THE DIGITAL CORNER
Discussing the Digital Container are Karchun Leung and Valerio Mannucci. In an exchange that grows out of their experience, the two speakers discuss the role of publishing, writing and language in contemporary society at a time of radical changes brought on by the pervasiveness of the internet.
conceived and curated by Linda Loppa
produced by NAM – Not a Museum
11 themed containers hosting a series of 11 conversations between notable figures from all over the world, with expertise in a wide variety of sectors, including fashion, design, science, art, and literature. A balancing act between opposing views to rediscover the joy of speaking together, with the moderation of Linda Loppa, curator of the project.
“The digital container connects information, people, cities, ideas and projects. We will think, act and bring a community together without any preconceived target or hierarchy. The digital container will show “in real time” performances, photographs, shows, crafts people working on a garment, rehearsals for fashion events or live interviews about projects happening in the cities that joined the NFContainer project. The digital container must be fully operational 365 days and around the clock!”
While Karchun Leung – art director, coach and fashion consultant in China – reports a trend connecting with the commercial content of the Chinese media, something he has distanced himself from, Valerio Mannucci – co-founder of the publishing house Nero, in Rome – highlights the importance of taking a position on uncomfortable but important and necessary issues, such as climate change and research into a new cultural ecology. A reader in the 21st century is exposed to a language that is not just composed of words; it is also visual. It is in the intertwining of words and images that the expressive codes of digital communication can be found. People speak more and more about platforms, less and less about magazines. A catalyst for thought, language is perhaps the container which is the vehicle for change, it reinvents itself to capture the rhythms of the time and incorporate the variety of content and media which form expression in the digital world. A form of activism which begins with language and connects distant people, institutions, histories and geographies.
THE DIGITAL CONTAINER – CONVERSATION TRANSCRIPT
Hello Karchun, hello Valerio, the digital container is a good way to discuss the changes in the world, the positive and the negative, the luxury and the capitalism and all the world that is shaking up. I thought you were a good match. But first, maybe Valerio, talk a bit about yourself and what are you up to today in this new situation that the world is pushing us into?
First of all, thank you Linda, for inviting me representing NERO in this discussion and well, obviously, this is a very peculiar and difficult moment from any perspective. I would say that somehow all that’s happening, unfortunately, resonates on some level with what we were working on with NERO. Some of our books have very eloquent titles! Take for example In the Dust of This Planet, by Eugene Thacker, which is a sort of “horror” take on philosophy that tries to imagine a world without humans, or Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble, which addresses our coexistence with other beings, including germs and viruses, or New Dark Age by James Bridle, which analyses the many forms of the technological and conceptual implosion we are facing nowadays: they all describe an approach that might even look pessimistic, but that instead is quite a strong and proactive take on our present. They are calls to reinvent our relation with the world, through radical approaches to reality. Reinventing ourselves in this moment is indeed a pretty difficult task. During this lockdown some of us have had more time to reflect and think about ourselves and our jobs, but a lot of us have been also facing strong and destabilizing difficulties, both professionally and existentially. In this sense, we are all exposed to the risk of some sort of “depression”. As Franco “Bifo” Berardi, another prominent philosopher who also happened to be one of our authors, says: we are experiencing a sort of psycho-deflation. Due to this, he sees an inherent and inevitable need to take a clear position. There are two different scenarios in front of us: one is basically the end of the world as we know it (you can substitute the expression ‘the world as we know it’ with Neoliberalism or Neo-capitalism or whatever you think our world is based on). The other option, even if it sounds drastic, is somehow the end of us as human beings, basically the extinction. So again, I don’t want to emphasize the pessimistic aspects of this, but the challenge of having to make a move. It’s good to change, but changes are not neutral and are not forever, we always have to take a position in relation with change and reinvention.
Karchun, you took a position, you’ve changed your job, you’ve quit Numéro China.
Yes. I’ve been thinking for these two or three years. I’m in China, I moved to Shanghai for like 13, 14 years, and I’m working for the media for around 20 years in Hong Kong and in China. So, I’ve been doing a lot of different things related to magazines. I started with newspapers and then monthlies, and then weeklies, and again monthlies. So, I’ve been doing a lot, in terms of publications with different frequencies, so they have different needs. But at the same time, it’s like, now we were talking about the titles I’m working on are kind of commercial titles, so, we rely more on advertisers rather than the readers. It’s not only you thinking, you caring about the readers, but your competitor will think in that way. So, the media groups or the media companies in China, I would say they were starting to work like an advertising company. I don’t mind working on things related to commercial, but I don’t want to work only for commercial, because if I work only for commercial, I’m not like a media person, I’m actually like a production house or a studio.
So that’s why I’ve been thinking a lot on this issue. If I still want to be a media person, what can I do? Or what is a magazine? Or what is a media right now? I was trying to define it worldwide, but in China with all the digital performances, and also the printed publications, I’ve been working for 20 years, I see there is such a transformation of the form of content in China or in Asia. So that’s why I made a decision. So, okay, maybe it’s about time to do other things. First of all, I really like fashion, that’s why I focus on fashion. And I worked for magazines because I like fashion. I’m always working related to fashion, that is something I sorted out. Is that possible – to work in fashion, but still using my skill as a journalist or a fashion editor? So that’s why I was thinking in a different way. What if I can deal with a different platform, or I can work with a brand, and then I still work with my ex-competitors whether they are the media people, or different magazines. And then I can actually work with them to create a content, where I can sort of meet them to do certain things. I run the magazine on myself and then I work with my editor and then I try to do something different. I work for a brand and then I use my ways of working with my editor, but instead I work with different magazines or different platforms.
Because now you have the digital media, you have the printed media, you have TikTok. If I’m working for a brand, maybe I can deliver the content I like into different platforms. So that was one of the things I was trying to shift my role into and it can be quite experimental, but at the same time, I think that this is one of the reasons I wanted to try. Because actually at the end, what we want to do is to deliver content to the readers; somehow, I still believe in creativity. So, this is one of the things, we were trying to deliver our ideas for different media, different platforms, even brands, somehow is like, we are trying to use it as a tool creating content on top of it. This is one of the things I was trying to test or experiment. That’s what I’m doing right now.
I think our task, your task is to make this industry more understandable and more ethically understandable. Because if we look at it from the outside, it’s a terrible industry. If we go deeper into it, we can find the values of this kind of way of working. I think we have to combine now the old world and the new world. The neighborhood and the city. Valerio, how do you feel about this situation that we have to go, probably listening to other people than we did before?
Well, I can talk maybe about my perception as an outsider: in relation with the fashion industry, I understand and agree with what you said, that for example the work of many people who are trying to redefine the industry is not so visible from the outside. This brings me to another concept, the one of “institutions”: I have the feeling that we still need institutions, whatever this word means in each context, but we definitely need to continuously change and sometimes dismiss them in order to see which one can resist our new present. I think that there are like some huge holes in our collective system, that we are not yet able to see clearly but we are experiencing them, we are feeling them. I think that we are feeling some sort of absence. So that’s a good point for me to start with, the feeling an absence can trigger, I don’t know, an action. It can transform an affection, a sentiment, a feeling, into an organized action. I know it’s pretty vague and abstract as a discourse, but this is what I feel.
Karchun, can you say how you react to this discussion?
I’ve been talking to some of the Chinese designers about the situation right now, and the results of the last season, they are doing much better than before, which means the ideas or the concept are much more complete. They said it is because they have more time, they isolate themselves in the studio. And because fashion used to be connected with people and going out, you don’t spend as much time to think by yourself; now they concentrate to actually have a conversation with themselves. Because sometimes they’ve put too much attention on having inspiration or ideas or trends or whatever, but they were not doing something they wanted to do. I think this is actually a quite special period. And then they were focusing and they asked themselves these questions and then they tried to focus more about what they want to do and what it should be from their heart, I would say. So that’s why they spend more time on this and they can deliver something much more complete.
As you know, the fashion industry right now is too fast. All the designers were telling, we are doing too many collections, too many pieces. But now there’s a stop. So then when you stop, you think about, do I need to do so many things? Do I have to listen to all the people they were asking? Do you have one more collection, two more collections, three more pieces. So that’s why they can actually do something much more complete. So, that was my feeling. I think it’s a quite interesting period of time to re-think about what is important to you in terms of time or family or people and space. It’s a period to re-think your connection with the world.
Can I ask, precisely on this point, a question to Karchun? Just out of curiosity. Talking with artists and writers in the last period, I experienced exactly the same scenario. Even if I know that the fashion world is much faster and much more demanding than the art world, the dynamics are similar. So, I just want to ask you if, parallel to this relaxation, you have also encountered some sort of – let’s use this word again in a very generic sense – “depression” in their feelings.
Yes, but I’m referring to a generic feeling linked with this “having less to do”, not the actual condition.
There are some people questioning themselves on doing this, or doing it all the time, the same thing. Yeah, of course, there are some, but I think in China is a little bit different from the outside, because the situation here is actually that we recovered much faster. So that’s why people, when they were seeing news about the world, seeing the situation not getting better, they actually feel more positive about the situation here. Cause we are doing art fairs; we are doing the fashion week much faster than the world. So, I can see they were actually feeling much more positive, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t worry about the situation because a lot of people are still worried about it, so what can we do? Or, so what if we can’t travel again? It’s like, the world is so different right now.
There are a lot of different ways of discussing or thinking about it. But I would say, less, because right now it’s a very weird period, especially when we are closing the country, we have this quantity of time. For two weeks you have to stay in a hotel or at home, it really depends on the situation. And that was kind of a quite interesting way, a new way of lifestyle. I’m from Hong Kong and if I’m going back to Hong Kong, I have to consider if I want to see my parents, first of all, I need to go back. And then I have, for two weeks, to isolate in a hotel and then finally I come back to meet my family. And then when I come back to Shanghai, I have to be isolated again. This is a completely new way of thinking about how you manage your time, your life. If it is very important, you will go for it. If not, it doesn’t work for you
A lot of the perception of life is changing, and I think it would be for a very long term. It doesn’t mean that when we’ll have the vaccine it will change much. I mean, like a part of our mind is already changed in some way. The way of thinking has been a little bit adjusted, because before, I think with all the globalization and capitalizations and pushing everything so fast and everything is becoming like a product and we even treat ourselves like a product, or like a machine. Right? I think Europeans are actually better. They don’t think in that way, but considering the environment of Asia, Asian people, no matter if they were Chinese or Hong Kongese, Japanese, they work really hard. They want to be a machine, in that way. They work starting at the beginning of the morning and then are staying at the office until midnight. And then we come back again in the early morning and there was actually, you feel proud about this. But after this situation, a lot of people they were thinking why, what the hell? So, yes, it’s a shift of values. I think this value is very important.
Thank you very much.
Values are the most important thing in life. And I think also that we have to redefine what we really want. I think writing is something that is important for the moment. I think sometimes I’m best at doing things when I feel a certain anger or a certain disillusion or a certain despair. Writers have to write, critics have to be critical, more critical, activists have to be more activist and things have to happen now. What do you think about that Valerio?
Well, I always thought that being critical and going at the roots of issues and topics it’s a necessary thing. I mean, let’s take for example NERO as a publishing house: even if we actually make and sell books and we publish magazines, etc., we never embraced the simple narration that “reading is beautiful” and that you should just do it. That’s not the point. We think instead that reading is sometimes necessary to live. We publish books that are not always fun to read. Reading those things sometimes could be difficult and not easy to accept. But at the same time, as you just said, it can give you a lot of energy. At least, this is what is happening with our readership. We recently started a new non-fiction book series, and the response in Italy has been astonishing. There’s a whole new generation of people, particularly in their twenties, who are astonishingly prepared and attentive. I think they are no more willing to be sold, sorry for the expression, bullshit. They really want things to be addressed properly, even if they are uncomfortable with those things. So yes of course I totally agree with you. I think it’s very important now to be even more critical than before, and I feel that’s already happening (with or without us).
Karchun, are you going to be radical also in your new job?
I think I’m not a very radical person. I would think, quite slow, but yeah, I think what is important is that we can be critical, but not judgmental. Most of the time, people having an opinion right now, they just give it, they just want to challenge something. I think sometimes it really depends on the understanding and the thing is that when I was trying, I’m quite straightforward, so when I say my opinion, I just want to say it. To say something I think, It’s more pure. I’m not trying to convince you; it’s just my point of view and I’m not trying to challenge something. Normally when I say something, I would think, is that’s the best way in which the other can understand what I’m saying.
So, if I want to make a statement, I make sure you guys will understand what I was thinking. I try to use a tone or a manner or my language to make it easier to understand. I’m not that type of very radical person, and at the same time I think the situation is more dangerous as we cannot have a real conversation because most of the time when you are trying to say something, people would think they are being offended or they think you are challenging them. But you’re just simply asking the question. I have to say, because I’ve talked to my ex-Hong Kongese friends, and then they were always thinking “Oh, you are challenging us”, or whatever, “you don’t understand”. Yes, I ask questions because I don’t understand. And that’s why I ask questions. I’m not trying to challenge you. It’s because I don’t understand the situation, that’s why I asked. It’s very simple and that’s human, and that’s why we have to make a conversation. And so, that was the thing.
But this happens a lot on internet because we are not always having a real conversation on the internet. People always have a perception of others or they would rather not say what they were thinking, which is not pure. Or they will rather see a question and then try to go on Google and then try to search what is the best answer and then answer it or put it in a comment. So, most of the people they are actually giving up on their opinion. They are trying to say the opinion, which has the most ‘likes’. I think the mindset has changed within these last couple of years with the internet. So sometimes, what I think is more inspiring, we actually should talk to more people, to inspire the people, to have a normal, more normal conversation, so we can inspire each other. I’m not just trying to inspire you, but I want you to inspire me. That is actually the simplest thing in the world for a conversation and that’s what we need right now. I think.
I agree. And is the digital flattening the conversation? And is the print more defining the ideas? Black and white it’s printed. It has more value?
I’m reading a book recently, it’s called World without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech By Franklin Foer, and it talks a lot about how internet, about those internet companies that are changing the media and at the same time how they are changing our way of thinking because with all the internet companies, everything is related to the comments or the clicks or the advertisement; when we used to have a media or a magazine or even newspaper, we have different sections. Different sections, these are actually supporting each other, it’s like, if I like to read about sport, I will buy the newspaper for the sports column but at the same time, the whole newspaper, has different columns; you have finance, you have news, you have like the other columns, or even for the writers and stuff, so they will wrap that together. But now, when you are on the internet, everything is piece by piece; if you like to read the news on sport news, you only buy sport news.
Everything is so concentrated but at the same time, we are actually killing the other things, which maybe they were not entertaining, maybe they were not that interesting, but they are worthy of existing like something related to culture or art or music. Of course, they will not be as fun as writing for magazines, but they are needed because they are telling us something we cannot think by ourselves. But the situation right now, especially on media, everything is online and then everything is related to one single article instead of the whole magazine. I think it changed a lot because the writer is not that diversified right now, if they want to earn their living by just writing it is very difficult. If I’m not writing something, try to make people happy, you know? I think it’s not very positive.
Valerio, I see you’re thinking a lot. I see your brain is thinking.
I agree with what Karchun just said, because I think it can be a positive shift, even if it’s really tricky like everything is in this moment. Personally, I have the feeling that what we are facing is an atomization, a fragmentation, an explosion of language and communication. We always talk about social platforms, news platforms, art platforms, etc. and that’s a sign: what we are creating now are “platforms”, aggregators, not magazines as we use to know.
As NERO, for over 16 years, we have explored many media, we do books, exhibitions, paper magazines, digital magazines, etc.: that’s not the real point, what is interesting is that against the common idea that we are reading less, there are a lot of studies which point out precisely the opposite. People are – technically speaking – reading much more than before. For example, there was a study of about 10 years ago which said that a normal American person leaving in a city was exposed every day to 100,000 words. Words that might appear on billboards, it can be advertising, it can be – I don’t know – indications on the bus, or I don’t know, the rolling titles under the chest of a TV speaker. This means that we have a huge penetration of language in our everyday lives, and that we live in a world that is basically “made of language”. Even if the common narration is that we are heading to a “visual world”, we need to recognize that the visual itself is made of language, it’s made of code. Images and videos are made of another matter: alphanumeric language. As Kenneth Goldsmith said, only sometimes we recognize it, maybe when we experience a wound in the skin of reality: for example, when a software crashes or when we receive a jpeg via email that, due to some technical malfunction, becomes an unreadable piece of code.
So, what I mean is that the relation between language and experience is completely shifting: the writers of today are not just traditional writers. We probably have to consider, for example, coders as writers, because they are actually writing the reality, probably more than most of fiction writers are doing. I think that the challenge with our work is precisely to get into this stream, into this flow, to be relevant and meaningful and find new ways of putting the right words into this huge flow of language that we are continuously exposed to.
I think we have to close with this important statement. That language has to be reinvented. We have to be more careful about our use of language. And we have to be more critical, more radical. But we are positive and we have to react. I thank you for this conversation. I’m sure we are going further on with finding the right language and the right balance between the digital and the analogue, I guess. So, thank you both for being here and taking your time for the conversation. Thank you Valerio, thank you Karchun.
Let’s talk about it later.
Contact each other, continue with the conversation connecting, connecting.
There are a lot of new types of languages, I think. We communicate with each other by even visual language and music, art and fashion. I think it’s becoming a different type of language to get to know people better, especially culturally.
If you would connect, it would be the most beautiful present of this event.
Thank you Karchun and let’s do it, and thank you Linda.
Thank you for coming, for having this precious time. Thank you for the conversation.
KARCHUN LEUNG on instagram
Karchun LEUNG, Senior Consultant in Fashion Industry
“Fashion is our language”, said by Karchun Leung.
Dated back in 2004, Karchun Leung joined Hong Kong City Magazine as Senior Editor, where his foray into fashion thus begun. With a decade of honing in his profession, Leung started to take the role of Editor in Chief of Numéro China in 2013, and been selected as a member of BoF 500 a year later.
Not merely owns the talent on creativity and international perspective for content creation, Leung also possesses the skills on magazine operation. He opened up outstanding new project for the magazine business and collaborated with multiple brands, for Numéro China, as well as for Modern Weekly Style since 2018.
“Karchun is absolutely a culture disseminator and taste maker”, been widely praised by the fashion industry, Leung has successfully collaborated with numerous brands by his avant-garde sense, incisive intellect and insightful vision.
By the summer of 2020, Leung opened up a new chapter of his career and became a fashion consultant, with his strong knowledge in media – where he had witnessed and participated the evolution over 15 years of fashion in China and worldwide. “It’s time for a new era”; Leung spares no effort on rendering support to local designers as to promote them from China to international arena.
Fashion is the language, and creativity is the phraseology.
Valerio Mannucci is both co-founder and co-director of NERO publishing. He was also the editor-in-chief of the publishing company’s homonymous contemporary art magazine. Valerio has curated cultural programs, exhibitions and shows, and his writings have appeared in international magazines and art catalogues. His work mainly focuses on the relationship between visual arts and language.