As IKEA just finishes its first anniversary in India, the work Construct-Deconstruct-Construct (C-D-C) by artist-designer, Ishan Khosla, which has been an ongoing project since 2016, makes relevant questions such as the role of pre-fab "cookie-cutter" mass produced furniture brands in the land where saving cost through reuse, hand skills and a bit of ingenuity is commonplace.
Khosla believes that informal making from repurposed material is not in opposition to innovation and "progress. Instead our definitions of these terms and the amount of freedom we have now will be challenged by material and environmental constraints. The scavenging of existing materials as a starting point for design innovation will need to become more common — and essential — as we advance forward. The creation of of new objects for new uses but without using up of more natural resources, will be the only way to make if we are to approach an era of zero environmental footprint. By studying jugaad (the word for improvisation in Hindi), Khosla believes, one can learn a lot as a designer and use this way of "reverse engineering" — that is — to start with materials rather than a blank slate as a starting point for innovative production.
This collection of furniture is based on found objects from the streets of Mumbai, that are made from scavenged pieces of wood — which have been put together in an adhoc manner. These naive objects, which don’t follow the principles of design, are on the margins on functionality. There is a ‘typical’ aesthetic that comes out of this ‘do first think later’ action, which is related to the idea of improvisation, where time and material are scarce, as survival is at stake. Each of them are totally unique, especially due to the fact that they are created spontaneously by "non-designers" not looking to create a design intervention, but for the basic and often overlooked act (by designers) of just being able to sit.
These vernacular pieces of furniture are gestural in nature — which is also imparted to the posture of the sitter due to the structure of the object. They induce behaviours and gestures (such a rocking and sitting sideways), which has been taken forward to create new gestures. One example of my intervention is a stool which forces the user to put one of their feet up, in a gesture that is a common site in India — that of an auto rickshaw driver using his left foot to push a non-powered cart (see image at bottom).
The title of this work, Construct/Deconstruct/Construct refers to the cycle of reusing materials from previously functional furniture to construct new pieces of furniture, which eventually are deconstructed or even reconstructed, to make new pieces. Metaphorically it addresses the notion of the process of the design intervention: observation/collection of objects, deconstructing those objects, and then making the design intervention.
Khosla has not only collected these objects from the street but also made his own interventions to them. Is there a difference between Duchamp's Readymades and the interventions to the found objects made by the artist-designer?
Other questions this work raises include, can something be made by an untrained designer or artisan be termed as a work of design? What is the role of the informal economy and design? What does it mean for certain trades to be informal and others to be formalized?
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Porosity Kabari is an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, collaborative project whereby Indian creative thinker and artist-designer Ishan Khosla, Australian object designer Trent Jansen, and Australian architect/artist Professor Richard Goodwin participated in an intense 3 week long workshop in the heart of Mumbai — which looked at various contemporary aspects related to the market, the city and the mass production/consumption cycle, sustainability and various other aspects that came up as a result of the process. The project challenged these three designers to collaborate in Mumbai’s ‘Chor Bazaar’ (thieves market) and ‘Studio X’, using the bazaar as their only source of materials and making processes. In the bazaar, the designers learned from spontaneous conversation and experimentation with the vendors and crafts people working in this manic market place. Conversely, Studio X afforded the designers a space for considered discussion and precise prototyping, in the development of refined ideas to be taken back into the bazaar.
Porosity Kabari — Creative Rationale:
How can something become something else? This is the essence of sustainable design in a contingent society such as India — a society without the common social safeguards of developed nations, one where the survival of each individual is determined by their unique ability to be creative and resourceful. While the rest of the world struggles with the environmental implications of designed obsolescence and disposable consumption, India is a place where resourcefulness is part of the everyday. Found throughout India, ‘Kabari Bazaars’ (Junk Markets) and 'Chor Bazaars' (thieves markets) are the neighbourhoods where many of India's useful things end up at the end of their long lives. It is in these bazaars that many useful objects are given a second life – car panels are transformed into ad-hock cookers and old clothing is quilted into rugs for snake charmers. Radical transformation at its best. What they didn't initially realize was that this object was inspired by their work — the scaffoldings done by them in the building. One core principal of the Chor Bazaar is the ad-libbed nature of making, where time spent agonising over a design decision is income lost. The short period of time allocated to the designers (3 weeks) and the ad-hock making methods adopted by bazaar workers meant that design decisions were made quickly. The designers made decision in the moment, as the maker with whom they worked gave shape to those decisions with an immediacy that is seldom experienced in the Australian context. The complete novelty of these work practices, combined with the exotic material palette found in the Chor Bazaar, forced the designers to adopt an entirely new method of designing, changing their practices and providing the potential for a series of outcomes that are unique within their portfolios. The sculptural furniture objects created in Mumbai's Chor Bazaar and Studio X formed the Porosity Kabari Exhibition.
Photo Credits: first photograph by Neville Sukhia; remaining photographs by Ishan Khosla.