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creative collaboration amidst isolation

A Conversation with Texture through Movement by Oona D’mello and Sohni Patel

A conversation with texture through movement: creative collaboration amidst isolation

“When a thing is challenged and pushed the truth is often revealed. We have derived our passion for collaboration from experimenting and knowing that truth when in the confines of collaboration. A yielding of something greater than an individual mind at work – here we co-create through love, appreciation of another’s craft, and stepping into the practice of another creative.”

– an excerpt from  ‘Lifting Higher’ by – Oona D’mello, Co-Founder – Est. Form

It’s been over four months since we’ve all been confined indoors with little interaction with the world outside. It almost feels as though life is on an extended pause, even as the mundanity of everyday continues to move and flow around us. Static, yet moving – without a clear end in sight. 

But, pauses and solitude can often yield new ways of being, pushing us to go digging for our truth – and this time has forced many of us to embark on that inward journey, to find new means for discovery and connection.

At G5A, too, we looked within and brought back the focus to what we are truly fascinated by. The often elusive, yet immersive story behind the making of a creative piece of work. The organic process between conception to creation, a creative play-ground – the liminal space where magic happens! We’ve been exploring new ways to revive these conversations and work towards an artistic ecosystem that is truly supportive of independent artists and practitioners who are pushing the boundaries of thought, form, and expression.

With Est. Form, co-founders Oona D’mello and Sohni Patel intended to create safe spaces for unusual & unique artistic collaborations. Such processes undoubtedly continue to evolve – static, yet moving. Stretching and shifting with each new project. For us at G5A, this practice warranted a deeper exploration. 

Our engagement with Est. Form began earlier this year at the January session of our monthly Projects | Process series, where we bring artists and creative professionals from diverse disciplines together to talk about their process and share insights into an ongoing or recent piece of work – a space for learning and inspiration. Oona is a visual artist who likes to experiment with paint and textiles using the style of “gestural abstraction” in her work. Sohni Patel, followed her passion for fashion and founded the contemporary women’s label House of Sohn. We were introduced to Oona and Sohni who joined us to talk about their creative collective, and their practice of playing with paint and fabric, creating works that could exist both “on-and-off-the-wall”. Together, they had launched their first creative collaborationtitled Edition I: Art X Fashion in December 2019 at the Method Art Space, whose Founder and Curator Sahil Arora also joined us in January to moderate the discussion around ‘texture’ and creative collaboration.

This thread of collaboration around texture slowly wove its way into movement and came alive through Est. Form’s second collaborative project titled: Edition II: Series – Movement, co-launched with G5A Forum’s Exhibition Series this July. At the outset, their unconventional practice invoked a sense of wonder and curiosity. When we were approached with the idea for the new collection, there was an openness to engage in dialogue, and mutual trust to listen, understand, and build the narrative together in synergy with each other. Over multiple conversations with Oona and Sohni, we worked on the visual story of movement conveyed through fine art, fashion, and dance – bringing all the parts together into one cohesive whole. Through this process we were pushed to delve deeper into the spirit of collaboration itself, especially amidst lockdown and social isolation. Our collective purpose was to shift from collaboration as a mandate to “collaboration as sharing and enrichment” as Oona beautifully expressed. We felt compelled to tie together the work of these wonderful artists, and this called for programming a discussion that delved deeper into exploring our individual practices and how it all came together in response to each other’s work.

Our conversation through Responses to Art through Fashion and Movement: A webinar on artistic collaborations amidst isolation, conceptualised and facilitated by G5A Forum after the digital launch of this series, brought together all the voices involved in the creation of Edition II, some interacting for the first time. Engaging with our collective experiences of working together helped expand our understanding of how this indefinite pause has allowed for the flow of creative energies across time and distance – fuelling the desire for radical innovation and working with others – while also throwing up challenges in the way we are able to connect with each other. The original idea with Edition II was to exhibit this work in a gallery setting with Olga performing live, somewhere in France – but of course the lockdown made this impossible, and also meant that most of the remaining work happened largely in isolation.

Still, this creative collaboration has spanned across eight artists, five disciplines, and three countries, beginning with one painting. The starting point for movement emerged through the texture and malleability of fabric used with paint in Oona’s work. “I’ve spent seven years perfecting the technique to freeze the fabric into texture and form”, shares Oona, “and of course when Sohni has to cut into it, my nervous system is rattled! But the growth comes from knowing that it’s not done yet when it goes to a Pia or Olga – that it’s going to be further built and created upon”. 

Oona’s textile art becomes the primary material for House of Sohn where the art is integrated further with fabric, “stitched and ready to sit on a body”. It is quite rare to encounter textural work which yearns to be felt, a fascinating amalgamation of paint and fabric. Yet the pieces hold still and inanimate until you can see them in motion. On a moving body, they suddenly become expressive, animated – and the language is dance.

Ballerinas Pia Sutaria (from Mumbai) and Olga Malinovskaya (from Monaco) further built upon the two Textile Art and Wearable Art pieces created by Oona and House of Sohn through movement. Filmmakers Shivin & Sunny and composer Maqta (Sarthak Karkare) worked on the audio-visual narrative for Pia’s movement piece titled ‘Hues’. Olga’s piece ‘Black Bird’ was created entirely in lockdown. She improvised to music by pianist and musician, Sasha Pushkin (currently based in Germany) through virtual communication, and self-shot the video on a phone camera using a chair as the operator.

Both Pia and Olga found similarities in the way that this collaborative process allowed them to absorb and express themselves through improvisation – something both are not used to doing. The constraints due to the lockdown, and the sense of freedom this process brought enabled both of them to take that leap of faith. “For me as an artist during this time, there’ve been a lot of things building up and this was a rewarding opportunity to just dance and express”, says Pia. Olga managed to receive the ‘Allies’ Jacket just in time before lockdown and says, “I fell in love with the piece. It reminded me of a Black Bird, and the Beatles song by the same name.” She drew inspiration from the Beatles lyrics “take these broken wings and learn to fly, all your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise”, embodying this spirit through her movement. 

In the spirit of creative collaboration, the values we held dear were those of love, trust, and mutual respect for the art and the artists we were collaborating with. The conversation was always about approaching the process with a sense of openness to surrender to and step into each other’s practice with a curiosity to see what the others will bring in. It was clear that a safe space was created for creatives to enter into and respond with freedom to the art in their environment. Indeed the work evolved even with us as we received the multiple photographs of the pieces and worked on building a visual narrative for the exhibition. As composer Sasha Pushkin said, “It’s about being open, and inviting the world in. To switch off the critical part of your brain first, and see how it works with your emotions. Then, you can start to give a form to it. It’s like being a child, being natural.”

Olga’s instinctive interpretation of the wearable jacket using the motif of the ‘Black Bird’ symbolized a sense of entrapment and longing to break free, a feeling that echoes through the constraints imposed by the lockdown. In contrast, Pia’s piece in response to ‘Reds’ seems to explore the notion of openness, vigor and freedom. Musician, Sarthak Kakare or ‘Maqta’ was extremely grateful to be yanked out of this “crushing solitude” amidst lockdown, to compose the music for ‘Hues’. For Shivin and Sunny the process was about keeping it simple, and capturing Pia’s emotional response to the art, with the limited resources and people they had to work with. “It really stripped down the process to the bare minimum, adding a layer of simplicity. Shooting at the beach with an iPhone, a dancer and this piece of art was really liberating – to see what we can create with that!”, share the filmmaker brothers. The water, waves, and wind organically augmented the thread of movement – creating a liminal space amidst lockdown to just “be natural”.

At the end what has emerged is a stunning set of work seeped in an appreciation for texture and movement. At G5A we’ve worked on finding new ways of bringing creative practitioners together during these times, so we can continue to create immersive spaces for engagement with art and culture. While we would have loved to have the artists present with us at our Black Box, we are delighted to have had the chance to connect virtually across distance. As with collaborative work in the arts, we know that the story of this journey doesn’t end here – it’s not quite done yet! It has been inspiring to work with creative professionals to build a sense of community through relationships that will spark more such innovative work in the future – hopefully in time when we can experience it in person!

The Edition II: Series – Movement Digital Exhibition is live on our website until August 23, 2020, and all the work is available for sale at Est. Form.

Words by Sukriti Sharma

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