by Sunena V MajuJan 16, 2023
A few years ago, while at an antique shop in Fort Kochi in Kerala, I was looking through a variety of timeless artefacts collected and displayed for sale when I stumbled upon a bundle of unsorted objects, at the far end of the store. In the pile were magazines, books, old cassettes, CDs, and photo albums. Curious about the customers for these completely worn-out objects, I stirred a conversation with the owner, to which he responded— “People who come to antique shops are here for the stories. Some know that they are looking for stories, some are attracted to the nostalgia of these pieces and some love how the course of time imprints on materialistic work. I always think that I am selling stories of time and people who made and used them to those attracted to these unseen stories.”
This anecdote and conversation was the first thing that comes to mind when I saw the panellists gathered at STIR Gallery in New Delhi, India, on December 16, 2022, for the talk 'Threads & Treads'. The evening, curated by STIR, saw the display of furniture designed by Dutch designer Richard Hutten for Scarlet Splendour and intriguing artworks of Indian artist Puneet Kaushik; everyone in attendance seemed eager to learn about the stories behind the installations, artworks, and furniture pieces in front of them.
In the walkway leading up to the gallery, the attendees were welcomed by one of Kaushik’s artworks, similar to his first public artwork, Glass Houses made out of stone and recycled plastic bottle fibres. Walking past the art installation, the main hall awaited visitors with more of his works and a selected collection of Hutten’s designs. Displayed on the walls were Kaushik's Garb (2015) made using carpet tufting, weaving and steel crochet, and hand embroidery, and Untitled 19-PK (2021) made from thread, to name a few. Adorning the space with their sculptural yet functional aspects were Hutten’s Wolk Chair (2021), Cloud Console (2021), Wolk Table (2021), Oasis Bar (2019), Oasis Sidebar (2019) and Oasis Cabinet (2019). Having absorbed the deep emotions of Kaushik’s art and Hutten’s immaculate detailing, creatives from the design and art world sat down in the STIR gallery with a child-like curiosity.
The conversation moderated by Dutch architect Anne Feenstra saw a thought-provoking discussion on craftsmanship as an intersectional practice that can bring art, design, and architecture together. Encouraging the thought that the difference between craft and craftsmanship cannot end at thinking of one as an activity and one as a skill, ‘Threads & Treads’ ruminated on craftsmanship and its tangible and intangible presence in shaping the creative world. Devanshi Shah, Assistant Editor at STIR, welcomed the gathering to the event, followed by presentations by Hutten and Kaushik on some of their works of thought, process, and progress.
As Feenstra took the stage to moderate the conversation of the evening, his first question was “Banksy or Anish Kapoor?” An icebreaker directed at Hutten and Kaushik, to which they laughingly replied “Both of them” and “None” respectively. This friendly exchange continued for two more questions, connecting the speakers to the audience with a subtle node of humour and banter. As soon as the smiles subsided, Feenstra moved towards a relevant question pertaining to the art and design world, challenging the role of inclusivity and exclusivity. “Are we only making art for art? Are we only making design for design, only architecture for architecture? Or is there a social aspect or a social dimension in our work, as a trigger?” He then cited the works of Gilbert and George and their approach to art, presenting the main question for Hutten and Kaushik, "How do you see the social dimension of what you create?”
"The social dimension is one of the utmost important aspects of my work. I call myself ‘Homo Ludens', a Latin word for playing humans. In 1938, Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga wrote the book called Homo Ludens which is my Bible. It's a book about play where he describes the role of play as culture. My favourite social activity is to play and it is fun when you do it together. We all have one planet that we share, and on this planet, we have to do it together. So the social aspect in design is super important,” answered Hutten. Responding to the same question, Kaushik shared, “When I am creating, it’s about me, but what it shows is where I come from, where I go back and where I belong, and that happens to be the things that I live in.”
Moving forward, Feenstra dived into the dialogue of the evening’s topic on craft and craftsmanship, “The technical aspect of your work requires skill, craft, chemistry, and sometimes mathematics to really figure it out. How do you value the technical aspect of your creations?” Before citing examples from his own works and how he creates them, Kaushik put forth the disclaimer that the soul in his works functions as emotions and experiences. “I only know how to work with emotions. It is a question that we ask every time. For me, when I am working on something it’s a matter of technique that brings an experience.” Supporting this statement, Kaushik took the audience through small anecdotes relaying the process of creating some of the displayed pieces.
When you work with craft, with a natural material, you automatically are a step ahead of caring for the planet, because it has already valued nature in its creation and process. – Richard Hutten
While proceeding to an in-depth conversation on crafting design pieces, the question to Hutten was, “How do you design with details and how do you make it?” To which he responded, “Every aspect of my design is important. Every point and everything you make is important. I design by paying attention to the big picture and paying the same attention to the smallest as well because they are as important.” This was soon followed by an intriguing dive into Hutten’s love for mathematics and how that led him to understand the function, craft, and design approaches in a unique light.
The exchanges on technology, craftsmanship, and design ideologies transversed into the realities of the world we live in today. Through the discussion, there were mentions of the social impact of art, the value of technical aspects in art and design, and the impact of changing dynamics, both in the global and personal space. As Hutten shared memories of his earlier visit to India in 1991, Feenstra followed up on the changes in the country since then and the global changes affecting his craft. This dialogue led to questions on how artists and designers are conceptually and practically dealing with materiality in 2022.
It's a beauty to live, survive, sustain and work within any artisanal craft. – Puneet Kaushik
Concluding the insightful conversations on the past, present, and future of the industry and the world through experiences and stories encountered by Hutten and Kaushik in their professional journeys were talks on what’s NEXT for them in the coming decade; to which Kaushik eagerly responded, "Along the natural setting of mountains and hills,” and Hutten said, “My works are collected in over 40 museums around the world but so far none in India. I hope, by 2032 or before that, some museum in India will hold my work.”
The event then hosted a presentation by Ashish Bajoria of Scarlet Splendour outlining the brand’s ethos and works across the world. Sharing the story behind the origin of the brand, Bajoria said, “I think design in India is evolving in a big way, at a global level. My sister and I come from very different backgrounds. It is for our shared love of design and action for design that we wanted to form this company. Our mom introduced us to the best of arts from Calcutta.” Furthermore, talking about their collaboration with Hutten, he added, “He understood the brand. We have a certain language, communication, and thought process. Richard has his own signature too. So, his work with us is an amalgamation of both. That's what makes him a true ‘global’ artist.”
With Founder and Editor-in-Chief, STIR, Amit Gupta sharing the inception of the curated event and sharing his vote of thanks with the guests and the audience for their presence, the curtain fell for ‘Threads & Treads'. “We are creating content for the world. We are creating a product for the world, by the world. So, this partnership and collaboration of today's evening between Scarlet Splendour, STIR, Richard Hutten, Puneet Kaushik, and Anne Feenstra is a true example of how we can embrace and break global boundaries if we work together,” said Gupta.