Poetics, beauty and process: a look at Samira Rathod’s design exhibition in Mumbai

The design exhibition, Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts showcases the idea of a fundamental figure-ground representation through formal explorations as seen in the plan.

by Dhwani ShanghviPublished on : Aug 25, 2022

In 1977, the Incontri Internazionali d'Arte and Italian architect Piero Sartogo organised an exhibition called Roma Interrotta at Trajan Market, calling for the proposal of a contemporary intervention on a section of Nuova Pianta di Roma. Known in popular discourse as “Nolli’s Map”, the Nuova Pianta Roma was Giambattista Nolli’s 'New Plan for Rome' and was commissioned by Pope Benedict XIV as a means to demarcate the 14 traditional rioni (a traditional administrative division) of Rome. In this figure-ground representation of Rome, Nolli defines the built and open spaces of the 14 districts of the Italian capital. This archetypal Postmodernist Roma Interrotta brought together architects from around the world to display their contemporary figure-ground plan of Rome. Indian architect Samira Rathod’s design exhibition, Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts showcases this idea of a fundamental figure-ground representation through formal explorations as seen in the plan.

Kit of parts artwork nolli| Chemould Prescott Road | Samira Rathod | Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts | STIRworld
Kit of parts artwork nolli Image: Courtesy of Samira Rathod Design Atelier

Displayed at Chemould Prescott Road in Mumbai, the aim of the furniture collection is to excavate an ‘ur’ architecture, defined as the earliest, primitive built unit. The inception of the exhibition comes from the idea of beauty. In a conversation with STIR, Rathod explains, “Beauty has always been the core of my philosophy. And when I say beauty, I don't mean decoration. I just think this whole intrinsic idea of how do we make things that are beautiful and therefore more sustainable by virtue of this beauty.”

  • Detail view of the desk that was part of the exhibition Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts| Chemould Prescott Road | Samira Rathod | Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts | STIRworld
    Detail view of the desk that was part of the exhibition Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts Image: Niveditaa Gupta
  • Installation view of Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts | Chemould Prescott Road | Samira Rathod | Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts | STIRworld
    Installation view of Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts Image: Niveditaa Gupta

Emerging from “a retrospective view of the ‘built”, the form of each furniture is extracted through a process of distillation, leaving behind only shapes. Rathod elaborates, “I have looked at concepts that are objects, that is art, that is nature - to make architecture, so I thought, what if I flipped it? And I actually looked at architecture because it was anyway processed and made forms out of that - which were objects. We kind of flipped that. My buildings are made of lots of little elements and we realised that we could do an exercise of deconstructing our own buildings and finding the elements that went into it. When we started deconstructing the building, we found that each building had about 1000-1200 parts. And we weren’t deconstructing into doors, windows, floors, staircases etc, we started looking at it in a very abstract way. We were looking at planes, textures, and surfaces, and started getting flat shapes. If you really start breaking up architecture from its formal understandings, then it begins with a very simple non-contextual shape. Remove the context from it, remove culture from it, remove people from it, remove logic from it. Then you are left with shape. And each time you cut the building differently you get different shapes. This is how the concept of Kit-of-parts came about. And it became extremely engaging because the iterations were endless.”

Objects displayed as part of Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts exhibition | Chemould Prescott Road | Samira Rathod | Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts | STIRworld
Objects displayed as part of Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts exhibition Image: Niveditaa Gupta

This dismantling of the solid - the modernist ‘ur’ - further unveils “fragments, shards, splinters and swirls”, that are devoid of any scale, dimension or materiality. The communication between each of these fragments is an exploration of the relationship between ground, solid, void, form and space - moving away from the laws of physics, conventional forms, and from overt representations of any kind of furniture design. Additionally, each piece is an opportunity to understand how different materials interact together, without diminishing the value of either. Mild steel is married with Corian and Ain wood in the Movie Camera, a 72 inches tall light installation, while Bhadran, a table of sorts, manifests an alliance between concrete, terrazzo and teak wood.

Objects 3 at Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts exhibition | Chemould Prescott Road | Samira Rathod | Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts | STIRworld
Objects 3 at Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts Image: Niveditaa Gupta

The resultant form of these explorations, both material as well as formal, lies somewhere on the spectrum between object and furniture, art and function. Rathod continues, “I was working at it as if it was art. I don't think our focus was on function, in so much as - should it be child-friendly, can one eat on it, can one place things on it, can one work on it? You can, if you want to. Corbusier’s buildings are very difficult to live in, but they were beautiful. As long as it has a narrative it will be appreciated. I think the exhibition was talking about this narrative - of architecture being abstracted into pure form, which we don't see in buildings. We still look at our buildings as a grid that has to be extruded into vertical form. The masters achieved this abstraction a generation back, but I think through this exhibition, I was really able to get an audience and talk to them about it through the work - and for me, that was really very important. It was a breakthrough.”

Desk displayed as part of the Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts exbihition | Chemould Prescott Road | Samira Rathod | Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts | STIRworld
Desk displayed as part of the Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts exbihition Image: Niveditaa Gupta

Since the early 20th century exhibitions have been spaces of knowledge generation as they have provided a platform for artists and architects alike, to theorise, to experiment and to share their explorations. Throughout the course of modern architecture, exhibitions along with magazines and expos have contributed to the expansion and development of modernity. The Great Exhibition, The Werkbund Exhibition, the Weissenhofsieldung, the Case Study House Project, the American National Exhibition, Venice Architecture Biennale, Deconstructivist Architecture - are all instances of this phenomenon. “For the first time, I felt that the exhibition was really something that liberated me. I was experimenting at many levels, with joinery, works, and magically everything just flowed and fitted together. There was really no resistance. There was really no hindrance. I was not struggling in any way. And, and maybe that just had to happen, I believe in the world coming together to make things work.” concludes Rathod.

OObjects displayed at Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts | Chemould Prescott Road | Samira Rathod | Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts | STIRworld
Objects displayed at Dismantling Building = A Kit of Parts Image: Niveditaa Gupta

Dismantling Building - A Kit of Parts traverses a similar path. It is playful yet formal, it is explorative yet grounded, it is an installation as much as it is furniture, and it has materiality without tangibility.

What do you think?

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