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Origami folds in the garden

‘The Song Of The Earth And The Sky’ by Ankon Mitra is the The first in a series of temporary pavilions commissioned by the Gujral Foundation

’The Song of The Earth And The Sky’ simulates a Zen garden.
’The Song of The Earth And The Sky’ simulates a Zen garden.

The revitalized vistas of Delhi’s Sunder Nursery are playing host to a unique architectural installation these days. From afar it seems like an undulating, seamless fold of origami. Crafted in copper and silver, this work has been aptly titled TOrigami, evoking the essence of the two elements. As sunshine ripples across its surface, the work by Ankon Mitra simulates a Zen garden where geometric precision meets quiet repose. This public art project is the first in a series of temporary pavilions, commissioned by the Gujral Foundation, to be created by select artists, architects and designers in locations across India. In an interview with Lounge, Mitra talks about responding to Sunder Nursery and creating origami with metal. Edited excerpts:

How have you responded to the heritage gardens of Sunder Nursery in this project?

This space overlooks two monuments—the Sunderwala Mahal and the Sunder Burj. We didn’t want the architecture of The Song Of The Earth And The Sky to be taller than either of them. Also, we wanted to respond to the context of it being a garden. I am a practising landscape designer. Why would people commission gardens? To create a place of repose in the city. So, I wanted to create such a garden within a garden. Sunder Nursery has been restored by the Aga Khan Foundation in the traditional Islamic Charbagh style. We thought of juxtaposing it with another style—that of a Japanese Zen garden.

You used the architectural forms of both the monuments in this piece…

We have taken the element of the arches. However, instead of interpreting them and creating arches of our own, we have used the original ones as framing elements. These create vistas, which connects our creation with the monuments.

There has been a consistent engagement with origami in your work, be it ‘The Parting Of Galaxies’ or ‘Nebula’. What draws you to the art form?

I have trained as an architect. When I was pursuing my postgraduate studies abroad, I stumbled upon origami. I always knew I wanted to come back to India to practise landscape design. In London, a gardener showed me the ways in which a lot of folding happens in nature. That got me thinking. Using origami, I tried to find ways of adding strength to weak materials through folds. The idea was to do more with less. In origami, you don’t add or take away material. You use existing material and transform it. When I started out, there was no ecosystem in the city for people to understand or accept this art form. I started teaching and also creating products, furniture and lighting—all things that were easily accessible to people. I slowly scaled that up to architecture.

You have created folds in resistant materials like concrete and metal. What has that process been like?

I started my journey with paper and then moved onto concrete, wood and metal. Each project has its challenges. In this pavilion, for instance, wind is playing a huge role. I am hoping to boost the work up and change the structure as we go along. We’ve created a work of architecture without any foundations! The form is like a tent, which is tied down with metal ropes. Folding has added resilience to this thin sheet of material. To create it, we first moulded the metal onto blocks and massaged in a slow process, lasting several days, to get the shapes right. All of these are hand folded. The only use of the machine was in etching the lines.

The Song Of The Earth And The Sky is on view at Sunder Nursery till 26 April.

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