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Dazed Secret Lectures: Creativity in the XXI Century


Exponents of Milan’s cultural avant-garde met to discuss the creative Renaissance they are experiencing at the latest installment of Dazed and Huawei Secret Lectures.

On October 24, five of the most exciting creative thinkers in Italy sat on a stage in what used to be an industrial space, not far away from Milan’s bustling city centre. The conversation, focusing on the idea of creativity in the 21st Century, was the third in a series of Secret Lectures hosted by Dazed and Huawei all across Europe in order to inspire a new generation of creators.

Taking part in the talk were Toiletpaper Magazine co-founder Pierpaolo Ferrari, Slamjam creative director Gabriele Casaccia, art director and streetwear connoisseur Giorgio Di Salvo and multidisciplinary artist and LGBTQ+ activist Dafne Boggeri. Kaleidoscope Magazine’s Alessio Ascari hosted the panel, which asked a straightforward question: how are young Italian thinkers reshaping the idea of creativity?

It became clear from the opinions of the panellists that the answer is multifaceted. The lecture touched on themes such as social media, creative collaborations and versatility, painting a picture of the exciting cultural climate that makes Milan one of the world’s leading creative cities.

After the conversation, Elisa Bee, Z.I.P.P.O. and Paula Tape gave attendees an example of the best left field electronica and techno the Italian scene has to offer.

Here are five things we learned:

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE URBAN CONTEXT

 “Milan is smaller than New York or London, which makes it easier for creatives to intermingle,” said Pierpaolo Ferrari, talking about what makes Milan an unique place for European creatives to live. “There’s a kind of positive unrest in this city, and it makes people feel empowered. It’s really easy to make unexpected connections, and thus challenge yourself.” But this process works both ways, as Giorgio di Salvo, who started out as a graphic designer and ended up being part of the city’s fashion elite, explained. “I have worked with people from all over Europe and the US, but being here—and making an effort to connect with my being here, which means organising events and club nights, as well as exhibitions—helped me a great deal.”

Being from a provincial town, or even from a small village in the middle of nowhere, doesn’t hinder your chances to make it in the city: you just have to be open to the

advice hidden in its urban and social structures. “I’m an outsider, since I’m from Ferrara,” laughed Slamjam creative director Gabriele Casaccia when asked to introduce himself, “but moving to Milan helped us realise we needed to expand our vision: Slamjam was created with the idea of it expanding into the cultural world. We have recently opened an art space called Spazio Maiocchi, which aims to mix up the boundaries between disciplines.”

Dafne Boggeri’s cultural upbringing was even harder, since she’s from a small town, known all around Northern Italy for a huge clothing outlet (not exactly an exciting cultural space to grow up in). But moving to Milan gave her the chance to actually start turning her ideas into practice. “I ran away after ten years, and as soon as I moved to Milan it wasn’t hard to meet like-minded people,” she said. “So I had the chance to found Italy’s first queer collective, Pornflakes Queer Crew : we were frivolous but tactical. Ours was a playful resistance”.

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE

“Toiletpaper is the product of a generation that conceives the production of images as a 'bulimic process',” said Ferrari about the magazine he co-founded with renowned artist Maurizio Cattelan. “And since ours is a wordless publication, the only way we can spread our message is through social media shares.” But how can you actually convince people that you are worthy of a like or a follow? According to Casaccia: “You need to find your own language in order to make your content actually work on social media. Instagram is the place to be, since it’s the best way both to connect with artists and to showcase your ideas. It’s as if you were putting on an exhibition”.

Boggeri agreed: she curates SPRINT-, an Independent Publishers and Artists’ Books Salon, and said she got in touch with most of the subjects and artists involved through social media. Di Salvo, however, had a different take on the issue. According to him, in a society that’s suffering from a “visual hangover”, it’s anonymity that leads to social media success: “SUPREME didn’t even have a website until six, seven years ago. Inaccessibility is a value, since it forces people to actually put an effort into discovering who you are. I think this will be a key component of the next creative wave.”

DO NOT FOCUS ON JUST ONE DISCIPLINE

Toiletpaper isn’t just a magazine: Ferrari and Cattelan also produce merchandise and curate branded projects, suggesting that one of the defining characteristics of this “renaissance” is a multidisciplinary approach. “The one thing we didn’t want to do was to take photos and frame them on a wall,” said Ferrari. “We’re interested in understanding how the media gets what we do, and how we can create a dialogue with the brands we work with.” Boggeri applies the same reasoning to her artistic work: “At the beginning of my career, dabbling in several fields was seen as a cop-out, but now being an artist, a curator and an activist at the same time is a plus.” “It’s also because of academies and the way they force you into a single discipline,” pointed out Ascari.

How does this translate into practice? Di Salvo explained, using his own micro-brand United Standard as an example: “You can’t be mono-dimensional in your thinking anymore. Sure, you have your collection, and you have to present it at a runway show. But your brand needs to feel like a whole world, and you achieve that through communication instead of design. This goes back to the roots of streetwear: T-shirts originally echoed other ideas such as the music of bands, the tricks of skateboarding crews.” Casaccia agreed: “In the past, the focus was often on aesthetic, on the creation of simple, sleek apparel. Now, you need to work with brands that put connections and identity first.”

UNDERSTAND THE VALUE OF COLLABORATION

While they have all attained a certain degree of success with their work, all of the panellists agreed that being open to collaborations helped the development of their careers. There are some rules you should follow though: “In order for a collaboration to work, it mustn’t involve any kind of competition,” said Ferrari, talking about his relationship with Cattelan. “It’s the only way you can get the best out of each other”. Being the founder of a LGBTQ collective called Tomboys Don’t Cry, which aims to promote a post-identity agenda within art, culture, activism and practice, Boggeri knows how great it can be to connect with like-minded people: “It helped me to understand how being an artist also means being open to challenging yourself with different fields, creating some kind of human sculpture or collective performance conveying your ideas”.

Di Salvo, who was personally contacted by Kanye West thanks to his work for VNGRD, a brand he started selling in an iconic Milan streetwear shop called King Kong, is a walking example of how collaborations can enrich one’s artistic vision and creative spirit: he mentions his work with Stüssy, Fuct and Rockers NYC as landmarks in his career.

HIP-HOP CULTURE IS AT THE CORE OF THE CREATIVE RENAISSANCE 

Hip-hop being at the forefront of the cultural dialogue isn’t big news, but all of the panellists agreed that growing up under the influence of street culture was instrumental in their role on the Italian cultural scene, as if they are finally getting rewarded for their early interest in a culture that the Italian mainstream has shunned until recently. “My true academy was street culture,” stated Boggeri: “I can call myself an artist now, but I started out as a writer in my small hometown. If I think about the concept of renaissance, hip-hop values come to mind.”

“There is a cultural contamination happening all over the place,” said Casaccia, “and you see it a lot in sneaker design. Even high-fashion brands collaborate with artists in order to create exclusive projects.” This prompted an audience member to ask a question: how should kids who can’t afford to buy high-fashion apparel deal with the fact that streetwear isn’t made for the street anymore? “Just buy a plain white T-shirt and pirate it”, answered Ferrari to a laugh from the audience. “That’s how true Italian creativity works!” “I think one of the defining qualities of streetwear is its being open to contaminations,” interjected Casaccia. “You don’t have to be affordable to be street”. Di Salvo agreed, underlining how “streetwear” is a fluid term nowadays. “We’re in the middle of a dialogue whose aim is to redefine the way we think about street culture: it’s exciting, but there’s no way we can predict what the outcome will be.”