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Lounge Preview: In search of utopia

'Chakraview', India's entry to the London Design Biennale, comes home

Photo: Vipul Sangoi
Photo: Vipul Sangoi

The installation Chakraview is designed to resemble a spiritual journey. Walking through it is meant to evoke the sense of searching for utopia. It is personal, with just your reflection on the mirrored floors for company. As you move from one chakra (wheel) to another, you wade through a cacophony of sounds, languages, colours and textiles to step into the inner sanctum. Chakraview, which was India’s official entry to the inaugural London Design Biennale in September, evoked a host of emotional responses from viewers at Somerset House. “People in wheelchairs simply stayed there, looking at themselves in the mirrors. People got lost, some had tears in their eyes. They said that Chakraview had stirred something within them," says Rajshree Pathy, founder of the India Design Forum and curator of the installation.

For Christopher Turner, director, London Design Biennale, Chakraview was the highlight of the event. “India’s contribution was in one of the largest and tallest of the biennale’s interior spaces, and viewers were entranced by its riot of colour, reflected in a mirrored floor, which transported them from the UK to India. It was one of the most Instagrammed and popular of the biennale installations," he says in an email interview.

And now one can experience this sensorial work as part of the Serendipity Arts Festival 16 In 17 at Bikaner House, New Delhi. For Pathy, this was an opportunity to “showcase India’s USP" and she brought together a host of creative people to achieve this. Sumant Jayakrishnan, a New Delhi-based scenographer, designer and installation artist, was brought on board. Jayakrishnan looked for a metaphor to encapsulate the two complex ideas of India and utopia and found it in the chakras. “I realized that utopia is something that is never realized, you keep striving for it," says Jayakrishnan, who used the colours and energy associated with the seven chakras (or energy points in the body) to give a structure to the idea—the chakras suspended from the ceiling, with the mirrored floor representing the inner quest for utopia. Deepika Jindal of Jindal Steel pitched in with the material of the mirrored floors.

Typographers, the husband-wife team of Hanif Kureshi and Rutva Trivedi, created fonts in different languages on wooden hoops, which are used by women as a base for embroidery. “We wanted to show India’s multiculturalism. The hoops were symbolic of India’s craftsmanship," says Pathy. Jayakrishnan adds: “Using types in Urdu, Hindi, Tamil, and more, allowed us to talk about the subcontinent without being nationalistic." The main space also features a soundwork with the voices of the young and old about what utopia means to them. Additionally, design strategist Avinash Kumar was brought in to create a film which one could view on reaching the inner sanctum, or the garbhagruha, in the seventh and final chakra. “The film, displayed on a circular format, features street life, colour and pop culture and leaves one with an impression of the complexity of utopian India in the context of different cultures," says Jayakrishnan.

Will Chakraview be significant enough in carrying India’s design story forward? “I truly think it will," says Smriti Rajgarhia, director of the Delhi-based Serendipity Arts Trust, who supported the work when it debuted at the London biennale. According to her, Chakraview, with its multiple layers, presents a cohesive design story from the region, while integrating various formats to create an immersive space. “I hope that more people get inspired to find the myriad ways in which we can represent the identity...rooted in our heritage but looking into the future," she says.

Chakraview can be viewed till 16 April, 11am-6pm, at Bikaner House, New Delhi.

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