Contemporary Western culture does not like to analyze, it rarely dwells upon details, however illuminating they might be, and tends to ignore differences, half-tones and shadows. It prefers to use generalizations and too often slots things into categories, leaning towards simplification, unjustified assimilation and banal labels.
This tendency to simplify is particulary noticeable when it comes to the houses and interiors of Asian countries. Minimalism is zen, for example, the atmosphere is oriental, spaces are as refined as a haiku, the decoration has a touch of the Mandarin about it, and the furniture is from such-and-such dynasty, despite the fact that each dynasty lasted for centuries and contained a succession of generations of masters and manufacturers. The adjectives Chinese, Japanese and Indian are used as if discussing the inhabitants os a medieval Tuscan town, who are all the same as each other yet completely different from their neighbours (the fourteenth-year-old cultures with amazingly different facets linked not only to the passing of time, but alsoto the countless places and civilizations that influenced them.
Fortunately, the photographs inside this book re-establish the expressive and intellectual strength of the differences between the many Chinas, Indias and Japans. Visiting the houses and recording them with his inquisitive lens, Massimo Listri is always interested in more than outer surfaces, and shows how living in Tokyo is different from living in Kyoto, the many ways of interpreting the domestic landscape in Beijing, the abyss between Jakarta and Bali, and the flowering of the varying lifestyles in Thailand. Although there has been a strong movement advocating the return to traditional housing, there is still an intense attraction towards modernity, even Western modernity, albeit assimilated into the local culture.
As Listri is both an artist and a consummate cultural recorder, he does not juxtapose photographs en masse, but moves house by house, interior by interior, to build up an anthropological picture that takes into account the distinctive features of each artifact and its context, inviting us to see the aesthetic, cultural and historical details, and perhaps even understand them. Each page is alive with both exotic charm and scientific precision; it records, describes and classifies, leaving us with the pleasure, rather than the chore, of having ideas and reaching conclusions about the multi-faceted world of Asia and its many lifestyles and architectural traditions, both old and new.