Wabi-sabi in Venice
When I came to Italy more than 30 years ago, my roommate, a Japanese girl, introduced me to many compatriot friends when I still did not know how to move.
I will never forget two of them: D and N.
D was studying at the Venice Academy to become an artist and N was studying at the Venice University of Architecture to become an architect.
D was overcoming the challenges of life as an artist, and N was on a glorious path to become one of Japan's future elites...at least, so it seemed to me.
In those days, when I still had a lot of time available, I went to Venice in my free time.
N was an extremely erudite man, and when his friends gathered around him, they burnt the midnight oil talked about art, architecture, history, literature, cinema and life. I did not have the necessary knowledge to participate in their conversations, but gradually I gained experience, I learned to argue and I studied a lot with the books I had borrowed.
N was the only one of us with a car, and he took us to visit Palladio, Scarpa, the Temples and the Churches in his battered car that could go to pieces at any time.
It was in those days that I fell in love with Venice.
After having talked all together until the early hours of the morning, in the silence of the night I walked along narrow alleys whose walls I could touch if I stretched out my hands, listening only to the sound of my footsteps. On a foggy day, while I was lost in the labyrinth of streets, a square with a well suddenly opened up in front of me. In total silence, a gondola suddenly appeared and disappeared into a narrow ditch. The lunar beauty of the decayed buildings along the canal.
Around the time of Carnival, people wearing elaborate medieval, baroque and eighteenth-century costumes and masks matched the city so well that I lost track of time and felt dizzy.
When I found the folds of the curtain on the portico of St. Mark's Square, from the photograph of Ikko Narahara who was at my parents' house in Japan, I felt as if I had been drawn into the depth of the shadows.
I think the reason I, a girl from a shiny new Tokyo, was so strongly drawn to Venice was because it’s a place where I could feel the history, the rise and fall of people's lives firsthand, and the beauty of the decay of time.
Where else in the world can you find a city like this?
Wabi-sabi, "ephemeral things" and "impermanent beauty" are aesthetic philosophies considered unique to the Japanese.
However, when I left Japan, the old buildings had been torn down, everything was shiny and new, cities and architecture that mimicked the West abounded, everywhere was very bright and every time I came home, a part of the city was completely new; people were interested in wearing designer clothes, eating expensive meals in restaurants that seemed to be somewhere in the West, and it seemed that the "beauty of decadence" was disappearing moment by moment.
When I came to Italy, I found wabi-sabi and decadent beauty in Venice and many other places (including cities). Here, in daily life, I found the sense of the beauty of Japanese literature, temples and shrines.
I'm not just talking about buildings, but about a way of life.
In Italy, it was common to see people carefully renovating centuries-old homes, mending old clothes, or using tablecloths and towels since their grandmothers' days.
There were no fluorescent lights on in the houses; the shadows were created by indirect lighting and the streets were poorly lit at night.
Designers and architects have repeatedly asked me for the content of "In Praise of Shadows", and I had to ask my parents to send me the book.
Of course, I also have many happy memories from my youth. I remember laughing and talking for hours with friends and locals in the bars of the city.
Or the first time I attended the Carnival.
During Carnival, it would have been inappropriate to walk around without a mask or makeup, so I painted my face white and somehow managed to look weird and walked around the city.
We girls, who rarely wore make-up, gathered our few cosmetics, we even made up the boys, and then we all burst out laughing.
When there was Acqua Alta (high water), as happens in Venice, we all put plastic bags on our feet, fixed rubber bands to keep them in place, and we walked the streets laughing and joking.
Speaking of Acqua Alta, one day D. called me home to Milan from Venice in a dismayed voice. He said, "Kaori, what do I do? The water has already entered right under my bed. I'm scared! I couldn't help but laugh at his voice, but there was nothing to laugh about him. D. who was always penniless, had rented a room on the ground floor at a low price, which is usually not done in Venice, and felt terrible every time the Aqua Alta came, lived in a house so humid that only a young artist could bear it.
Even though it's been a long time, Venice is still a very special city for me.
In 2013, when we curated the event that was the forerunner of Hands on Design, we worked with the Murano glass consortium. One of the participating companies was "Ercole Moretti".
If in the glass industry, which requires a lot of strength and effort, there are many owners of workshops with a massive face and physique, the two cousins who represented Ercole Moretti, Marcello and Paolo, were two handsome young men with a gentle appearance and manners, they could have been the protagonists of an historical film in the streets of Venice.
This first collaboration led to a relationship of trust and a monthly visit to the Murano workshop to help Ercole Moretti create her first design collection.
Afterwards, we collaborated for Hands on Design and have sometimes participated together in events in Japan and in many other cities.
Meeting someone you can trust is a treasure in life, and for me, meeting Marcello and Paolo was one of the encounters that enriched my life.
I will tell you more about their workshop in the artisan’s story.