21 Cubic Feet
(by VEERA RUSTOMJI)
The unusually quiet courtyard of the Indus Valley School is dimly lit and the distant faint buzzing of conversation gasps through the opening and closing of the gallery doors. Some of the most unique contributions that art schools bring to a conservative society such as Pakistan's, are the collaboration of fresh ideas, innovation and freedom of speech through art. The best part about the recent exhibit at the university's gallery however was the diminishing of hierarchy between the professionals and the students. Between the hustle and bustle of the basement gallery, students, artists, and members of the IAP scrutinised every piece on display; inevitable comparisons are drawn, pleasant conversation is made and of course, extremely eager students cash in on the compliments with the prominent architects found in every corner of the gallery.
Raising funds to build the new house for the Institute of Architects Pakistan, the price of the pieces varied but the most interesting element of the exhibits is the range of storage capability or the functionality of the exhibits. From 19 participants, most of them being groups, creativity showed no limits within the gallery space – from highly geometrical stylised pieces, to comfortable closets, all the pieces made a clear statement about an artist's take on the 21 Cubic Feet theme. Outlined to the participants, "…the name suggests, it's a designing of a space having volume of 21 cubic feet. The 'space' can be anywhere, interior or exterior, local or abroad; the setting of the context is up to the designer's choice. However, the space designed should be utilisable, and that for 'storage' purposes only. Here again, it will be up to the designer to define storage space type. The designers will have to prove that the total utilised space by their creation is only 21 cubic feet."
While some of the pieces such as "Tu Pee Aur Jee" and "Mobile Storage Unit" were not exactly for the use of basic storage, (a parallel can be drawn to extreme Haute Couture for instance) the use of materials were what made the unusual pieces dynamic and revealed a very personal take on the storage theme. Utilising their individual space, proud students stood right in front of their exhibits nodding appreciatively as any viewer passed by, while the architects coolly passed around the gallery happily engaging in conversation with journalists. When asked how long it took to design his piece, Tariq Hassan sheepishly grinned, while looking at his shoes and replied with "Err…. One… hour?!" Combing three features, as a piece of furniture within the 21 cubic feet requirement, the polished teak wood serves as a trendy bench when lying down horizontally, a shelf if put up vertically and if flipped over, a table. Fifth year architecture student Armughan Faruqi whispers wide eyed "Do you know how much this costs?"
In all seriousness, the piece which took one hour to design proved to be a favourite amongst the crowd, replicating the waves of the sea and transcending rigidity to fluidity, the piece of furniture could also be interpreted as a metaphor for the contrasts between the human male and female form and nature. Another favourite amongst the students in particular during the exhibition was placed right in front of the bench-table-shelf creation, titled 'Studio Smart'. Described as fresh and "straight from the heart" by Tariq Hassan, Studio Smart was continuously gawped at by every art student which came across it. Featuring the perfect sized shelves for paper, containers for paint brushes and other odd instruments for the ever collecting art student, the colour combination as well, blissful mint green with the casual light polish proved to infuse the furniture piece with a relaxed mood. Designed by a team consisting Nida Shahid Mansoor, Saadia Shahid and Nazeer Ahmed, who were previously interns of architect Shahab Ghani Khan, they talked about how difficult it can be for art students to find the right kind of furniture which takes up minimal space but stores the maximum possible amount. Grinning proudly at the exhibit, which obviously took quite some time to formulate, Nida Shahid Mansoor rearranged the draws consciously reassuring the perfect presentation for the perfect piece of furniture any art student could ask for.
While many of the pieces such as "Music Dhaba", "Box 21" and "The Duality Within" followed the regularities of shape, and geometry but with individual twists, certain pieces such as "Investigation" by Maria Aslam, Sana Aslam and Faryal Sethi, featured a shelf plus a secret door way which followed a different rhythm with its gold glossy paint and speckled white dots. Authentic spun with mystery – the piece of furniture almost resembled a lost piece of rusted jewellery with a hint of turquoise and cobalt blue; "Investigation" seemed to be very culturally inspired. Meanwhile at the other corner of the gallery, a sharp contrast in design while still being heavily influenced by the same culture, stood "Pan Ka Khoka" designed by Akeel Bilgrami and Khadijatul Kubra. The paan stand with its sage green painted wood seemed to be the perfect piece of furniture to adorn the pool side or a breezy balcony. The colour and use of materials provided the paan ka khoka with such an organic feel, that with all its sophistication and simplicity in design, the stand was a combination of the everyday food streets in the cities of Pakistan and the diverse number of people who adore eating paan in our country.
Another piece which stood out in the gallery was "Storage of Memories", a family project by Saad Khurshid, Ali Khurshid and Ramiz Baig. Hung by the ceiling, the black shelves were divided into sections with a few pieces of personal value by the designers placed on the shelves such as trophies etc. Resembling almost a dressing studio table, the bold circular lights gleamed off the black and reflected onto the mirrors placed inside the shelves, creating a movement of light bouncing off the shelves throughout the structure. Inside the shelves were photographs taken by the much sought after photographer Ali Khurshid, recreating some memorable moments. Pictures of graduation, mehndi functions, highland scenery, and basically bits and pieces which every viewer could relate to.
"Even though it looks like a dressing table, the cool part is that you can't exactly see yourself in any of the mirrors," commented Saad, craning to put his head inside one of the shelves in order to prove his point.
The energetic approach by IAP, focusing on art and the bringing together of students with practicising professionals, proved the exhibition to be a dedicated design event. While opinions concerning the plethora of themes and designs chosen by the participants will always vary because of the subjective nature of art, the show encompassed a great cause and an even better initiative.