Friday. 28/1/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Column / Chiara Rimella

Unlocked creativity

The opening of a new academy and artists’ residence on a sunny Mediterranean island off the coast of Italy might, at first, not seem like groundbreaking news. Dedicated to David Sassoli, the late former president of the European Parliament, the yet-to-be-named cultural centre will focus on training future European leaders, with courses on human rights, justice, democracy and solidarity.

But the fact that the proposed institution will take over a former prison (pictured), which is currently crumbling on the tiny, uninhabited islet of Santo Stefano, adds more than an element of novelty to the story. Completed in 1797, the prison was inspired by the principles of British philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s “panopticon”: a setup that allows for permanent supervision of all inmates from one central viewpoint. It’s an idea that went on to inspire and embody a number of unsettling, dystopian visions of modern life and digital surveillance.

The same isolation that made this place ideal for confining criminals and political prisoners has turned it into a precious prerequisite for quiet and concentration. Details of the new design aren’t public yet but if the original U-shape of the building is kept, it will probably be used to help to create a sense of community rather than a paranoia-inducing lack of privacy.

Is this project too much like opening a detox meditation retreat on St Helena? Not quite. We have become used to a certain brand of architectural projects that transform dilapidated, undervalued structures such as warehouses and factories. The conditions that make an architectural project desirable, or even ethically commendable, can change radically over time. Some ideas that were born as dreams over the past century have turned into nightmares – but hopefully the transformation can happen in the other direction too.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Ukraine

Own worst enemy

Russia’s chief goal in targeting Ukraine has been to limit the West’s influence on the nation. This suffered another blow on Wednesday night when the US formally rejected demands from Vladimir Putin, including his call for Ukraine to be barred from joining Nato. On the ground in Kyiv, meanwhile, the sense is that Russia’s efforts have driven Ukrainian public opinion against it, particularly during the past eight years of skirmishes in the country’s east. “Even those who were supporters of Russia – who were once EU sceptics or Nato sceptics – want to move in the direction of Europe and Nato,” says Yulia Marushevska (pictured), a Ukrainian anti-corruption activist who was prominent in the Euromaidan protests that triggered the collapse of a pro-Russian Ukrainian government in 2014. Marushevska says that even in the east, where her family is from, there is nostalgia for Soviet times but little overt support for the Russia of today. Putin may want to rethink his strategy in Ukraine, or at least stop scoring own goals.

Image: Getty Images

Trade / Singapore

Share and share alike

Singapore’s trade ministry has announced that the city-state signed a free-trade deal with the Pacific Alliance during the 16th summit of the Latin American bloc (pictured). Its four members – Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru – have a combined GDP of $2trn (€1.79trn), which would make it the world’s eighth-largest economy if it were a country. Singapore already does business with each of these nations individually but the agreement will cut tariffs and, all parties hope, boost trade.

“We hope that more companies from the Pacific Alliance will follow and use Singapore as a gateway to uncover markets and seize business opportunities in our region,” said Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong. The agreement was achieved after four years of negotiations and will make Singapore the alliance’s first associate member. Canada, Australia, Japan and New Zealand are also vying to secure deals with the group.

Image: Alamy

TV / China

Hitting the off button

TV producers in China will soon have to reveal the nationalities of foreign actors and production crew who they employ. According to new rules by the National Radio and Television Administration, these details must be displayed in production credits, including cast and crew members from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. This is the latest development in Beijing’s ongoing crackdown on the entertainment industry but it has not stopped viewers from tuning in: in 2020, China surpassed the US as the world’s largest theatrical market and kept the top spot in 2021. Worsening US-China relations have pushed the Chinese film industry to turn inward and focus on homegrown productions. Rather than taking advantage of the soft power of Marvel’s cinematic universe – a big hit in the Chinese market that was blocked in 2021 – the Chinese film industry remains beholden to Beijing, whether it wants to be or not.

Retail / Global

Distorted reality

Despite the optimism of brands, almost nobody cares about the metaverse, according to a study by Boston-based marketing firm Klaviyo. The UK survey reveals that 93 per cent of 18 to 24-year-old respondents would not shop in it and 46 per cent aren’t aware of the concept at all. Yet brands are investing heavily in the virtual world and Morgan Stanley predicts that it will be worth $50bn (€45bn) to the fashion industry in the next 10 years. This forecast, however, seems dependent on the assumption that avid gamers and luxury consumers alike take enough interest in digital platforms to shell out for virtual outfits for their online avatars. Might we suggest an investment in brick-and-mortar shops instead, to reconnect with those customers and act as an embassy for the brand? A small, well-tended slice of the city is surely more meaningful than an unvisited corner of the internet.

Image: Ben Biondo

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Ghia

Melanie Masarin is the founder and CEO of Ghia, a non-alcoholic beverage brand inspired by Mediterranean aperitivo culture. Plus: Monocle’s Guy De Launey reports on some top Slovenian businesses from Maribor.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: February issue

Monocle’s 150th issue is a humour special that also includes an interview with Finland’s prime minister Sanna Marin and celebrates ambitious city halls that inspire the metropolises they serve. Order your copy now at The Monocle Shop.

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