Storytelling with cement: Designers are increasingly experimenting with cement

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New Delhi | Updated: Feb 17, 2019 2:04 AM

The works of Dimova and that of contemporary designer David Shatz from Israel were completely new exhibits at the design fair.

designers, cementMexican artist Cynthia Mijares Rodriguez’s bookend ‘Atheneum’.

Cement is inherently an aesthetically unappealing material. But for a change now, this underexploited material is being used to weave stories inspired by myths, art, motherhood, nature and whatnot. Confused? Cement is now going beyond function and is being utilised by artists to make high-end luxury products, which are not only visually attractive, but also have a purpose to serve. From bookends, lamps, tables and mirrors to tiles, speakers and candleholders, some Indian and international designers are using cement to design metaphor-filled products, making the material the protagonist in all of these.

Take, for instance, Craft Béton—an art and architecture venture by the Dalmia Bharat Group—which showcased products made of cement for the homespace at the recently-held India Design Fair in Delhi. Craft Béton CEO Sundeep Kumar says they wanted to create customisable distinct products. The idea was to create a design brand which is Indian—and not mass-produced.

Craft Béton, which has an artist residency on the outskirts of Delhi, also roped in six international designers from Mexico, Bulgaria, Germany, Poland and Israel to do something extraordinary with cement. These artists came for three-four months to learn about the material, experiment and develop products. “They are free to develop whatever products they want as long as it fits in a living space,” says Kumar. Since cement is not an easy material to work with and requires expertise which can’t be transferred so easily, the designs are also expensive. Not surprisingly, Craft Béton caters to those who can afford high-end lifestyle products.

Two Indian designers of Craft Béton, Iti Tyagi (the founder of Craft Village, who has studied fashion design from National Institute of Fashion Technology and interior design from KLC School of Design, London) and Somesh Singh (a graduate from NIFT and professor at NID, Ahmedabad, who has many design patents to his credit), also featured in the exhibition.

Inspired by the dialogue, “Paris is a good idea”, uttered by iconic Hollywood actor Audrey Hepburn, Tyagi made a table in the French Louis XV-style, whereas Singh created ‘Escher’, a set of tiles. Instead of regular squares, these tiles, inspired by Dutch artist MC Escher’s woodcut print of 1937 called Metamorphosis 1, symbolise the transition of one form into another.

The inspirations of the participating designers were diverse. Miroslaw Baca, a celebrated sculptor from Poland, got inspiration for his wall lamp, ‘Birth’, from Tyagi. When she was expecting, Tyagi had the habit of standing with her hands on her belly, and Baca replicated that image on his lamp, which is made in the shape of a mother’s womb.

On the other hand, Alan Saga—a graduate in industrial design and product development from Centro de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, Mexico, who has worked with popular brands such as Heineken, PepsiCo, Alen, Gruma and Helvex—was inspired by the myth of Medusa and designed ‘Medusa’, an oval-shaped mirror whose glass is surrounded by snakes.

Another designer Lora Dimova, a multidisciplinary artist from Bulgaria who is now settled in Helsinki, Finland, was so much inspired by the snow and ice there that she went on to create ‘Glacia’, a table where the glaciers act as a filter and soak up red and yellow light, but reflect blue. Interestingly, Dimova is a ceramic designer and most of her designs have an element of colour in them.

The works of Dimova and that of contemporary designer David Shatz from Israel were completely new exhibits at the design fair. Kumar, who believes that Shatz’s products have that “wow” element, says, “My philosophy of design is it should have a story.” He explains it by giving the example of a product, which works as a stapler holder. “If I take away this stapler, the design is incomplete, so it is the stapler that completes the design. A product should have another dimension beyond the aesthetic,” he says. According to Kumar, a product should comprise three things—function, aesthetic and design. And it seems that Kumar’s designers complement his thought process. In 1893, an Indian mathematician utilised paper folding to show proofs of geometrical constructions. Inspired by that, Anna Kraus, an artist and sculptor based in Berlin, designed ‘Origami’, a sculptural basin, which enthralls the viewer when he realises that the idea of ‘paper solving’ along with the imagery of folds are integrated in the basin.

Kumar, who is often asked about getting more international artists onboard than Indian, says, “In India, it is not that you don’t have talent, it is that you don’t have experience. People are not really designing products, we are copying… Or our concept of design in India is, ‘How do I make this cheap? How do I reverse-engineer this? How do I make it marketable for mass production?'” he says.

Kumar initially identified his international artists via online websites where one can post projects and interested people can apply. “In the first year, we had 25 people who wrote in. We found two very talented people from Mexico,” he says, referring to Cynthia Mijares Rodriguez who created a bookend made of cement called ‘Atheneum’, and Saga, who apart from creating Medusa, made designs like ‘Etiquette’, a toothbrush-holder and a tissue-holder inspired from the design of a roll of film.

So what’s the best part of working with cement? As per Kumar, there is hardly any effort needed for the upkeep of the material as cement, even though breakable, is not delicate. Also, it is very easy to clean. “If ink falls, just use a sandpaper to make it disappear,” says Kumar.

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