I used to think that our imagination disappeared the moment we discovered the potentially crushing truths of reality.
As we get older, we tend to marvel at how children can play make-believe in their rooms or be fascinated by the bugs in the backyard for longer than we can keep our attention locked to the television screen between commercials. Looking back in time, we are often left feeling a bit nostalgic about those days when we’d let our imagination roam wild and free, too.
But after coming across the exquisite work of Luigi Prina, I was reminded that you’re never too old to allow the beauty of your imagination to take flight. True imagination is rare, especially considering that most new ideas aren’t new at all. They are based on something that has already been done.
Albert Einstein was on point when he said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Prina is more than just an architect.
His insatiable approach to life and unrelenting quest for continuous learning and creativity has allowed him to imagine a new world. When he was only 16-years-old, Prina entered himself into a national aircraft modeling competition for the first time, and he won. Organizers of the event were surprised that such a young boy could create something so extraordinary.
But it was Prina’s passion and artistic imagination that led him to meet Venetian boat builder and painter Eugenio Tomiolo. This chance encounter sparked the opportunity for Prina to pose a challenge to Tomiolo, one that involved making one of his model ships fly through the room like an airplane. Needless to say, Prina succeeded.
Before long, he had a boat flying around Tomiolo’s small studio, which just so happened to have clouds painted up on the ceiling.
After that day, Prina has called upon his artistic imagination to see into the mysteries of the universe and unravel them by building flying model boats, bicycles and other Da Vinci-esque aircraft. Made from ultra-thin paper and balsa wood, the ships fly like a propeller airplane and are optimized for flight by their aerodynamic shape and near-weightlessness.
The only difference is that the propellers on Prina’s creations are powered by internal elastic bands made from pure Indian rubber and not engines. Prina has these bands, which are said to last for up to 20 years, shipped in directly from Japan.
Recently, Blinking City visited Prina’s home, where dozens of these magical ships awaited their arrival.
Blinking City, a project based in based in Milan, Italy, explores the impact of creativity on places through storytelling. Named after the Wilco song “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” the initial idea of Blinking City was to explore how our environment influences us and our creativity. But over time, this scope has drastically changed and “maybe now it is more the other way around. It’s about how people have an impact on our environment. I like to think cities are all about society’s vibrancy,” says production designer and storyteller Andrea Mignolo.
For Mignolo, meeting Prina was an enchanting moment in time, and one that won’t soon be forgotten.
“Meeting Luigi Prina was an epiphany,” Mignolo says. “Anything can fly. Even something as heavy as a boat. As a crafter, you have to make it weightless, though. You have to go back to the essentials and there can’t be any extra weight involved. At least, nothing that prevents you from taking off. He’s such a wonderful artist without even thinking about being an artist. He’s a natural. There aren’t many people around that are able to inspire you by just being themselves.”
Mignolo has always been fascinated by storytelling. To him, “the act itself of giving shape to a story is pure magic.” While studying, he specialized in semiotics, which is a discipline covering the most minimal elements of storytelling and cultural phenomena.
“As a result of my studies, I am always on the lookout for new stories,” Mignolo explains. “I can always tell a good story from ones that aren’t worth pursuing by the shivering that envelops my entire body. When this happens, I can’t help but move forward with a project.”
Blinking City not only celebrates people, places and imaginative thinking, they also work with a lot of photographers like Gianluca Giannone, Valerio Donghi and producer Luigi Schmid. The incredible and intricately-woven stories almost always happen by accident, including Prina’s.
“It all started when I saw Valerio Donghi taking shots of Stefano Prina’s little monsters. Later, he introduced me to Stefano, then Stefano introduced me to his uncle Luigi and so on. We have other stories in the pipeline and they have all happened the same way. Someone who knows someone else who makes strange things,” explains Mignolo.
Perhaps this sense of exploration for things that are out of the ordinary stems from Mignolo’s childhood–a time when all things seemed possible, even ghosts.
“I grew up in a house up on the hills in Southern Italy. Long before I was born, there was a railway connecting the towns of Vibo Valentia and Pizzo. It was a 12-mile long scenic ride through the woods overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Then, one day, the railway was shut down. The rails were dismantled and the workers’ houses abandoned. It didn’t take long before those houses turned into ruins. Skeletons opened to anyone willing to step inside,” Mignolo goes on to say as he reflects on the past. “Obviously, my little buddies and I were magnetically drawn to this place. We sneaked inside each and every one of those houses. That is, except one. The tallest one. A mysterious one. A two-story building, with big holes in the walls. Maybe it was a strange reflection, or maybe it was some scratch on the wall in the background. The fact is, that to us… it seemed like a little girl was standing at the window peering out into the sea. Every day at sunset, she was there staring outside–motionless and sad. She didn’t care about us watching her, either. We called her “la ragazza della finestra,” or “the girl of the window.” Antonio said she was killed by a jealous father, Domenico whispered softly that she was evil, and Eleonora was pretty sure she was longing for the deep blue sea. I can still remember the four of us watching at that window and being undoubtedly sure that the girl was there and real. And she probably was.”
The world freely offers itself to our imagination every day. It’s just up to us to make sure we tap into that realm of true potential. The constructive use of the imagination is important to everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are an artist, physicist, or business go-getter, the way you utilize your imagination will determine the future course of your life.
“Luigi has a spontaneous elegance that makes you want to be a better person. You want to create more, explore more, and love more. Few people have the gift of filling people with real joy. Everybody I know who has met him in person feels exactly the same. I hope my stories will soon become weightless just like Luigi Prina’s flying boats,” says Mignolo.