New Delhi: Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, was not clear why two Mexican designers--Santiago Sierra and Mariana David—were interested in contacting him. When he entertained their request for a meeting, he was quite astonished to find out they wanted tonnes and tonnes of human excreta to work on, and obviously their best bet was the man behind India’s largest private sector santitation initiative.
Sierra and David are known for working on issue-based subjects and they got this novel idea of converting human waste into something useful after learning about manual scavenging practices in India and other parts of the world, says Pathak.
What exactly were they going to do with the waste? The designer duo were going to make doors, windows and other furniture and asked Sulabh for cooperation in this strange initiative. The people at Sulabh lapped up the idea and came up with all kind of ideas and techniques to ensure the success of the project.
“The designers asked me how much Sulabh would charge for providing the waste. We offered it for free and started this novel operation of making designer furnitures out of the material. The duo flew down to India and the project kick started,” said Pathak.
Sulabh’s research team successfully developed a strong base material mixing human waste with fevicol and other adhesives, de-odorisers and the like. The designers then worked on the material and made 22 sculptures shaped like doors. All the doors were designed at Sulabh’s Delhi office.
Out of these 22 designs, 21 have been put up on display at the Lisson Art Gallery, London. One is wth Sulabh in Delhi.
What about issues like sanitation and hygiene? Says Pathak: “All the foul elements in the excreta die out in around 15-18 months. The human waste we use for these doors are those that were left to dry three years ago. During these three years, the waste became inert and degraded back to an earth-like harmless material.”
It is a giant leap towards environment protection and if we can use this technique on a commercial scale, we will end up saving lakhs of trees, adds Pathak.
The project started in November 2006 and the last door was transported in February 2007. The product was finally put on display at the Lisson Art Gallery on 29 November this year, Pathak said.
“Although I don’t believe this is a commercially viable project, as the raw material is more useful in the fields as manure, it is nevertheless a pathbreaking exercise,” he added.
Sulabh is now planning to come up with similar exhibitions throughout the country. “We are facing the menace of human scavenging for ages and we hope this project will carry a message against it,” he said.
Pathak, who attended the opening ceremony of the exhibition in London, said art lovers and designers evinced considerable interest in the doors and many of them want to visit Sulabh to see the door making process.
The doors will soon be displayed at the Munich Gallery to further popularize the concept.