DANSK invited Luigi Vitali, editor-in-chief and publisher of DUST Magazine, to talk about a creative industry that has a variety of challenges as well as opportunities to manage, navigating a globalizing world, social media and a digitally enabled youth culture. Vitali’s experience in interviewing quite significant voices for DUST reveals an inquiry that goes beyond an industry that is often too characterized by its consumer culture. Among high calibers historians, economists, theologians, yogis, rabbis and sufi masters he has interviewed figures such Adam Curtis, Yves Citton, Mark Fisher, Gilles Kepel to mention a few. Born in Bologna, he pursued a career as a photographer, going on to found DUST with Luca Guarini to set out to examine challenges of a postmodern, rapidly changing world. How much value do we attach to imagery, environmental issues and societal changes and what does that mean in relation to the fashion industry? Youth culture and economic crisis, stereotypes and bias are further themes the magazine is approaching investigating a variety of aspects, ranging from meditation to environmental activism, and pursue and inspiring collaborations with renowned photographers like Willy Vanderperre, Brett Lloyd, Casper Sejersen and many others . With choosing Berlin as their headquarter, Vitali and Guarini challenge given structures defined by an institutionalized industry and make space for cross cultural encounter of an ever progressing youth.
We’ve been hearing the term ‘democratization of fashion’ a lot these days. What in particular do you associate it with?
It’s hard not to associate this idea with its ethical problems and societal challenges. These are the main characteristics to be reconsidered while talking of democratization. The democratization of consumer goods does not necessarily signal a progress of democracy. We are aware of this but Yet, even though the exploitation of labor and environmental injustices – just to mention a few – are right in front our eyes, we don’t consider these to be a way too high price when paying for the right dress. Blaming the logic of the market isn’t going to change the situation. The only thing that would, is an evolution within culture that would value the democratization of sustainability before everything else. Hence, new responsibilities evolve. Fashion for the masses shouldn’t be translated as ‘fast fashion’ – can fashion even be cheap and fast? A dignified fashion industry is about something else, and it can certainly teach modern consumers that the key is to consume less, qualitatively and wisely, even when it comes to ‘democratic’ prices. But I believe that slowly the fashion industry seems to understand more and more that it’s not about delivering to the masses, but about enabling self-determined individuals, to be unique and make informed decisions, aware of what they buy, what they wear and where they belong. Things can easily move in that direction. But on a general level everything that democracy stands for is put at stake, if we don’t start to rethink the perception of ourselves and our responsibility. We can’t afford to be fooled again. Finding way to consciously own our individual sovereignty is today’s first priority. The singular is the key, there’s no masses. We are a multitude of separated singularities, we can only identify ourselves. Being aware of what this entails it is something more urgent than we think.
What if we use the term subculture as the basis of a self-determined individual? Such as context is quite a prominent theme within current fashion photography, creating some kind of realistic view, engaging with current movements and topics. How come it took on such a direction, and do you think it’s been implemented successfully?
Fashion photography at its best is trying to constantly reinvent itself and grasp reality, but it usually gets stuck by producing plain repetitions and often ends up approaching its themes in too trite a way. I think subcultures kind of disappeared today, and not only that, but the mainstream has disappeared, too—at least as we used to know it. It seems instead that youth culture has fragmentized into a very wide, heterogeneous spectrum that deep-down does not have much diversity within itself. Everybody is on their own, but at the same time everybody is part of the same multitude, sharing the same sense of belonging. As a result, they all have the same weight: everyone’s story deserves to be told. There’s no main narrative, there are many. That can be enriching and at the same time confusing but the point is that this generation doesn’t need to belong to a group that codifies one correct way for its members to display their existence, either politically, religiously or culturally. Individuals, can be understood as ‚self- determined’, aware of their personal right of expression. This certainly is challenging the idea of what is normative; the idea of how one should look, consume, and be. It may seems that without a center, all the margins count as such, and the representation of that, is a challenge for fashion photography – if this is even the aim. I think that in society, aiming for a good image and photograph have the power to not only document, but shape reality. This is the potential that photography, especially fashion photography, should be really aware of. It’s a powerful way through which we represent ourselves, define what we are about and what we are not, define what are our new shared centers and a around what this generation revolves around. It’s certainly an interesting period for fashion photography, but most of the time it just gets lost in the kaleidoscope of today’s youth culture without offering much insight.
As a creative in the fashion industry how do you create value within the given structure? How would you describe value as a characteristic?
Creating value is about creating beauty. This is how this word makes sense to me. The impact beauty has on people is crucial. When confronted with beauty, in order to face it, people have to question themselves, they have to elevate the self and revise their way of thinking. Today, creating value has to do with offering something authentic and real, something that comes from the heart and can touch hearts. At the end, everybody is thirsty for truth, guidance, and relief from the confusion which we inhabit. Conceiving value with creating beauty means to construct a direction, a path, a meaningful perspective, a way to elaborate a reality in which we can all co-exist better. Contrary to what our society displays, creating value should not really be about ego, about attitude, about looks or about merely producing money. It is something deeper that one can achieve only with selflessness, humbleness, dedication and perhaps also, civil passion. This kind of value is the one to be created. Everyone who doesn’t take this seriously is merely perpetuating the void that seems to condemn us. This is what worries me.
So, would you agree there is a development and constant change in the sense of ‘Everything is at flux’.
I’d rather say, everything is in a circular flux. It may be not the same river all the time, but the temperature just feels the same.
Following that thought: As we live in a globalized world with access to a great amount of information, how do you perceive the fact that there is constant replication, recreation and hype?
Sometimes it’s shocking to think that after this great anthropological revolution that happened on a global scale, with all the radical changes within habitual behavior, communication, information and consumption, it seems that it hasn’t quite improved on an aesthetic level. Sometimes an image, a song or a movie that has been produced ten years ago doesn’t even seem so dated now, while in decades prior, the aesthetic progression over the years was not only evident, but marking a point of no return each time. References and revivals surely existed but were elaborated differently, generally it was as if back then the creative generations were looking forward, reflecting on an idea of future, of hurrying farther, changing and inventing something new an unprecedented. When the internet became popular and web 2.0 came along, we all thought this progression was going to speed up even faster and farther, but while everything else was changing, cultural expressions didn’t seems to have really evolve. Simplification has been the common ground for everything that has happened, for better and for worst, and probably the only things that did change have been approaches and frames. If we’d have to visualize it, I’d see it as a mass, pushing forward on a vertical line year after year, then with the advent of the internet, the mass reacted as if it was hitting a wall. It started to expand horizontally and on the surface, and with the blow-back, it started to encompass also everything happened before. Today We seem not interested to create an image of our future, because we are actually expanding horizontally, in a continuous present moment able to incorporate everything from opposites to tensions. The trite mannerism of our time embraces and distorts everything, dissolving subcultures and social groups, in favor of a blurred conformity in which everybody feels unique. In the field of fashion, the codes are imploding – replication, recreation and the hype circle are the result of this. This horizontal generation prefers to bring back pre-existing looks or analyze, introspect, to comment and repeat rather than create or imagine a future, different than the present they inhabit. It seems in this process creativity is substituted by profit and functionality as the main aim. The best we can get is a disillusioned, ironic, sometimes cynic re-proposition of this dynamic, but nothing really meaningful or revolutionary would come out of this. Creating beauty as a sense of orientation seems like one of the few revolutionary acts we can do today. Mannerism is a concentrically spin, it’s not easy to envision a reality outside of it, but some eventually will.
What does identity mean in regards to the fashion industry and in relation to the context of a brand or magazine?
If there is one value our society always keeps telling us, it’s, ‘Be yourself’, ‘Be free to choose what you like’ as a fundamental existential key, able to foster as well our shared idea of freedom and democracy. But which meanings are really offered to us to discover ‘ourselves’? What does ‘being ourselves’ really entails? Do we have any space or time to really think about ourselves? I think every cultural expression should question this, and try to honestly answer this question. Who ́s game are we playing? Are we describing an identity of a consumer or an individual? It’s certainly not easy to separate the two things, as the logic of the market that informs our society is vaporized in equations, in algorithm, in financial abstractions, becoming part of us, of our language, of our understanding, of our relationships, becoming the air, we breathe. So how can we be ourselves, when everything is already telling us how to be ourselves? The self is really the place we have to conquer, to gain back, to detoxify, and where to elaborate a more accurate and profound understanding of reality. It takes time, it takes silence it takes daily practice. That is the challenge. Our anthropological evolution is now determined by technology that in the way we collectively exchange information, simplifies not only our lives, but the structure of our minds, language, attention and the way we think, not to mention the way we interact and experience our solitude. The one’s being involved in creating something, either in fashion or any other field, should think of how to activate a profound human experience, something that goes beyond an algorithmic mindset, something real about ourselves – something deeply human and true that our identity can relate with. What is our identity about? At the end of the day what we are about is what we are making out of our solitude. Taking this in consideration, we should start to question and reconsider everything we do and think because there’s no gain in repeating a void.