One of my most vivid memories growing up in Sicily is receiving crates of oranges, each fruit individually wrapped in a square thin tissue paper. They were ordinary oranges but we treated them like precious candies or special gifts. Each wrapper, soft to the touch, bore a colorful drawing representing views of Sicily: seas, gardens, saints, the Mt.Etna etc.. Without the tissue all oranges looked, smelled and tasted more or less the same but when wrapped in paper, all of a sudden each fruit became precious, one that should be treated like a specialty.
Storefronts today are like those images on tissue paper: they cover stores and make them stand out in our cities; they turn shops into special places and they do so in the same way all over the world. Brands have crossed borders without adapting to the local culture: Prada, Zara, Uniqlo, Armani sell the same image in Miami or in Milan, in Shanghai or in Moscow. They probably best represent the contemporary society in which we live today, along with the flickering screens, the signage, the gigantic billboards and all this never-ending ebb and flow of information that reaches us like a strong wind and quickly moves behind. It is not architecture that represents society because our culture evolves at a speed that passes the life of the buildings by many folds. The Parthenon and the Acropolis were for the ancient Greeks a mirror of their society and they were so for centuries; for us architecture is obsolete before it is even built. Buildings are like ruins whose presence in the city becomes more and more mysterious with the passage of time, whose links with society, with the people, their anxiety, their excitements, their fears, their passions or political views are quickly lost.
So is it the rapidly changing but flat facade of the building that mirrors our zeitgeist? Is it the seduction of millions of ads winking at us at every corner? Seducing us to buy, to consume, to convince us that whatever we purchased the day before is not good anymore? It is like our cities have become a series of snapshots, a never ending sequence of static images. Susan Sontag even argues that our eyes are becoming so used to the photographic images that reality is turning itself into a series of “potential photographs”.
The images have multiplied so greatly that their power is losing strength, like pornography removes the mystery from sex, from the body and from seduction. So if the excess of seduction is killing seduction itself, maybe is visual silence that will save us. Maybe it is a blank image, a non-image. Or maybe it is the fragile, thin tissue paper wrapping the oranges of my youth that will come back and will bring with it a new set of senses and qualities.
Sergio Mannino, 2014