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Inspired by India

Displayed this month at Sotheby’s in London, the results of Els Woldhek’s residency in Ahmedabad – the new designs Surrounded and Reeds.

By Katie Dominy / 18-05-2012

Sadly only on for a week, Inspired by India was a showcase featuring the work of a selection of designers curated by writer and design expert Janice Blackburn and ‘arranged and displayed’ by Tricia Guild of Designers Guild.

Designers chosen ranged from Indian bridal designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, the LA-based Christina Kim of the brand Dosa, through to recent design graduate Els Woldhek and her Royal College of Art colleague Georgi Manassiev, with whom Woldhek collaborated on one of the new works named Reeds. spoke with Els Woldhek about the residency:

 “The residency, organised by the Ahmedabad luxury hotel House of Mangaldas, took place about a year ago and lasted for six weeks. The purpose of the residency is to work with the local traditional crafts people. As Ahmedabad is growing at a very rapid pace, it became apparent that local crafts are disappearing. To try to avoid from it all getting lost, the residency aims to create new products that give a new market to the artisans.”

“I was taken on such an amazing tour, meeting a huge variety of crafts people and artisans. I ended up working with a local garland making family. They originally stopped making the garlands from waste silk a while before I arrived. But they turned out to be the only family left in Ahmedabad who could make them with waste silk instead of the now more commonly used polyester. What happened was that at first they agreed to just work with me for my project, but very quickly found that there was a lot of interest in their garlands again, so they actually restarted their business. So now they are not only working for the House of Mangaldas but also have their old customers back.”

Woldhek used the experience of the garlands to design the Surrounded stool. “These bright colourful garlands are handmade with a simple technique which is based on ropemaking. The twisting of the treads twice in opposite directions keeps the threads entwined and the silk in its place. It is in this technique and the amazing processes in which the yarns and fibres are dyed to create the vibrant colours and patterns that inspired the ‘Surrounded’ stool.

“I went to Ahmedabad with a very open mind mostly hoping to find lots of inspiration and beautiful techniques. I found more of that then I could have ever imagined. Other then that what I really took away from it is how people worked with what was at hand around them. One of the things I hold most dear in my design work is my belief that we don't always have to come with 'new' things or 'innovative techniques', there is so much amazing and beautiful stuff around us that very often it is just how you look at something or a change in the use of a material or simply picking up a part of a process or material that has been regarded as waste to create something 'new'. And this was something that the craftspeople really seemed to do naturally. Working within their local community, really collaborating with what people around them were producing and making extremely good use of their materials and processes.”

“On that level it has already inspired some of my new work, especially in my recent collaboration with Georgi Manassiev, 'Reeds', in which we work with local and indigenous materials and traditional techniques.”

“The first piece and starting point for the series was a side table, commissioned by a private client from Giethoorn in the Netherlands, a small village of farmhouses with traditional thatched roofs surrounded by wetlands. The reed used to create the table is grown on the surrounding land and was bought from the local thatcher only 300 meters from the client’s house. The oak used for the tabletop came from the local boat builder who builds traditional all-wooden boats which help the locals get around the village.”

“The supporting structure of the table is made entirely of water reeds. In a method very similar to that employed by traditional thatchers, the reed is tied together in bundles creating the volume, which is then trimmed down and padded into the final shape. The result is a free shaped volume with a surface displaying an intricate pattern of the circular cuts, and reed section gradients. The three tables that were in the Inspired by India show have been made with reed grown in Norfolk and wood from a London plane tree that came from the Olympic site.”

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