A tete-a-tete with ‘Art, You Can!’ mentor Ankon Mitra

This summer ACEDGE is hosting a special course called Art, You Can! as part of its Summer UNschool. The course is designed by international Artist-Architects for future Artists. Live webinars will be conducted from 12th May – 30th June 2019, followed by 2 months (July/August) of an art project – submission for which will be on/before 31st August, 2019. You also get a chance to submit your art project for a curated exhibition at Tangerine Art Space in Bangalore.

Get to know your mentor as he shares insights into his journey as an Artist and also answers questions about the course structure and other international mentors.

This interview was conducted by Nikita Verma from Ethos India on 23rd April, 2019.

Ankon Mitra is an Architect, landscape designer and one of the most notable pioneers of Origami in India. He holds a Master of Science degree in Parametric Design and Algorithmic Architecture from the Bartlett, University College London (UCL), which he completed with distinction.
As a visiting faculty at NID, SPAs, IITs, NIFT and at other colleges and independent venues across India, he conducts workshops on the mathematical and geometric complexities in technical and modular Origami and Kirigami, for students and professionals of design, art and architecture.

Interview with Ankon Mitra

Nikita: So Ankon, tell us how did it all start? What initiated your journey from architecture to art and further into specific forms of Origami?

Ankon: It wasn’t exactly planned that I would become an artist. It was indeed very organic. I basically understood or discovered that there is a lot of folding happening all around: in the designed objects, in the material universe, nature and a lot of processes in the human body, in the geology around us. I was training to be a landscape designer and therefore I would spend a lot of time in gardens. So being among plants and flowers, rooting systems and foliage, I discovered that a lot of folding techniques are being employed by nature to optimise, to strengthen their structural systems, for forms to be efficient or use less energy. This led me to a catharsis, that there is more to this. I wanted to research more on this subject. As I went more and more into this phenomena, I discovered that the folding process can actually be applied in architecture and design. And then through a very organic process, I started creating works of art.

N: What is Architecture to you? Being an architect and artist both, what synergies do you see personally in the two professions?

A: They are both actually very seamless. We tend to create categorizations that this person is an architect, this person is a designer or this person is an artist. There are a lot of skills which are common to all these professions, rather passions or vocations. So when you are in an architecture college some things related to art get missed out that you are not teaching an architect: for example to think like an artist or observe like an artist or in an art college you are not teaching about technical aspects of building certain things, so the architectural education gets missed out. Similarly in design education you are sometimes not empowering the designer with the tools which an artist or architect tends to have. There are gaps in the education system. Yet, I feel that these three professionals can sit together at a table and have good discussions and create something seamless. In my practice, the aim is actually to erase a lot of these boundaries and to work seamlessly in many ways. To contribute to the process of creating a work of art as much as in architecture.

N: What was your first job/assignment after graduating from SPA? Did it have a significant impact on the career direction you took?

A: As I recall the first few projects I did, they molded me to understand the practical side of building in the real world. I was involved with quite a few plebeian and down to earth projects like rural supermarkets. I was also part of a team which was designing a hotel in Jaipur. This was as an employee and I had not started on my own yet.  But it gave me a lot of practical insights as an architect. As a student of course you design, but it is mostly theoretical. The practical experience instilled in me a lot of pragmatism, understanding of technical and financial aspects of a project. These learnings have stayed with me over the time. The nature of projects gradually changed, but the maturity of looking at them from a 360 degrees angle stayed with me. Even now when I am creating works of art, I can look at technical challenges, constructability, costing of the project, where materials come from and how to put them together. It is all the initial learnings that have come together in very significant ways.

N: What kind of scope do you perceive for alternative art forms in India in the coming two decades?

A: India is a very minuscule part of the current global financial purchase and sale of art as a market. India will only grow in terms of the market where Indian artists slowly gain international acclaim and repute and more Indian artists will find mainstream place in the international art market.

India as a country is growing financially and gaining more heft- more businesses are home-grown and are becoming international and multinational. So the same thing will happen with art as well. There is a lot of Indian diaspora abroad looking to buy from contemporary Indian artists. Currently our market maybe only 2- 3% of the world or perhaps not even that much. But I see India becoming a significant contributor to art practice globally especially because we have a rich history of art that declined due to colonialism and post-independence struggles with issues of poverty and fight for basics. But as we gain confidence as a country and become financially independent, art, design and architecture- all of these are also going to take off in significant ways. Art market is only going to go up for sure!

N: Who are some artists that inspired you in the work you do?

A: My technique has a lot to do with the folding so I follow a lot of artists for their folding techniques. Some of them are not so famous or not mainstream artists. Some of them are mathematicians or computer engineers who practice a lot of art which is geometry or mathematics focused. They tend to inform my work a lot. Some are from the previous generation when computational technology was not available. But they were doing geometric folding by drawing diagrams on paper and then translating them into the reality of folded materials. One artist that comes to mind is Ruth Asawa. She was a refugee from Japan who went and settled in the post second world war period in the US. As a Japanese person, she led to flowering of origami in the US, playing a very seminal role.

Akira Yoshizawa- who has played a leading role in reviving the dying art of origami in Japan using his own strength by producing the process of diagramming in origami. Origami was an oral tradition, whereby there was a master and the apprentice learnt origami by being taught in person. He made it possible to buy an origami book and just by reading the book one could learn the folding technique. He started this process of diagramming in origami. So he is also a master whose work I greatly admire and I think of as an ideal.

Among the non-origami artists, those who have a geometric predilection in their work such as Umberto Boccioni who was a futurist from Italy and Antony Gormley, who is a contemporary artist from the UK are some people who have had a substantial impact on how I perceive art.

Among the Indians, Syed Haider Raza- the way he puts colour on paper, the colour fields and geometries he creates have influenced me. Ramkinkar Baij from Shantiniketan was a metal artist and the way he sculpted metal is something that is seminal and has informed the way I look at metal casting as a process.

N: Which is your favorite installation so far and why?

A: Very recently, we were doing a project which was in a building across the Worli sea face in Mumbai and we were able to create a very large ceiling installation. The concept of the ceiling installation was ‘Bhav Sagar’ and there was a lighting designer from the UK who did beautiful rendering of the installation with lights. The work was reflected through significant folds. It was a space filling installation so a large hall was completely filled with artwork. The lighting reproduced the colours of sunrise and sunset with specs of gold and orange on the water surface during the day and blue of the water during the sunset. So that has been something which was quite a happy experience for me in the recent art installation works that I have done.

N: Thank you for these insights. I am actually quite intrigued by this promising direction architects can take. I am now going to ask a few questions about the Course Outline and appraisal methods.
There are three additional global mentors selected by you for the course. How do you know them professionally and what convinced you to bring them on board?

A: So these three people are: Rahul Kumar, who is from India but he is very well known and wears many hats. Then there is Jakub Novak from the Czech Republic- he is also an architect and artist. Wu Wai Chung is from Hong Kong and she’s also an Architect-Artist. I met Jakub and Chung at the Lucca Biennale in Italy which is the largest paper art biennale in the world and I was selected. They were also selected to create large paper installations and we hit it off as three architect-artists working together. We used to share notes on how architects are going to make it big in the art world in the future. We had a lot of commonalities in the way we think.

When this course was launched by ACEDGE, I thought these people can bring very good international insights as they are from two different parts of the globe. One from the Far East and the other from Europe bringing in East Asian and European insights. At the same time they are also architects and are making the same journey as I am- from architects to artists. Their knowledge would be very useful to this course.

Ankon Mitra brings on board international Artists to bring international perspectives to the course.

Rahul comes from a very different background- MBA. He is a self-taught ceramic artist and dabbles in a medium which is very plastic, tactile and 3-dimensional. He wears a lot of hats- he is a curator, a writer and journalist. He writes about art in significant art and architecture magazines and publications. So his perspective on what a curator is looking for in art and how can an artist make a transition from loving his own work to his work being loved by others. He can share key insights into how the galleries or industry work. All together I think we make a great team and I hope between the four of us we can bring significant knowledge for the course participants.

N: This looks like a great opportunity indeed to meet these interesting art personalities.
As part of this course, learners have the possibility to have their work displayed at the Tangerine Art Gallery in Bangalore. What is the benefit of having the projects displayed at the Tangerine Gallery?

A: When artists graduate freshly from college, it is not easy for them to show their work at a professional gallery. It takes a few years before artists build enough repertoire of their art work that they can keep sharing with galleries. Eventually a gallery may pick up some of their work and do a showcase. But to get this opportunity right at the start of their thought process, their initiation into art can make a significant difference. This will be a group show where your work will be showcased professionally. All of it is informed by the course Art, you Can! Themes will be provided during the course so that the learners can develop their projects accordingly. Mentorship is available from me and the other artists. Some of the best works will be selected through the course process.

Once an artist’s work is displayed in an art gallery, one can put it on their CV and this opens doors to other galleries as they gain confidence from this exercise since another person has already taken the risk of investing in their thoughts and art work.  This is a great opportunity for learners who get to showcase at Tangerine Art Space.

I would like to thank Leena Chethan, owner of Tangerine Art Space for giving us this space and agreeing with me in my vision of encouraging young artists and new talent without knowing them personally and having faith in my curation. A show can cost a lot because there are rentals on the space. She will put out promotion of the work in mainstream media and online. There will be a preview evening before the inauguration of the showcase. And the show runs for a good period of time in the gallery. So her support means a lot.

N: Ankon, please tell us briefly how will the enrollers be appraised via this course? Will there be any mode to assess and evaluate their learnings? What will be the different types of assignments and exercise that the learner will part take in?

A: The course is very elaborate and detailed. There are different chapters and eight different webinar sessions, the details of which you can find online. But telling briefly, all the participants will learn to see, learn to research and learn to make. These are the three key words and I am going to assess these three aspects. What do we see, how do we see and why do we see? What do we observe and what is the takeaway from the process of that seeing- that is one important thing that artist needs to learn.
Research is the next and is very important- to know your materials, research how your technique is applicable in the physical world, where is the market of your work, who will buy and who are the people who will be interested in your work? This is all part of research. For an artist to understand that the work created is not in vacuum but part of a society where you want to put it out is part of research. For example, to understand that my work is best for hotel lobbies or public spaces, or is best put out on walls of homes. These are things that somebody might not know or be aware of, but can learn through the research process.
Make. There are several learnings from seeing and research but proof of the pudding is in the making. Culmination of this program is in making something and being critiqued upon, with a chance to showcase at Tangerine Art Space. Hopefully these components will give a 360° understanding to participants about an art practice

N: And my last question for now, what are your expectations from this course for yourself and the learners?

A:  It has been a very fuzzy journey actually as an architect moving on to art. It is a mental voyage for me to go back to things which I took for granted, which I learnt the hard way. Once I decode all of this, the participants get nuggets of information on aspects I struggled for over a year. You get to learn all of that in a 1 hour webinar. That of course is important to me because I eventually hope to put it together in a book so it is available to a larger audience, to anyone who aspires to be an artist even if not coming from the mainstream art background. I hope I am able to clarify these thoughts in my head and eventually bring it out in the form of a publication.


Dear readers, please join us by enrolling for the ACEDGE Summer UNschool beginning on 12th May. We have special offers in store if you register before 1st May. So hurry up!!


See you on the other side of the course!

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s