Using paper to create functional art

Schenelle Dsouza
The world of art is constantly evolving with new mediums, forms and structures developing constantly. Functional art is a fairly new concept in the industry and a now growing practice.
Lucca Biennale, Italy - The Sights and Sounds of the Cosmos
Lucca Biennale, Italy – The Sights and Sounds of the Cosmos
Functional art occupies the tenacious space that exists between fine art and conventional art. While fine art is considered to have a more subjective purpose, functional art is objective; with a utilitarian purpose. A classic example of functional art could be everyday household pieces like furniture, home décor or lighting. Each of these can not only explore and exploit the bounds of beauty and aesthetics, but also serve a purpose other than beauty – practicality. 
Ankon Mitra
Ankon Mitra
LuxeBook spoke to contemporary artist Bandana Jain, Landscape Architect and Designer Ankon Mitra and Abhimanyu Singh, Co-Founder of Flhexible, to understand the technique of using different forms of paper to create functional art.  
What is functional art? 
The most basic definition of functional art is ‘art with a purpose’. While fine and contemporary art continue to prevail in the art industry, enthusiasts have come to enjoy art that is more purposeful. But how is functional art different anyway?
Bandana Jain Studio
Photo Courtesy: Bandana Jain Studio
Contemporary artist Bandana Jain believes it to be an added bonus to regular art. “Functional is not very different from other art forms, it simply serves as a bonus. In today’s day and age, we live in places that don’t offer enough space for art. And so, functional art offers a modern solution, to utilise the space you have efficiently while striking a balance.” 
Discovering natural symmetry 
Ankon Mitra however, believes it to be just another category created for convenience. He elucidates this with an example of a library, where categories are created inside a library to help readers find exactly what they are looking for, whether it is science fiction, literature or fantasy. Functional art, as he puts it is, “… a genre bending category; a label where the boundaries between art and design are blurred. The term however, is just for one’s convenience and understanding.”
 Shanghai Paper Art Biennale
Shanghai Paper Art Biennale
Ankon Mitra is known for his exemplary origami designs that are crafted with different forms of paper. From elaborate lighting pieces to décor sculptures, Mitra’s artistic skill with origami is well-known. His journey with origami, Mitra shares, was discovered while working as a landscape architect, a field he continues to specialise in.  
“Through my work as a landscape architect, I discovered the many folds in nature that go unnoticed. And so I wanted to highlight and elevate the beauty of nature and its folds through origami.”
Mosaic River in the Sky
Mosaic River in the Sky
While Mitra’s choice of material for his origami designs changes as per the requests by his clientele, he has on numerous occasions worked with different forms of paper.  
He also coined the term ‘Oritecture’, the art of shaping and moulding of things with the help of folding. “Using the idea of folds, I bring in the component of design and art; I wanted to bring the idea of folds into the realm of art design, and Oritecture perfectly describes that,” says Mitra.  
Cardboard furniture 
Contemporary artist Bandana Jain stands out for her work with corrugated cardboard. “Corrugated cardboard is such a beautiful material. It has always surprised me, there are so many things you can do with it, if used the right way.”
Bandana Jain
Bandana Jain
Jain discovered her love for corrugated cardboard during her first year of college. “We had an assignment where we were to create a 2D design with items found on our campus. When looking around, I came across a high-quality carton that was just lying around. It had flute-like waves on one side which left me impressed.”  
While Jain always aspired to be an artist, it was only after this incident that she decided to work with corrugated cardboard. After facing a few setbacks, Jain designed her first piece – a corrugated cardboard sofa set designed for her own home.  
“When people saw what I had created, they were in awe. Even more so when they found out it was cardboard. It was sturdy, just like a wooden piece of furniture,” says Jain.
Bandana Jain Studio
Photo Courtesy: Bandana Jain Studio
While Jain began her endeavour with corrugated cardboard designing furniture pieces, the artist now solely focuses on creating functional art pieces. Among her many memorable creations was a reception table created for architect Nina Puri. The table, she states, had a cloth like appearance which sparked curiosity among people. “It is so tactile. People often wonder if it is made of cloth because it has this fluid texture. And so they want to inspect it from a closer angle and even touch it to know what it is made of.” 
Co-founded by Ambhimanyu Singh and Shilpi Dua, Flhexible creates furniture that is made almost entirely out of paper. The pieces are assembled using pre-made paper honeycomb which is popularly used for packaging purposes. 
Abhimanyu Singh
Abhimanyu Singh
Co-founder, Abhimanyu Singh was exposed to the artistic paper honeycomb while completing his Masters from the National Institute of Design NID. “I always had a lot of appreciation for paper. But when I discovered paper honeycomb, I thought it had a lot of potential and I knew I had to use it,” says Singh.  
Paper honeycomb has a geometric mechanism; it is one of the strongest structures geometrically speaking. While it is mostly used in the packaging industry, its sturdy structure inspired Singh to use it to his benefit to make furniture.
Flhexible
Photo Courtesy: Flhexible
But Flhexible features more than just furniture. “Although most of our pieces are furniture, they serve as decorative pieces of art as well. They have a unique texture and pattern, plus they are colourful which make it so beautiful to look at.” 
Why paper  
The main premise of functional art according to our artists, is to create something purposeful. While artists work with different elements like wood, plastic and glass, paper is slowly becoming the popular choice of medium for functional art.  
But it is not just any piece of paper. Singh notes that when people hear about or see paper, they assume it all comes from trees, which means waste and damage of living trees. Shining light on their practice, Singh concludes, “At Flhexible, we only work with refashioned paper. Paper that is collected from waste is segregated and recycled before being delivered to us, where we convert it into paper honeycomb.”
Flhexible
Photo Courtesy: Flhexible
Ankon Mitra on the other hand, points out how users are experimenting with new, interesting forms of paper that are not only water-resistant but also destruction-free and 100 per cent recyclable. One example he uses is that of DuPont Tyvek – a spun bonded material made from high-density polyethylene fibres that has the characteristic of both paper and fabric.  
However, stone paper Mitra says “… is the most interesting one.” Made from calcium carbonate and bio-polyethylene resin, stone paper combines the unique characteristic of both stone and paper, where it possesses the strength of stone with the foldable nature of paper.
“Paper is such a dramatic material,” says Mitra. “It is no longer this fragile material that can be damaged easily but rather something sturdy and resilient that can last for years together.” 
Jain talks about the potential of paper. “Paper has a lot of potential. It holds weight and can be used in so many ways. It is so dramatic because it is so light weight, but it can still be used in many ways.”  
Long lasting  
At the end of the day paper is still paper. Is it prone to damage? Probably. So how does one take care of pieces that stand as decorative art? 
In her use of corrugated cardboard, Jain explains that even though it is a form of paper, each of her pieces hold the strength and sturdy structure of wood. “Stacking creates a compressed texture that helps give the art piece its sturdy structure. I then add a coating on top that helps harden it, making it super strong.”
Bandana Jain Studio
Photo Courtesy: Bandana Jain Studio
Flhexible on the other hand, uses a liquid resin to coat and protect its designs. “Paper has its scope and limitations. When it comes to paper furniture, people often worry about damage caused by spillage. Once designed, our furniture is coated with a layer of resin to prevent any liquid from reaching and damaging the paper.” 
A sustainable movement  
Functional art is one of the most sustainable practices in the art industry. As the awareness of environmental protection grows, artists strive to create a link between art, design, and sustainability. 
Photo Courtesy: Flhexible
Photo Courtesy: Flhexible
However, there remains a need to push young artists to discover art in its true, raw form. “We need to push thought processes toward sustainable materials,” says Mitra. “Materials which can be recycled easily without causing a toll on the environment.” 
Jain points out the immeasurable amount of waste and scrap discarded each day which can be put to better use. “People need to open their eyes to see beauty in waste. Every day there are several materials being discarded, which can be used to create something extraordinary. We just need to see and recognise that.” 
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