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Chennai-born Anjali Srinivasan was one of the three winners of the Swarovski Designers of the Future Award in 2015.
Chennai-born Anjali Srinivasan was one of the three winners of the Swarovski Designers of the Future Award in 2015.

Glass of 2015

Anjali Srinivasan, the Dubai-based artist of Chennai origin, on how she uses glass as poetic activism

Anjali Srinivasan has an enthusiastic email voice. She writes from Dubai about “poetic" relationship with glass. She has just finished creating an entire floor made of glass, which was exhibited in Abu Dhabi recently and was commissioned by a Bahraini artist. He took imprints of certain surfaces and Srinivasan’s job was to reproduce them in glass.

It has been a year of fertile ideas. The 38-year-old Chennai-born artist was one of the three winners of the Swarovski Designers of the Future Award in 2015. That award included an opportunity to design a piece with Swarovski crystals for a showcase at Design Miami/Basel that interpreted the theme of “betterment". Srinivasan created a crystal textile; people could “draw" on glass and create a drawing of light.

Her conceptualization for Swarovski was called Unda. A rolling wave made of glass elements and crystals, it was 1.6m wide and 6m long with 1,500 touch-sensitive LED crystals that respond to human touch with glowing illumination. Light travels across the crystal surface following the trail of the touch and fades slowly when the contact is taken away. It is a labyrinth of 3,000 Swarovski crystals and 5,000 glass pieces blown and produced in the artist’s Dubai studio.

“Unda came from a simple desire," writes Srinivasan. “I wanted people to experience the moment where their touch causes another’s skin to glow. It is a poetic form of activism. I bring my presence to you, I touch you, and you glow. I make a difference. To you."

Srinivasan studied accessories design at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in New Delhi almost 20 years ago. As a part of the course, she interned with a crystal tableware maker and visited the company’s glass-making unit in Firozabad, Uttar Pradesh. That’s where she witnessed the process of blowing glass for the first time. She was smitten. She realized the versatility of glass as a creative medium and its infinite possibilities. The journey that started then took her to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design for her Master’s in Fine Arts and several other artist residencies, including in Sydney and Fribourg in Switzerland.

Srinivsan’s award-winning installation Unda—a rolling wave made of glass elements and crystals, it was 1.6m wide and 6m long with 1,500 touch-sensitive LED crystals that respond to human touch with glowing illumination.
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Srinivsan’s award-winning installation Unda—a rolling wave made of glass elements and crystals, it was 1.6m wide and 6m long with 1,500 touch-sensitive LED crystals that respond to human touch with glowing illumination.

It soon became transparent that glass art would be the mainstay of her work.

“I love the fluidity of molten glass; to shape a liquid (at 1,200 degrees Celsius) is a sublime oxymoron. But at the same time I struggle to bring together skills and the ideas, which herald a new path that goes against one’s training," Srinivasan says. “That said, it’s precisely that approach that helps me expand people’s notions of what glass is or what it can be."

To Srinivasan, art is “an object, moment or experience of meaning born from personal voice or hand". “I don’t see it as a solitary object. It involves the artists’ experience and the story behind the product. It is probably why my works are always incomplete without human presence. Since I belong to India, I also inherit a grand history of art that is integrated into architecture, craft, textile and religion. I love those intersections," she says.

Srinivasan, who is single, moved to Dubai—a place between the US and India as she calls it—three years ago to launch ChoChoMa Studios. The name of her studio workshop is a tribute to her maternal grandmother.

Today, Srinivasan directs a small team of artists at ChoChoMa, besides maintaining her own practice and teaching at art and design universities around the world. Among the other products she makes are blinds, wall panel, jewellery and installations.

Sustainability is a key element of her work and she thinks about it in a few different ways. Balancing the inflow and outflow of creative thought and process; sustainability of materials, energy and the environment and finally, cultural sustainability with respect to human interactions and knowledge systems.

The Swarovski Designers of the Future Award came at a crucial phase in her life. “It has been important as a vote of faith in my way of thinking. It came at a time when I had serious self-doubts about my life," she says.

Her personal story remains a work in progress. “I would like to teach more often, produce more beautiful work and find a companion to spend my life with."

That, of course, doesn’t stop Anjali Srinivasan from experimenting with glass bangles to build a new vocabulary for the material and the tradition.

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