We are so used to of appreciating whatever NID (National Institute of Design), Ahmedabad does that we hardly question their creations. There is no room left for criticizing their work. Housed in the permanent gallery called the Design Panorama, the ‘archival ‘exhibition had solidified this notion. Entitled as Design Classics, this exhibition was a part of a larger collection of NID. There seemed scarcely any connection between the wall text explaining about the exhibition and the displayed objects in the gallery.
There was a Gujarati Pataro located on one side of the cubic glass gallery which was located on an elevated platform. Parallel to that of the highly intricate peti was a white wall decorated with mirror work. It seemed that this Bauhaus structure of the glass gallery was trying to make its place into a vernacular backdrop to show that the ‘Indian ness’ of the space does not get diluted as the gallery struck a balance between the ‘modern’ and ‘Indian’.
With the bold letters was written ‘1961’ under which important events were highlighted. The events talked about the influences of modern movement on India, the need of a design school, the visit of Charles and Ray Eames in 1947 to India that eventually led to the constitution of NID, influence of modern movement on India and India’s first Industrial Revolution.
Entitled as ‘Moving towards Design Enabled India’, and written in an orange background; this huge text inside the gallery was a traffic stopper. Strangely, the size of the fonts of the black colored ‘moving towards’ was much small as compared to that of the white colored ‘Design Enabled India’. Does that imply that India was ‘disabled’ all this while? Ironically, there was a quote about lota that was mentioned by Charles and Ray Eames which paraphrased to say that apparently lota was the most beautiful of the designs he had ever come across. Right next to this title was another text which had some interesting statements but the most interesting statement amongst all was ‘…NID played a significant role in promoting design to move towards a Design Enabled India’. The quote did not seem to acknowledge the fact that before the inception of this design school in India there has been ample amount of architecture all around that still was the crux of the designs of many renowned buildings. People have been studying about the nuances of our ancient architecture till today because every time it unfolded itself into something new and different. Design schools; though have helped in channelising the thoughts pertaining to design but they did not ‘promote design’. Because design was always present around us, amongst us. It is we who have taken inspiration from nature and ‘promoted’ our designs.NID thinks that the history of NID is the history of Indian design which is so not true.
Moving towards the exhibition note, the text mentioned, “the objects in this exhibition are designed for everyday life in the modern world. For the designers being rained 50 years ago, object from Design today in America and Europe exhibition presented a unique opportunity to learn from some of the most important designers of the world through their works.”This exhibition was just a small part of the large collection at NID. The exhibition was based on three themes namely Modern Material and Processes, Modern Designers and Designing and Modern living and spaces.
The text of Modern Material and Processes explained the exploration in design through materials like steel, chrome, glass and plywood. There was plywood and a metal chair designed by Charles Eames that was kept in the exhibits. Second theme, Modern Designers and Designing talked about the importance of technology and mass production. Example was the Wassily chair in the exhibit. The third and the final theme, Modern living and spaces, mentioned about the need of function and ban on ornamentation in aspect of design. It projected the role of modern movement in the western world. Thus, ‘use’ became the centre of concern and was seen in the designs of spaces as well as lifestyle products. There were only around twenty five products that had been displayed which occupied a very little space in the gallery. But even for these products, the exhibition had three sections.
While looking at the exhibits, some of the interesting designs included the Side Chair designed by Charles Eames in 1951.More interesting was the base of the chair which was called ‘Eiffel tower’ created a dramatic vision of fine cross hatching of chrome and black steel. This showed that the use of new technology of resistance welding in furniture design pre empts a future concern of visual lightness through form. In the wall text that was kept outside the gallery, it was mentioned Charles and Ray Eames but only in the design pallet that showed the designer‘s name there was no mention of Ray Eames. Also, the pallet of colors wherein the details of the products and designers was mentioned was unsuitable to get engaged with the users.
Other objects were Bowls/Plates designed by Tapio Wirkala from Finland in 1951 and the toy figures by the Denmark based Allerup and Jensen in 1956.Another chair called the Swivel Chair had an interesting design wherein wood, chromed metal and leather was used in a minimal and a functional manner. Amongst these exhibits, there was a timeline that marked all the important (some random) events ranging from 1700 to 2000. Some of them mentioned were 1920 – Salt March (this event seems out of place over here), the year of 1961- NID, Ahmedabad, the year of 1919 – Bauhaus, Germany, the year of 2007 – the inception of National Design Policy to name a few.
Further continuing with the exhibits, the next object was designed by the architect Ludwig Meis Van der Rohe in the year of 1926 .Designed in Germany, it was a Laccio nest of tables which combined the tubular steel with a simple clean lacquered top. Next to this set of tables, was a Table Organizer by Hans Wegener from Denmark which got designed in 1947. This design was one of the smartest designs amongst all the exhibits. The organizer was then followed by a typewriter which was the last exhibit of the collection. The exhibition was small but captivating.
So what happened in the rest of the 2/3rd portion of the gallery? It exhibited the current PG (Post Graduation) programmes of NID. More like a three dimensional brochure, the long colorful attractive panels made sure that it strived to be ‘a design school’. Detailed information about the courses was given but not a single panel showed a sketch or a photograph of student’s output. These attractive, human size panels mentioned the courses such as Product Design, Furniture design, Textile design, Graphic design, Film and Animation design to name a few. The more recently added courses were Lifestyle Accessory Design, Strategic Design Management in the PG Campus of Gandhinagar and some other similar courses in the Bengaluru campus.
The proportion of the placement of the three dimensional brochures vis a vis the exhibition clearly showed what had to be given more weightage on. Interestingly, the note of Design Panorama mentioned that through these exhibits (the objects and not the brochures) the students would get encouraged to design. In this case, they would surely get encourage to join NID.
Further, the note also mentioned “Story of NID and design classic collection is linked in their conception and both over past 50 years have evolved together to inspire new generation of designers”. The note was so in opposition as to what was displayed and the way it was displayed in the gallery. The exhibition marketed the Institution clearly. There was no need for the exhibits to be a part of this exhibition as they were a standalone by itself since there was no relation seen between the two exhibits in the gallery.