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Global designs

An exhibition in town explores the possibility of intense and differentiated cultural hybrids in design as also to the fact that the risk of globalisation to design need not necessarily breed a diffused, homogenous set of forms

Collage by the author

"CONTEMPORARY DESIGNS are becoming increasingly mobile and migratory," writes Leslie Jackson, curator of the design exhibition Import Export, brought to Bangalore by the British Council. "International design superpowers of the future will not be those who narrowly focus on issues of national identity, but those who enthusiastically embrace the import and export of creative ideas."

This prefaces the tone and character of the exhibition, currently on at the Chitrakala Parishat and featuring 14 individual designers with works that cover a wide range of disciplines — from furniture, furnishings and product design to jewellery, fashion and graphics. According to Emily Campbell, Head of Design, British Council, the exhibition demonstrates how profoundly British design has been enriched by immigration and by the internationalisation of education, business, and cultural discourse. It also bears testimony to the possibility of intense and differentiated cultural hybrids in design as also to the fact that the risk of globalisation to design need not necessarily breed a diffused, homogenous set of forms and surfaces.

On display at the exhibition are the Japanese-born Kei Ito's stunning "sculpture garments", which combine the elements of theatrical costumes with wearable fashion. "It is a way of cutting clothing with an awareness of the body," says Kei, whose designs work on the lightness, translucency, and springiness of the fabric transporting them into a more ethereal realm. Equally interesting are Tehran-born Sebastian Bergne's children's tableware and cutlery, which he injects with human qualities — the plate has ears, the cup a nose, and so on to bring various little characters to life.

The ceramic tiles and sculpture of Lubna Chowdhary are among the highlights of the exhibition. The Tanzania-born ceramist's Metropolis, said to be inspired by her trip to India, is an expanding series of small colourful, eclectic ceramic sculptures, displayed as a chaotic group. Alongside this, is displayed a range of vibrant, lusciously glazed, hand-decorated tiles, displayed individually and in panels. "Going to India helped me to sort out issues surrounding my cultural identity," explains Lubna. "Before that I'd struggled to identify where I slotted in. In India, I realised that I was excited and stimulated by both Western and Asian cultures. This gave me the confidence to go my own way."

If Swiss-German graphic designer Laurent Benner delights with his exhibition posters and animations ("I'm interested in the moment of transition when still images become moving images"), Irish-born Alan Aboud and Welsh-born Sandro Sodano Italian parentage do the same with their striking multi-stripe carrier bags and accessories. Slovenian-born jewellery designer Lara Bohinc who follows an imaginative and eclectic approach to design is represented by a set of decorative pieces worked in a variety of metals. Dutch-born Tord Boontje, who makes no bones of his strong interest in the history of decoration, explores fairytale images of flowers, leaves, birds, and animals encompassing everything from furniture, lighting and glassware to wall coverings, laser-cut textiles and die-cut curtains and lamps. Innovatively conceived and superbly designed lamps represent German-born Gitta Gschwendtner, who combines Teutonic logic and vigour with imagination and wit. Spanish-born design duo — Roberto Feo and Rosario — who are involved in making an eclectic range of design projects including furniture, lighting and product design sum up their views thus: "When you are designing, you have to negotiate things. It is a process of discovery. The conceptual and the practical — these two routes run parallel in design."

Other designers featured in the exhibition include British industrial designer Sam Hecht and his American-born partner Kim Colin (who have set up the Industrial Facility, an unusual unit known for its proactive approach to look at everyday products, be it be it a telephone, door handle, knife sharpener or lampshade, from a radical perspective), fashion designers Suzanne Clements and her Brazilian-born partner Inacio ("Circumstances brought Suzanne and I together, not a shared vision"), Japanese-born product designers Shin and Tomoko Azumi (whose range of products range from plywood furniture to plastic kitchenware), Welsh-born Mark Eley and Japanese-born Wakako Kishimoto with their dynamic and eclectic printed textile patterns as well as ceramics, furniture and luggage, and Finnish-born soft furnishing designer Anne Kyyro Quinn who has pioneered an innovative new field of interior products with textural patters, bold colours, and intriguing material.

In her foreword to the Global Local exhibition, Alice Cicolini, Head of Arts, British Council, India writes "in the globalised world of the 21st Century, we are all Cultural Commuters, Chutney Hybrids engaged in an increasingly sophisticated play with identity".

This exhibition showcases representative works of several designers including Ghulam Sakina, Manish Arora, Ramachandran Karthikeyan, George Chakravarthi, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Jason Cherian, Doshi Levien, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Paul Khera. Besides some projects / stores such as A Small Shop (designed by Anshu Arora Sen), Weavers' Studio (director: Darshan Shah), Indi Store, Manna Studio Line and Abraham and Thakore are also featured.

Good designs, like poetry, speak an international language. The exhibition Import Export and its companion exposition, Global Local provide some stimulating visual statements and experience which should excite not only students and practitioners of design but also artists, architects, fashion / interior designers and, indeed the general public.

Import Export was launched alongside Global Local in Delhi before making it to the Garden City. After a tour to Australia and Scandinavia, Import Export will return to Victoria & Albert Museum in London accompanied by a companion exhibition from each country. The V & A collections, which present centuries of evidence of the value of cultural exchange and global trade to creativity, will be brought up-to-date by Import Export as it concludes its world tour.

The exhibition concludes on July 13.


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