Danish artist Olafur Eliasson has created a ‘sun lamp’, which not only looks great on your mantelpiece but is also an eco-friendly lighting option for your room. Titled Little Sun, it was on display at the Tate Museum in London till last month. Eliasson is now in talks to retail the solar-powered lamp in India, where he hopes it will bring light to off-grid areas where kerosene lamps are widely used.
I am fascinated by the concept of functional art. There is a noble beauty in works that are not just meaningful to gaze at but also practical to use. Ancient architects understood this concept well when they made cathedrals and temples covered with eloquent, timeless sculptures. The modern world is still peppered with such delights: Public stairways with a splash of postmodernist drama in Berlin; redundant but well-loved telephone booths turned into free libraries in London; bare, peeling walls of old buildings turned into canvases for brilliant murals in the US; a passenger train with ceilings inspired by a palace in Paris.
Creative design is a field full of possibilities – almost everything we use at work, home or for leisure can be value added with a thought here, a quirk there. American furniture designer Ashley Jameson Eriksmoen makes tables that look like bananas, couches that crouch like animals, benches that appear to cling to a dresser, each with its own artist’s statement so that you don’t know whether to use it or display it! Steven and Marina Rosenthal’s artists’ cooperative in Mexico creates recycled art on just about anything – including a set of cinema seats converted to living-room chairs with the artists’ faces painted on the back.
Public art is even more inspiring. An installation called 21 Swings at Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles invites people to make music while swinging together – each swing generates its own musical notes. This year, a 13th-century Dominican church in Maastricht, the Netherlands, was converted into an astounding contemporary bookstore, complete with a coffee counter. The Stockholm subway system, with 47 underground stations, offers mind-blowing wall and ceiling décor at each one – you can never tire of it no matter how many times you pass through.
The best thing about functional art is that it is within everyone’s reach and even the most mundane items of daily living can be converted into conversation starters. Think USB drives from Swarovski; iPad covers from Ayesha Accessories painted with scenes from old B-grade movie posters; mugs in naughty shapes from Happily Unmarried; boxer shorts with an Indian sense of humour from Chumbak; jump-ropes with bee faces from Pylones. I recently picked up an adorable mouse pad designed like a Persian rug from Doha airport, complete with side tassels (though I drew the line at a mouse with women’s breasts for left and right click).
Art is one of the most sublime gifts that we have as humans; it need not be limited to an intellectual, esoteric minority. Like happiness which becomes doubled when shared, functional art is delight multiplied. Here’s to the creators of joy in our lives.