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Studio Mumbai introduces a set of 22 pieces for MANIERA. Their materials range from stone, brick, bamboo, lime, silk and paper to nylon and metal. Rather than just exploring the structural capacity of each of these materials, they evoke a sense of fragility and strength at the same time. It is their physical immediacy that is at the heart of these studies. Slabs of fresco on marble with bases or blocks, a brick plinth / carpet, bamboo stools, chairs and benches, stone chairs, a console wrapped in paper, a mirror of polished metal, a small block of obsidian supporting a paper lamp, all are arranged in the gallery in anticipation of a ceremony, a moment of gathering.
In the town of Assisi in northern Italy, a series of 28 frescoes depicts the life of St Francis in the upper part of the Basilica di San Francesco. One of them, “confession of the woman coming back to life” (1297-99), attributed to the Italian painter Giotto di Bondone, portrays a remarkable architectural setting. Five elegant white columns and a solid wall support two inclined roofs. A temple-like fireplace suggests a sacred atmosphere. At its centre, a daybed defines the setting’s rituals: resting, gathering, intimacy, sharing, ceremony.
Studio Mumbai explored the fresco technique of frescoes for three daybeds, a round stone and two blocks used as stools or tables. These fresco studies seek a similar idiom as the Giotto paintings, exploring both the essence of the object and its materiality. Confronted with ancient frescoes while travelling throughout his home country and abroad, Bijoy reveals how these encounters often led to “unfoldings” out of the curiosity for the material and its motivation.
The series suggests material gestures. The daybeds are made of marble, lime and rice husk. One daybed is rendered with a line made of kohl; another is accentuated by a lapis lazuli border; a third is plain white lime mixed with rice husk. The tables and stools, both in stone, are treated either with a dense black kohl-pigmented lime or polished white cement plaster. Frescoes involve the application of pigment onto intonaco, a thin layer of wet plaster, thereby making the pigment an integral part of the plaster. As the wall dries and sets, the coloured pigment, sand and husk particles bind with the lime. This enables the materials to merge into one.
Frescoes originated in Persia and both the material and technique migrated to Europe and Asia. For the MANIERA collection, Studio Mumbai is reintroducing them back as pieces that take up a position somewhere between architecture and furniture. The intention of engaging with this material derives from its luminosity: its ability to reflect and refract light.
Made out of natural or coloured bamboo-elements and strapped with silk rope, the chairs in the bamboo series represent fragility in their lightness. For a moment the material seems to be suspended. “We searched for the moment where the material could escape its own self. A piece of stone is a piece of stone, but you might perceive it differently through its way of expression.”
Studio Mumbai is introducing a series for MANIERA that has a very precise economy of means. The design starts from an intention. Acting on the intention without the sense of finality is what the work is about. “You can start with a certain intention, but it is the material that one engages with, and which will determine the form to be conceived.” Intuition, time and pause are key factors. If form and materiality seem to be developed in parallel as part of these processes, the ease of the means is articulated in the precise gesture between man and material. “When bamboo is given a shape, it is about finding its angle of repose, the point where it is in a state of rest.”
Gandhara stone studies
Studio Mumbai makes objects without architects, but with craftsmen able to engage with the potential latencies of the material. The dimensions of the objects are often the consequence of discoveries made while working. For instance, two marble blocks are used as the base for the daybed. They were cut into an octagon from a stone and remind us of architectural remnants. The surface of the stone is shaped and modulated to catch more light.
The circular stone chair started out in a similar way. A large rock was found in the landscape. Carved out with simple tools, allowing time, patience and a certain engagement with the material, the rock becomes an artefact. A drawing for the piece was made by the sculptor. On top, another drawing was made by the architect. Palimpsests can be productive. Several overlaps of different ways of understanding become visible. Its form and surface are shaped by dexterity, the hand, between man and material.
The Cubic chair has a different story. It was sculpted out of a big block, left over from a building, into which the seat was carved. The block of stone remains unfinished, allowing overlays and interpretations of its immediate landscape. For MANIERA we explored the possibility of covering the chair with natural Belgian clay. “I am interested in the idea of the impurity of things”, expands Bijoy. “The idea of the palimpsest of cultures and materials.”
In the Giotto painting in Assisi, men and women gather around a daybed, anticipating the confession of the woman brought back to life. In the MANIERA gallery, men and women are likely to gather around a set of objects. The diversity and sheer specificity of these objects cannot easily be catalogued.
Life, birth, death, harvest or love? Ceremonies define and celebrate the uniqueness of our culture. It is a moment captured in time; the gathering of people and things from near and far, suspended in anticipation of an encounter. The encounter celebrated here is between man and his environment. The physical is only a manifestation of thought that is put into action. Form and shape give rise to a language of symbols.
Ceremonies give gravitas to life. The objects in the MANIERA gallery suggest different cultures, geographies and histories. They suspend awareness of the gallery space by celebrating the intrinsic qualities of man, material and gesture.
Véronique Patteeuw (ENSAP Lille / KULeuven)
Text based on two conversations with Bijoy Jain