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Exhibition / Installation

Partner Programme

17   —    18, 20   —    25 Sep 2022

Architecture / Landscape, Multi-Disciplinary Design

Boulevard, Islington Square

116 Upper St

London

N1 1AB

#celestialnest

In this immersive installation, Indian design studio The Architecture Story presents a layered experience that celebrates an ancient mirror making process. The installation intends to create a heightened perception of the environment through the unique handcrafted mirrors and the modular framework that holds them.

From 17-25 September 2022, Islington Square will be transformed by an ancient Indian technique of mirror making as part of London Design Festival 2022. For the event’s 20th anniversary, Indian design studio The Architecture Story (TAS) has created a structure that physically realises the concept of lineage within craftsmanship. Responding to the Islington Design District theme of ‘Journey’, TAS has created an experience that conveys this in a simultaneously contemporary and historic interpretation. Located on the Boulevard in Islington Square, Celestial Nest will be constructed from a custom-designed modular framework; from this, a cluster of suspended mirrors will form an interconnected, ethereal passage through the space. Each mirror will be linked by the frame’s thin stems, creating a network of reflections that change focus depending on where the visitor looks. To cast this effect, the surface of each mirror is hand polished to varying degrees, producing a different level of shine on every plane. An ambient soundscape will accompany the installation, bringing an additional dimension to the piece and energy to the courtyard. The Celestial Nest concept is rooted in the studio’s interest in the Southern Indian process of Aranmula Kannadi: a historic technique traditional to a small town in Kerala, India, where the artisans produce first-surface mirrors by hand. Aranmula Kannadi derives from a distinct ancestral knowledge, which is what distinguishes it as such a valued and protected craft. The unique nature of these mirrors stems from their materiality; the installation comprises aluminium, pine wood, black paint, natural wax, red oxide and a secret alloy (a combination of copper and tin), the recipe for which has been passed down for generations and is protected by the Intellectual Property Law of India, as it holds Geographical Indication. Unlike glass mirrors, the Aranmula Kannadi process creates a reflective surface by meticulously hand-polishing a specific metal composition using a paste. The duration of time it takes to polish the metal ultimately determines the desired level of shine – a small surface can take several days. Celestial Nest is the third expression of an ongoing craft-based research project currently being undertaken by TAS. This piece of work, that studio’s co-founders describe as “design storytelling”, analyses the different narratives of Indian craft within our surrounding cultural framework. Through its research, TAS studies a distinct regional technique - its context, place, gender politics, cuisine and culture - and then the studio interprets its learnings through an architectural lens. The Celestial Nest structure that suspends the mirrors draws its inspiration from sacred geometry. Each component has been custom designed and produced, from the brackets to the stems, to create an immersive experience for the viewer. At the heart of this project lies TAS’s commitment to collaboration. In order to appropriately honour the cultural memory of this craft within a modern context, the studio has dedicated much time to visiting the region, fostering an evolving conversation with the family of artisans and understanding the legacy of this skill. The ‘journey’ that TAS has embarked upon with the craftspeople allows the studio to appreciate the sensitivity of the work, for example, the mirror’s association with magic, or the tradition of presenting this object as a gift at special occasions. Through its creative expertise, TAS’s intention is to uncover the connection between ancient craftsmanship and contemporary design.