Skilled craftsmen are part of Bijoy Jain’s Studio Mumbai. They work in the same environment as the trained architects. The ideas are developed together and translated almost immediately into objects, mock-ups, material studies and drawings. This unusual way of making architecture was fully displayed at the 12th Venice Architectural Biennale in 2010 and received international praise. In their installation, Studio Mumbai showed an abundance of material produced by the firm, thus bringing the refinement of their designs to the European viewer. At MANIERA 06, their approach results in elegant, hand-made pieces of furniture from the Mumbai workshop. They are grouped under four series of studies that run in parallel with the studio’s architectural production.
In ‘Brick Studies’, the designs explore the possibilities of adapting this universal, and by now industrial, material to the intimate scale of furniture. The inspiration for this series of objects was drawn from the analysis of the traditional dry-stacked brick formwork used to construct arches or domes. This involved scaling down the bricks used in buildings. It is exactly this kind of adaptation that triggers Bijoy Jain and his team. Mini-bricks, true to scale, were baked in the workshop. They are glued to each other and form the backrest of the seats, using the methods examined in the building frames. These brick constructions are fixed to simple, unpretentious stools and benches made out of robust rosewood and marble, both of which are often encountered in Indian interiors. The pieces are enigmatic, suspended somewhere between models and functional objects. They have an intriguing sense of fragility, even though the materials used are very solid.
While the ‘Brick Studies’ use this universal material, in the ‘Illumination Studies’ the reference comes from a ceremonial object called a Tazia. These are models of monuments that are carried on men’s shoulders in processions during Muharram month in India, in remembrance of the martyred son of the prophet Mohammed. The structures are made by local communities using only natural materials which will disintegrate when the Tazias are thrown into the river after the procession. These models of monumental buildings are made using bamboo sticks tied together with cotton string, glued with river mud and clad in ‘carved’ paper, and reach several metres in height. In the Illumination Studies, a Tazia is turned into a light fixture without a bulb. About a metre high, the object is built using thin bamboo sticks tied together with pink silk threads. The sticks are covered in gold leaf to reflect the light when a bulb is hung inside the structure. Without the paper cladding applied to the framework, the object liberates itself from its frame of reference. It also becomes a model of a model, acquiring its own character as a piece of furniture.
In the third series, called ‘Charpai Studies’, the relation to the reference object is almost literal. A charpai is a daybed to be found in half of all Indian homes: a construction of light wood held together by tenon joints and cotton cords. It predates the British era, which changed the way people lived their daily lives in India. As a piece of furniture it accompanies an individual from birth through marriage to death, and is easy to transport since the lightness of its construction means even a child can carry it. Here the traditional charpai is re-introduced with some minor changes and the addition of shellac wood treatment. The idea here is not to create a replica, but rather to examine an existing object and continue working on it.
Another two pieces are ‘Landscape Studies’, which derive from observations made in the Indian agrarian landscape. Farmers use kaolin powder to define zones in the rural landscape for different activities, from resting under a tree to emphasising the steps to climb a small hill. They respond to the existing landscape with these definitions, but when they are in use these white lines remain very abstract. In the Landscape Studies, these definitions resulted in cast landscape pieces, organic and abstract in their appearance. Two low elements built of papier maché, bitumen and cow dung are treated with body wax and rubbed with coal. One of them bears the white kaolin powder lines and becomes kind of a scale model of the zonal demarcations in the rural landscape. The process of making these elements followed the instincts of the craftsmen rather than instructions given by the architect. As a result, two sculpted pieces with no clear geometry are added to the space. With the addition of water, the surface of the pieces can be changed in the course of time, both in colour and texture. They act like the landscapes they refer to.