The new design vocabulary
The lines between various disciplines — such as fashion, art, design, and architecture — are diminishing as the designers and architects seek to collaborate to open exchange and dialogue. Navneet Mendiratta shares her learnings from the recent art and design events held in Delhi
February was a particularly bright month for all those who love art and design. What started with the India Art Fair 2018, progressed into a more serious India Arch Dialogue (IAD) 2018 and closed with a very design-rich lifestyle fair, India Design ID 2018, all held in New Delhi. Even as creative minds congregated to present their ideas, sought collaborations and exchanged roadmaps for the future, the visitors went back enriched with the shows put up by some of the finest in the industry. What struck them was that the lines between disciplines seemed to diminish and creative complemented the pragmatic. The attention was clearly on details that defined the spaces and designs that make these spaces so coveted. And this also made many think out aloud as to what would define design in the future, and whether there are any trends that may have emerged from these events.
Role of art in design
The 10th edition of the India Art Fair that opened in Delhi on February 9 under the aegis of new director, Jagdip Jagpal, clocked happy numbers and “good sales” owing to its “refreshed and expanded programme” and a focus on South Asian arts. A total of 78 art galleries attended the four-day festival with a “strong representation of Indian galleries, enabling deeper engagement with artists from the local art scene”. The focus was on new and experimental art, and design.
“Art and design are two realms which instruct each other,” says Bhavna Kakar, a well-known gallerist, who owns Gallery Latitude 28 and is editor/publisher of art books and a niche magazine called TAKE on Art. “One can embark on a soliloquy of epic proportions, praising the power of art; of painting, photography, dance, poetry, theater, sculpture, music and everything in between. They would have science behind them, not to mention an entire roster of art historical figures who have been anything but quiet on the influential qualities of the creative process.”
And, design, she adds, is a fabric which gives definition to an artist’s imagination and helps in making the art a final product. “For instance, a table can be anything with a slab and four legs. However, it is through art and creativity that we can have different versions of tables, which are aesthetically designed and help design engage with different sensory perceptions of humans. Art, therefore, helps design transcend its utilitarian purpose and adds aesthetic to design. I am biased when I say this but designers seek art for inspiration, for art is transformative,” she says.
Product and design
Agrees Aashti Bhartia, Director, Ogaan Media Pvt Ltd, that organises the very exclusive design fair in the country, India Design ID. “We see many new brands coming up that are often led by designers. Many of them are doing innovative work and are deeply involved in their manufacturing processes as well. For instance, the Klove Studio — which showed incredible lighting installations in blown glass this year — is run by two designers who have their own blown glass manufacturing unit and are constantly pushing the limits of what’s possible. The quality of work that’s being done here makes me very excited about the future,” she says.
Spearheaded by Prateek Jain and Gautam Seth, the new collection by Klove, titled ‘Shamanic Soul’, was launched at the India Design ID 2018. Both Jain and Seth love to play with form, scale, dimension of light, sound, smell, and even taste. The signature style followed by the duo flows from neo-classical to contemporary and is well received in spaces created for those with well-defined design sensibilities.
In their installation called, ‘A Caravan’, 20 individual forms of lighting design combine together to form one whole. Made entirely of brass, each form in this installation is a shamanic totem symbol. From pillars made entirely of blow glass and casted in brass onto wall installations, there are thought-provoking forms celebrating the sacred symbols. Spirit guides of birds (eagle, peacock) onto animals (eagles, tiger, wolf, monkey) along with plants and trees come together — each a unique symbol of healing, power, raw energy, wisdom, living in harmony, beauty or messengers of joy.
“A shaman meditates and journeys for the client, seeking the animal with whom the client (often a baby) has a strong simpatico. Finding one’s totem can be a powerful and revealing look into one’s self,” explains Seth of the collection. The duo love to play with visual imagery combining it with hand-blown glass lighting mastery to create each of their light installations — a rare combination of art and functional design.
The other conceptual showcases that really opened up people’s imaginations at the India Design ID included the Orient Express installation and the atrium by Sarita Handa; designer and big brand collaborations like the Sabyasachi and Asian Paints Nilaya wallpaper or Rooshad Shroff’s lights for Atmosphere. “Also, it was amazing to see the designers open up to focus on materials and the process of making that lies behind products,” points out Bhartia, quoting the instance of Jaipur Rugs showing how their rugs are made.
According to Bhartia, this edition of the India Design ID was the largest show they have had with over 130 exhibitors. The showcases this year have been the most innovative with each brand showing a new concept, products from a special collaboration, a new collection.
“I think design created out of consumer interaction insights is the future,” says Swapan Seth, advertising guru and art expert. “Furniture design will move to space-driven design. I see the designers of tomorrow coming out of tier 2 towns. Design will be more affordable and therefore democratic and egalitarian,” he shares. Artificial intelligence, big data, utilitarian design, the end of flat printing, and shared design are some of the other trends that would emerge, he predicts.
What does the future hold?
Another big highlight that also mapped the trends of diminishing lines between disciplines was an amazing dialogue between international and Indian designers and architects at the ID Symposium, that was a part of this high-profile design fair. The IAD is working consistently and consciously towards engaging architects, designers, and urban planners in a meaningful dialogue in the country. An architectural dialogue with a larger audience, believe its founder members, will improve the aesthetics of our built environment.
“The very idea of the India Arch Dialogue, an initiative by the FCDI, started in 2015, is to be inclusive and provide an interactive platform for nationally and internationally distinguished architects and designers. Exhibitions, talks, workshops on architecture, art, fashion, photography generate a large resource of ideas,” shares Verendra Wakhloo, a senior architect and chairperson, IAD curatorial board.
This year, the IAD came up with a very interesting project and exhibition, titled ‘Moments in Architecture — An Exhibition on Architectural Photography, Talks and Events’, that was showcased at Ojas Art Gallery from February 9 to 25. “Architecture and photography are two separate but deeply interconnected disciplines whose significance has evolved over time. If architecture is the art work of the architect, then photography demonstrates it. Physical form of the building is a space which is interpreted, defined, and visualised through photography,” explains senior architect, Madhav Raman, also a member of the curatorial board for the IAD 2018.
Agrees Kakar, as she goes on to share: “Photography tends to shape the public perceptions of architectural spaces. Photographers and architects share a relationship in which the spaces and buildings become a symbol of lifestyle. The photographs turn them into sites of architectural interest. They also serve the purpose of understanding the landscape and environment that we are living in. For instance, Dayanita Singh’s Photo Architecture in TAKE on Architecture, tracks the artist’s endeavour to produce architecture of photography. She narrates this journey of taking photographs off the constricted walls of museums and turning them into mobile museums, which can be exhibited anywhere. If there is anyone who will keep the medium of photography alive it is architecture, says Dayanita in a tete-e-tete we were having once.”
The diminishing lines
We are seeing another kind of era where discipline starts to break down — not only between design disciplines but also between science and religion, between biology and physics, and looks at larger understanding of the world,” says architect Sudipto Ghosh, who is also a member of the curatorial board and responsible for putting together this exhibition.
“It is going to be an interesting era for architecture,” he says, adding, “It definitely has to be about breaking down design borders — not necessarily just between design disciplines but also in architecture just as in other disciplines. The ways of the world are transforming and that is very interesting.”
In the current scenario, professionals have various avenues where they can collaborate and design. There have been multiple initiatives and events such as the India Design Fair; Dharavi Biennale; St+art India; ‘Bhai-O-Scope’, a travelling museum of traditional street healthcare supported by Medicine Corner; Unbox Festival, etc, where artists and architects from India have collaborated to open exchange and dialogue. “This trend is also slowly moving towards the establishment of design studios which employ artists to design offices and homes,” shares Kakar.
“Thanks to the information media, there is awareness about what is happening in other fields and likewise, in other parts of the world,” points out Ghosh. According to him, the younger practitioners/designers are putting their work into perspective, not just in historical precedence of which it has happened in this country but also to learn about ways in which new practices are challenging norms or challenging the way the things have happened so far.
This, he points out, has given a shift to the master-led practice and led to the evolution of a younger generation that does not shy away from using new practices and hence, in many ways, has brought design, or even fashion, closer to architecture.
At the same time, for someone who promotes experimental art, Kakar, however, does have her reservations. “It is difficult to blur the lines between art and design as art is not subservient to utilitarian purpose, but design is. Despite this, I feel that by distancing from the very condition of design — the function it serves and the possibility of reproducing it — we are able to somewhat blur the lines between the two. I think the best example which blurs the two in my line of work is my magazine TAKE and TAKE editions which we bring out as part of it is ‘designed’ for young collectors. They are small in number, exclusive and are unique art collectibles,” she says.
Mapping the trends
Interestingly, all experts spoke of collaborations as the way of the future. Says Ghosh: “You won’t have these masterstrokes and you would not even be asking about the designer because you’d only be interested in the way things would be coming together. You would know that it is not by one person or it can’t possibly be by one person. The authorship and what it means to have one designer is going to break down.”
Sustainable practices was the other flavour that seemed to emerge from the conversation and the flavour of the events. Conscious consumption and owning up to their bit towards the cause of the earth is gradually settling in the minds of consumers. Awareness being the rule of the day. “There has also been a recognition of women and design,” says Raman. “A whole range of discussions are emerging to dispel gender notions in a society led by patriarchal systems. The idea of understanding gender and design is gaining ground. These voices are being heard and taken note of,” he points out.
Additionally, people are becoming a lot more aware of public spaces in the cities. The consciousness seems to be kicking in across income groups. People are paying more attention to public transport. Finally, we are interested in public spaces and public policies. And that makes it the ideal time to look beyond the Government policies and take proactive decisions.
Raman concludes this dialogue for us here when we quiz him on the future of design in India. “The future of design in India is ‘hope’. Because that is what we need in our times to sustain.” We hope to gain from it and evolve.
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