The Japanese word “monozukuri” literally means “to make things”, and is composed of the words “mono” (thing) and “zukuri” (to make, to make, to manufacture). In Italian we would use the word craftsmanship but it actually has a deeper meaning, which also includes the concept of design and aesthetics. This term is actually relatively recent, just over 20 years old, and Professor Takahiro Fujimoto of the Manufacturing Management Research Center at the University of Tokyo, describes the term as “the art, science and craft of making things”. Designer Junya Watanabe often uses the word “monozukuri” to define his work; it’s a matter of Japanese culture where the term turns out to be very specific.
A few days ago the collaboration between Supreme and Junya Watanabe COMME des GARÇONS was presented and we at Collater.al decided to dedicate an in-depth look at one of the most influential contemporary designers. A mixture of in-depth study, experimentation and art describe Junya Watanabe’s approach, philosophy and work.
Born in the city of Fukushima in 1961, Watanabe studied and graduated from Bunka Fashion College di Tokyo and in 1984 began his design career as an apprentice patternmaker with Rei Kawakubo at COMME des GARÇONS. His first personal collection was in 1992, always under the Japanese label, and the presentation was held inside the lobby of Ryogoku station in Tokyo. His first women’s fashion show instead dates back to 1993 and was presented with a show in Paris.
His mother had a small bespoke clothing store but in fact that was not, according to him, the spark that drove him to become a designer, that was simply an unconscious first approach to what would become his world.
Junya Watanabe’s work has permanently influenced the way people think about fashion as a whole. Her approach is based on experimenting with and reworking traditional garments – such as shirts, jackets, skirts, etc. – through novel constructions. In a world such as that of modern-day fashion, marked by references to other cultures and different historical moments, Watanabe represents a unicum. The usual is transformed into the unusual, into something never seen before.
An innovative and different vision that concerns both shapes and materials, which re-imagines everyday garments reforming their character, features and meaning.
One of his first points of reference from the Japanese designer was Pierre Cardin, with his uncompromising shapes and obsession with geometric forms that characterized the French couturier’s work, but he was also greatly influenced by Issey Miyake: “I was attracted to the fact that designers before Miyake, such as Dior and the big names, created fitted clothing. Issey totally subverted that idea. This approach had a strong impact on me. To make me want to create something, the idea of clothing very different from previous designers”.
“It all starts inside my head. I start looking for sequences of ideas that interest me. From there, I turn my ideas into words. I work together with my modelers, trying to put my words into creation and actually see them come to life. Photographs, artists’ work, anything that seems relevant to what I’m talking about, and after looking at all the visual elements, you start creating”.
Ultimately, Junya Watanabe expands the horizons of normality by stitching together tradition, pioneering attitude, anarchic vision and obsessive approach, characteristics that have made him a beacon of our contemporary world.
When we talk about photography professions, if we were to take a census of the activities related to this world, we would be surprised to discover how prolific the working sector linked to the images is. Every month, we will ask professionals related to the photography world to tell us the behind the scenes of their jobs: we will discover the joys and sorrows of these contemporary professions and we will give some useful tips to those who want to get closer to this world.
For this first appointment, we asked a few questions to IoleCarollo, one of the ÉgliseArt founders, a training place dedicated to photography as well as one of the most evocative exhibition spaces not only in Palermo, but perhaps in all of Italy. As the name suggests, Église Art is in fact hosted inside a seventeenth-century church in the heart of the Kalsa of the Sicilian capital city, a space full of suggestions and specific features that influence and determine in an important way the contents hosted from time to time.
Giving birth to a space dedicated to photography means, right from the start, defining its aims: this choice, already decisive on its own, will then determine all the activities of the space itself: in the case of Église Art, what was its mission and how have the activities/purposes evolved over time?
Église is an association with social and cultural purposes, founded in 2016 by Alberto Gandolfo, Peppe Tornetta and me, while Simona Scaduto and Michele Vaccaro joined between 2019 and 2021. The initial intentions were to create a place for photography training and an exhibition space. In 2018, in conjunction with the #18Explorations project curated by Benedetta Donato, we decided that Église would become an independent space with the aim of promoting visual culture, through exhibition, training, exchange and collaboration activities with operators and professionals in the sector.
Palermo is in the Italian imagination (and I would venture to say worldwide) a crossroads of cultures, a melting pot alive of cultural instances that insist, meet and clash on a particularly complex territory. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this enterprise in such a particular city as Palermo? How important is the relationship with the territory in which you live and the other realities that deal with photography?
Palermo is a city rich in history and culture, where people of different origins have lived and have facilitated the exchange and exchange of ideas and solutions that are an added value for anyone approaching Palermo; to this is added the cost of living, still convenient, which translates into sustainable operating costs for spaces like ours. Over the years we have observed the start of wonderful realities, such as PUSH, Minimum, Baco about Photographs, Maghweb, Booq, small publishing houses, theaters and independent spaces, often managed by artists, and, despite the few readers, libraries where various activities are organized. This aspect confirms the great cultural ferment that characterizes the city. However, Palermo is a hard city, and this ferment is in fact linked to the growth of individual realities and individuals who live them and to the more or less good relationships that intertwine. Palermo is in fact a crossroads, there are many people who move there, there are many artists who come from all over the world, there are relationships and exchanges useful for everyone, but in the end it is almost mandatory to leave Palermo in order to grow again and again.
But as long as you decide to stay, the relationship with the territory is fundamental, I would say. The network of relationships that are intertwined is the basis of the community system, and this also applies to independent spaces, all of them, beyond the sector of interest. It is important to expand the social and cultural fabric of reference, networking is useful for things to work, both in the strictly programmatic part and to create new possibilities for themselves. For us networking is essential, in addition to the collaborations already started as those with Laboratorio Zen Insieme, Block Design and La Bandita, we founded an artistic district, just at the time when the pandemic broke out from Covid – 19 that has slowed and altered relationships. KAD Kalsa Art District was founded with other independent spaces, cultural operators, artists and curators. In addition, we continue collaborations with photographers/ and, as Mimi Mollica (founder of the Photo Meet London) that for years organizes in the Valle del Belìce of photographic workshops, For 3 years at Église held one dedicated to the city with important guests such as Bruce Gilden and Amber Terranova.
Managing a space dedicated to photography is certainly a complex process and I suppose it requires constant commitment from those involved. What skills do staff need to have in order to manage a space dedicated to photography in an optimal way?
When you decide to start a space dedicated to culture, before having skills you need to have specific propensities, such as curiosity, an aptitude for research, the ability to work in a team and a strong interest in the sector in which you operate. Skills can be acquired later, but they are necessary, without forgetting that you never stop learning and that it is important to treasure the mistakes you make. Our group has very diversified skills and interests which also depend on the individual paths, Michele comes from reportage, Simona uses photography as an artistic practice, I am an archaeologist and I am specialized in photographing works and installations, the other two members instead have unrelated jobs to photography, therefore with specific skills related to their sectors.
Being part of Église, we are also cultural operators, organizing and managing activities useful for the promotion and dissemination of culture also includes the management of project management, project production, communication, these activities must be accompanied by the analysis of the context in which it operates. You must always be up to date and able to deepen the issues you face and, therefore, to contextualize them to the time and space that you live in, seizing all the opportunities for exchange and collaboration with other professionals.
I visited Église Art on several occasions, and I must say that I was almost stunned by the beauty of this place: the possibility of recovering an almost abandoned space, of bringing it back to life and dressing it with culture and art is the dream of anyone working in this field. In addition I think that the extreme architectural complexity is a really interesting challenge for those who deal with photography and cultural planning. How much does the space of Église affect the curatorial choices of programming, especially considering the exhibition limits and therefore how much the fact that it is not a classic gallery determines the selection of projects?
To date, the spaces of Église are the small seventeenth-century church and the Lab, immediately adjacent to the first one, and both have strong connotations. The Lab is in fact a small apartment, with a garden in the back, here we managed to get a space where we can accommodate photographers/ and two other shared, in which are also our open shelf library and the “fanzinoteca” of Zines Palermo, the festival dedicated to the zines of which we are co-founders with Block Design and Lino Ganci. The church, instead, is the place dedicated to photographic exhibitions, is a historical place, in which it is necessary to intervene with the restoration and renovation works, the temporary roof is supported by a scaffold of scaffolded tubes, The arch, which divides the main hall from the space that was just behind the altar, has a broken keystone, so it is supported by a security scaffold. The church is a fascinating place, at first glance visually tends to win over what is exposed, but the presence of the scaffolding involves a great work of curatorial and exhibition design. A place is not enough to make a cultural project special, we need a visions and a desire to experiment and this is what we have done in these years.
Opening a photographic space is a dream for those who want to pursue their own line of research independently and develop an independent curatorial proposal. But leaving aside the variant of desire and dream and getting closer to the concreteness of reality, what are the factors to take into account when you want to open a space dedicated to photography? What are the factors that should not be underestimated and that perhaps you have underestimated?
The factors to evaluate and take into account are different, all dependent on the road you want to take, always putting yourself in a listening position and ready to change direction if necessary. As mentioned before, study and keeping up to date are essential factors, then you need to have patience and willpower to take a slow but functional path to growth. It is necessary to face a series of goals, some easier to achieve, so as to be able to face inevitable frustrations, others more fraught with obstacles, also knowing that many of the results you will achieve will be intangible. You have to focus on what you think is useful and stimulating, without necessarily looking at the name trend. Independent spaces are stimulating places, faithful to themselves but never equal, however they are among the most vulnerable from the economic point of view, because they do not have the economic strength useful for the continuity of planning activities. It is necessary to take into account the economic aspect, we live in a historical period in which money is useful to grow, improve, to be truly independent and, therefore, not to compromise, maintaining a strong identity: it is necessary to invest and reinvest, really, on themselves, on the group and on space.
I believe that one of the factors that is often underestimated is the impact of bureaucracy, but obviously it is applied to every sector of our country, not only in the cultural field. Another factor not to be underestimated is the passing of time: everything changes, macroeconomic factors, society, the people around you, personal and common goals, the tastes of the public and its needs. You have to have a very clear vision and a good dose of intuition to stem the changes.
Lately, we are witnessing the closure of numerous realities dedicated to art and photography. Often the cause is purely financial. I therefore ask you: how can a space that is not aimed at selling be economically supported?
In the first years we self-financed, the situation in the long run became unsustainable, so we began to collaborate with other local realities, offering them services and collaborating on funded projects. Unity really makes strength, collaboration and sharing are very important aspects. We need to be responsive and find different solutions for individual projects. For some months now, we have also been working with a couple of professionals for the design and implementation of projects, as well as for participation in national and international calls. Of course, it would be more useful the recognition by the institutions: the pandemic generated widespread discomfort, some spaces have either closed or are going to, we found ourselves discussing what to do, too: financial support would be really important, as is the case of other European countries.
What is pinhole photography? It is an image taken through the photographic process of pinhole photography, a technique that, like most modern cameras, exploits the principle of the camera obscura, but using a small hole as a lens, which creates images through diffraction. JustinQuinnell is considered one of the leading experts in this technique, both for his almost thirty years as a lecturer worldwide and for his artistic production of experimental photographs. From Bristol, where he lives, he produces photography using pinhole cameras, creating unusual situations and points of view, thanks to the possibilities of the medium and the deformations of the image.
Among Justin Quinnell’s most bizarre photographic series is the one taken using a smileycam, a camera that the artist places completely inside his own mouth, thus exploiting the power of an unusual and very bizarre point of observation – POV to use a fashionable definition. all of Quinnell’s teeth appear in the frame, which the viewer ends up knowing better than the artist’s own dentist. In addition to the teeth, different subjects are presented from time to time, describing Justin’s daily routine, starting with his toothbrush in the morning, moving on to meals and the cocktail to share in the evening. From the photographer’s mouth we also keep track of his travels, so between an incisor and a canine, St. Mark’s Square in Venice and the Sydney Opera House pop up.
Stenoscopy does not involve any special focusing, which is why the photos look very amateurish. In the past it represented a high point for technology, now, surpassed by much better lenses and lenses, it is used for more experimental and artistic projects, thanks to the possibility of being able to create strange points of view and unpredictable results. Quinnell’s work is a very clear example of this, and if you would like to find out what your mouth sees, you can also find the smileycam here.
For two months, from 1 February to 30 March 2023, in Bologna, the concept studio THE ROOOM will host a new exhibition, curated byMulierisMagazine. The title of the project is DREAMTIGERS, a quotation from the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges and his extraordinary imagery in which animals play a fundamental role in stimulating memories and imagination.
DREAMTIGERS is an exhibition that uses the imagination through the works of Lula Broglio, Alejandra Hernández, Joanne Leah, Sara Lorusso, Sara Scanderebech, Ayomide Tejuoso (Plantation), together with the installations of The Mosshelter by Marco Cesari. This dimension thus opens up a world of possibilities not only for the mind but also for the representation of what is real. A fusion, that between the real and the imaginary, which Sigmud Freud defined as the navel of the dream, an undefined place in which it is possible to freely address the themes that have made THE ROOOM and Mulieris Magazine known to the public in recent years. These themes certainly include the condemnation of any form of discrimination and gender equality, addressed over the years through popularisation, wonderful books and very interesting artistic projects that will continue with the Bolognese exhibition.
Karen Navarro’s mixed-media photography is a tool through which the Argentinian artist explores sides of her past, her identity and the causes that led to the definition of certain personal traits shared with an entire people. The multidisciplinary artist creates photos, collages and sculptures focusing on the theme of belonging, to a physical place and to another of the soul, using portraits and resorting to the use of the written word. All of Navarro’s artistic production is influenced by her being an immigrant (she now works in the United States, in Houston) and descendant of indigenous peoples of South America.
Migration in Karen Navarro’s work is in fact seen as a process of inner transformation, of the formation of a collective identity that reflexively shapes the personal one. The interpretation of the symbols of one’s own culture is present both in the installations but above all in the photographs, in which the subjects stand out precisely thanks to these details, together with the work of image transformation and deconstruction of the work.