make professional photos and we can also build a website on our own. Technology helps us communicate and implement our ideas.

Technology will save the day?

It depends. Technological advance has created a low tech backlash that might explain the revival of manual work. Perhaps this is also the source of our increasing fondness for products such as plates and glasses that are mass-produced but are designed so at to make them look as if they were handmade, that is, imperfect. People seem to love imperfection, as though it were a mark of authenticity, of truthfulness.

Is it a form of resistance, the reaffirmation of a deeper human nature?

Would anyone really be happy to live in a cube decorated in a standardized fashion? Almost everyone seeks to individualize themselves and customize their homes.

MUSE, Trento - Author: Marco (+Mongol, Flickr) - licenza: CC by 2.0

MUSE – Le Albere, Trento – Author: Marco (+Mongol, Flickr) – licenza: CC by 2.0

Is this, ultimately, the spirit of Mini Expo WazArs?

I like to think that we can give the right value to people’s efforts, ingenuity, talent, taste and care. Those who take part in a creative craft workshop begin to understand what lies behind the creations they see and might want to buy, the meaning of an aesthetic and functional choice. So the purchase becomes a message: “I recognize the value of a different way to interpret our times and lives”.

There are also practical considerations to make. Culture generates wealth for a community and artistic creativity is a primary component of culture. There is really no reason why Trent should not look a little more like Berlin. Who is to decide that this is not an option? Is there any reason why Le Albere should not become a creative district? Trent’s image needs some polishing. It would not hurt if the city was perceived as more lively and less detached.

Festival of Economics

Trento Festival of Economics

The world will not wait for us. Gotta get moving…

The world is already here. There are immigrants who show initiative, leadership, industriousness. They launch their own start-ups, organize events and, more generally, bring a breath of fresh air to this city. In so doing, they also help other immigrants better integrate. They make comparisons with the society in which they have been raised, they spot what is missing and what could use some improvement.

No need to erase what has come before to carve for ourselves a place in the sun, in a globalized world.

No, it is important that we preserve and value diversity in a more interdependent world. I admire the technical skills of local artisans. I by no means expect them to stop carving wooden and stone eagles, bears, Madonnas, etc., but I nonetheless think it is also important to ride the wave of change and complement the traditional menu with some unusual, exotic, and fashionable tastes. Different inspirations need not clash: they can be mutually enriching.

Pale di San Martino - Foresta di Paneveggio

Pale di San Martino – Foresta di Paneveggio

So there’s hope!

Something more than hope. Trentini are, on the whole, green-minded. They respect and love nature, they recycle, they go deep into the nature surrounding them as often as they can. This ecological sensitivity is less well developed elsewhere and it is essential for the future of us all. Only prosperous communities can afford to cultivate these aesthetic attitudes and Trentino is one of them. This is its strength and it would be foolish to waste it.

Lagorai - Cima Bocche

Lagorai – Cima Bocche. Marmolada in the background

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