Hermès, The Chanakya, New Delhi

Article published in VOGUE magazine

Your first look at Hermès’ debut collaboration with an artist in India By Aditi Bhimjyani,

Artist Sumakshi Singh handcrafts Hermès’ window display. Here’s everything you need to know about it:

On October 11, 2019, the Hermès store at The Chanakya in New Delhi unveils a unique window display to a host of its patrons with an elegant cocktail evening. This is a first-ever collaboration with an artist for a window display in India. The Hermès 2019 theme, In Pursuit of Dreams, is presented with a perfect spin of whimsy by Indian artist Sumakshi Singh in her characteristic handcrafted style.

Globally, window designs are often interminably linked to a brand’s image and Hermès understands that like no other. Their windows consistently impeccable, and they’ve been inviting designers and artists to collaborate with them through the years. Perhaps the most legendary ones were from 1978 to 2013, when Tunisian artist Leïla Menchari was solely responsible for the stunning windows of the Maison Hermès flagship store on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, with her Moroccan souk themes, hammered steel Kelly bags and green crocodile Hermès clutches for undersea grottoes, all crafted to her specifications and never for sale. Another exciting window design was that of the newly renovated Hermès boutique on S Marco 1292 in Venice. Launched in 2018 with an elaborately curated ‘artist window’ by artist Luca Nichetto of Nichetto Studio, it was called Pure Imagination and inspired by Willy Wonka’s eponymous song: a treat in blown Murano glass of varying geometry, like a candy box interspersed with bags and scarves.

Singh’s installations at Hermès in New Delhi, titled Pages from a Dream Journal, are created with threadwork and lace, combining solid forms with mirages and a sort of soft, dreamy reality. The landscape is a little surreal, with floating plants and trees made with white thread and wire, illuminated with gentle flickers of light—like fireflies in a capricious narrative.

The first display, Equestrian Mettisage, is that of a wood and organza canoe gliding through serene waters, with the iconic Hermès printed scarf as sail. A glowing lace and silk bird, LED fireflies, embroidered backlit mountains and lace-and-fabric plant-forms feature as objects in suspended animation. The second display, Solar Energy, is a splash of bright—with Hermès’ fashion accessories like enamel cuffs, CDC and Clic H in orange and yellow. A swing caught in mid-air and incandescent fireflies appear in the distance. In the third display, H Story, white blossoms and a magical stairway are at the fore. The tie set tart platter plays the moon while the men’s echarpe is a billowing curtain. The gavroche and ties are like a kite taking flight. Various accessories like the Hermès tea cups, the Picotin bag, a leather cravache, Torsade sandals and the stirrup shaped Galop d’Hermès perfume bottle are littered around the designscape with an almost precise nonchalance.

Each display is conceptualised almost like a page from an ongoing story, which is both poetic and meditative. The audience (especially the passerby) is invited to imagine themselves as a character in this narrative and grab a glimpse of what Hermès is about—and, while they’re at it, discover the various Hermès objets hidden between the lines.

Singh has presented her interactive installations, paintings, drawings and sculptures at solo and curated group gallery and museum exhibitions in India, China, USA, Canada, France, Italy and Switzerland. She has also taught for five years at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and lectured at Oxford University, Columbia University and The Chicago Humanities Festival. Besides working with other museums and colleges, she has mentored residencies for the Victoria and Albert Museum and TheWhyNotPlace 2010 and 2011. Scroll ahead for a closer look at the Pages from a Dream Journal showcase at Delhi’s Hermès store.

Vancouver Biennale, Canada

BREATH SONG:

Artist proposal

 

“People are over-trained to look at things; if they could learn to look in-between them, whole universes would open up”

 -Swami Jnanananda Giri

I would like to invite a 108 people living in the Squamish area to let me briefly record the sound of their individual breath cycles (40 seconds or so). From these sounds I will create a “breath symphony”. Participants will also write out a word associated with breath. To give visual form to this, I will use my finger to trace out these words upon a window that is gently allowed to fog up with my exhalations. I will photograph these words and run them in a sequence to form a poem. This visual poem “breath song” will be projected out in nature on a transparent screen, appearing and disappearing like an ephemeral cloud, for the community to enjoy.

I have been a student (and teacher) of meditation for the last six years. As an artist and an aspiring Yogi, I have been observing and studying breath as the “gap”, the pause between words, as the vital animating force flowing through life forms, as the invisible thread weaving in and out of all beings. The intimate breath exhaled by one floats freely on air currents, to be received by another, oblivious of man made borders; a series of inhales and exhales shared all the way from New Delhi to Vancouver.

In meditation practices, breath is considered a subtle kind of “Border”, a diaphanous veil moving between the physical and energy (astral) world, the thread tying the spirit to the body. Riding the wave of the physical breath (often through “pranayama” practices in cycles of 108 breaths) is said to eventually bring us to the borderless place within us where unity with all existence is experienced.

I would like to conduct a series of workshops on breath, states of consciousness and interconnectedness and invite a 108 people living in the Vancouver area to let me record their individual breath cycles through a sensitive microphone. Often fueled by thought and action to change its qualities of rhythm, intensity, evenness and smoothness the breath often reveals one’s state of mind more deeply and accurately than words, facial expressions or body language. To give visual form to this I will have a framed glass “window” upon which I will request the participants to exhale, gently allowing the window to fog up. They will be asked to consider one word that they associate with breath and write (wipe) that out with their finger on this fogged window.

A video camera placed on the other side of this glass will simply capture a series of 108 words slowly appearing and disappearing with the condensing breath from the 108 mouths behind the word and potentially the writing of the words. I will then use this footage to create a “Breath Song” of Vancouver, arranging the sequence of words to form poems accompanied by the symphony of different breath rhythms and sounds. In its display for the Biennale, I envision this visual song projected onto a large (approximately 20ft X12ft) transparent surface (like 3m acetate or Plexiglas). Invisible and supported by an unobtrusive armature (perhaps a tree, a rock formation or subtle scaffolding) and placed in a relatively quiet, beautiful natural setting (preferably with flowing water or open sky behind it) these words would appear to condense and evaporate upon the landscape behind, alternately revealing and obscuring it, as the viewers listen to the breath symphony though speakers or headphones. I would also like to layer the sounds of these 108 breaths to come up with one breath – the “average breath of Vancouver”. I envision doing this project in 108 different cities and coming up with the Breath and Breath Songs of Delhi, Assisi, Chicago – many of the places I live in and travel through.

 

 

Kunsthaus Langenthal, Switzerland

Fondazione Pistoletto, Cittadellarte, Italy

MEMORY THREADS. CITTADELLARTE. FONDAZIONE PISTOLETTO. ITALY. 2009.

Biella – a city with renouned textile industries – has been on the verge of economic disaster, since the textile production moved to China. At Cittadellarte, Sumakshi Singh has been photographing and collecting physical debris from several textile mills, once prosperous but now in a state of abandonment and disarray. Her installation displays several parts of old wooden machines collected from one such textile mill, that have been polished and restored. These symbolic containers of Biella’s past, now rendered useless over time, are displayed as if functional, in the Cittadellarte room that was once, also a part of a textile mill. Projected on the wall behind and the white fabric weaving in and out of these machine parts is an image of the textile mill in its current state of devastation with weeds growing through fractured remains of old architecture and machines. The image transforms slowly as the artist juxtaposes over it a skeletal, white image of this textile mill taken from exactly the same spot in 1920. Figures, machines, spools of thread, fabric and architecture from the past appear and slowly disappear, in the form of an animation, generated by the artist, sewing with white thread, stitch by stitch the image of the past on top of the present, using the process and the materials of the textile mills (thread and fabric). Often seen pulled by a needle or the artist’s hand the thread cleary reveals itself as a dynamic material that flops, loops, tigthens as well as takes on the role of forming a contour for the image. Her project collapses layers of the past and present, functional and dysfunctional, the real and virtual.”

Mattress Factory Museum of Contemporary Art, Pittsburgh

Public Art, New York

Average Utopia, 2006, Hudson Valley, NY.
In Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince”, the prince talks of his tiny planet. It is so small that by shifting his chair every few minutes to compensate for its rotation he can always look onto a sunset sky. This project is born of an interest in the idea of controlled environments. Being in Chicago spurred a body of work that subtly subverted the idea of manicured, manipulated nature always maintained at its ‘best’. The tulips on Michigan Avenue are planted in full bloom and removed before they can wither up for fear of the ‘flaw’ in the ideal function they are meant to serve. ‘Beauty’ is handed out at its decided climax in the trees trimmed to same height, the weed-less sidewalks and genetically manipulated flowers. I thought of the Sunset as a climactic moment and wondered what it would be like to always have it – In both a poetic and a critical way. The stagnant sunset project springboards from this idea of fast delivery, faster gratification. It questions the pre-conditions for desire, more than the final object of it. It presents the epitome without anticipation or completion, thus displacing it from time.

Interlude Oasis – Art in Odd Places, 2006, New York, NY.
“Interlude Oasis” filled unconsidered ‘gaps’ between the origin and destination of daily commuters/ users of urban space by creating opportunities for surprise, contemplation, and consideration in places that had previously been merely ‘on the way’ to something else. Neither inventing radically new visual realities for the viewer, nor displacing his or her location in space by attempting to evoke a different one, the project simply pointed out visual phenomena that already exists in these places – just at a different time.

Consistently “stopped” elements at essentially “go” places; the proposed interventions sought to collapse the division between journey and destination, and the bracketing of attentive vision. Both Average Utopia and Interlude Oasis, use the armature of immediate gratification as a springboard – “Bypass the journey and sustain the climax” seems to often be the order of the day. In urban environments the assumption is that people have no time to wait, no patience to unravel underlying subtleties and no attention span to notice things beyond the frame of functional vision. Messages are often constructed for quick , simplistic delivery, flowers planted in pre-determined colours and patterns, and nature assigned a role of “functional” or “aesthetic” – as “allowed” by the Urban planner. How does one ask to slow down and really look at things? How does one ask to re-investigate territories taken for granted?

Cracks and depressions in the sidewalk, fissures in roads and tiny gaps between floorboards have frequently been the sites of inspiration (& direct intervention) for my work. They function as flaws, as unplanned houses for microcosmic activity and a rather satisfying perversion of doctored urban space. For me, these spaces are little fractures in a culture that often attempts to generate a fallacy of control over the environment – a fallacy, perpetrated by the highly manicured natural environment. The project was a gentle reminder that a singular vantage point isn’t enough and neither is the first quick interpretation; that sometimes it is useful to centralize things not just relegated to peripheral vision but also peripheral considerations. By using the “accidents” or byproducts of our systems and mainstream values, the project took a little poke at the clear visual value placed on the climactic, ever-blooming nature, presented at its “best” in Urban USA.

Halsey Gallery, Charleston, USA