Scenographer, designer and installation artist, Sumant Jayakrishnan talks to us about the power that love tends to hold within itself, the power of healing. The power of love often gets lost in the consumerist rhetoric that surrounds the notion of love in contemporary times. He also opens up about what defines him and his creative process. Excerpts as follow:
What inspired an installation like Heal The World? Are you inspired by the contemporary environment?
I wouldn’t say inspired by but I’m very affected by the world around me. Being in the creative space, it becomes very hard to distance yourself from what’s going on around you. I happened to be in London when Brexit was taking place, it was very hard and devastating for me to handle. You can’t separate, you understand that something monumental has shifted and you’re not quite sure what it is and where it is but you do understand it. When I was first asked to do a Valentine’s installation my initial reaction was ‘oh my goodness!’ because my perception regarding all this is plastic hearts and then I sat down with a friend and a few important points came up. At that moment I was working on a project which is actually on right now at the Stir Gallery called Moving Out to Go Within for which I worked with students from Ashoka University. Samar Singh from Red Balloon wanted me to mentor these students in design but I insisted on a program revolving around healing, since that is very close to my heart at the moment. I worked with a therapist for about five days, it was a very moving and real experience. The project was on self-awareness, positive mental health and how that leads to leadership.
When I think about love, the texture of one’s life is made up of so many different kinds of love, love for parents, romantic love, my love for animals, love for children, love between men, love between women. It’s very hard to say this is it, the happily ever after is a mere fairy tale fantasy which is also a very uni-dimensional idea in itself. I thought to myself that, this is an opportunity to reflect on love in the larger frame of the world. There isn’t one day to mark it and say this is it, we all talk about life being so difficult, there’s climate change, there’s dirty politics at play and the list goes on. It’s a matter of where in the sign wave of the world you choose to be. The world is actually always in perfect harmony, from the human perspective it may be terrible. If you move out to another planet and it’ll just be another planet in whatever mode it is. The universe is in harmony, the positive and negative, the yin and the yang however one chooses to see it. I had gone through a personal phase, in fact I have gone through it over the years and I’ve reached out to healers and therapists, I recovered some time ago from a phase of depression and anxiety. What kept me going through this was the love of friends and family who had great faith and a lot of people tend to do things for you and you find yourself unable to give it back to them. You tend to pass the gestures on. This was how the project started, at the bottom of it that’s the power of love, it heals. I’m grateful that the team at The Chanakya saw it as something that could represent Valentine’s day not in the cheesy, mainstream manner it’s usually looked at. Also places like the malls are now tired of the cheesy way in which festivals are celebrated, they’re now looking at more meaningful ways of looking at it.
Usually the rhetoric around Valentine’s day is very consumeristic and capitalistic in nature. How did you reconcile with that?
You celebrate all kinds of love that there are, it isn’t just about buying cards or dinners. I have people sending messages to me who aren’t romantic partners but just as a declaration of someone being special. The whole idea of it should be that my valentine operates on a much broader spectrum now. I think we now need to put this out there and people have to tackle it like that. Once I wrapped my head around what I wanted to express, I didn’t have to deal with it. The installation then emerged and the fact that I also had the support of the team at The Chanakya, as they let me go ahead with what I wanted so there was no further trauma.
You just mentioned healers. Are you fairly spiritual in nature?
Yes, in my approach to life. Many years ago my grandfather said something to me which resonated with me deeply. This was around the time when I was 10 or 11 years old. He told me to always remember that one sees the world through the limitations of your five senses. A range of sound, a range of vision and a range a of temperature, so your perception of the world is very limited and there is a lot that happens otherwise in the extra sensory perceptions that we can’t experience for ourselves. Through mechanics of course, we’ve learnt how to go till a certain degree. This has been a standing motive of how I’ve lived my life and I understand that very often in a creative project, I become like a channel where a lot more energy passes through me, that sifts through various emotions, whether it’s the space of a music festival or if it’s an art installation or a fashion show. Recently I worked on the set for Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla’s fashion show and it moved people. They came out feeling buoyant and inspired, it was beautiful and large in scale. There are different emotions that happen and that’s why I think I inherently believe in magic. One tends to create their own magic in different ways in this process of being spiritual. Different healers have talents and that’s how I see it. It’s not hocus-pocus. If I feel something in the pit of my stomach or if there’s a tear in my eye or I get goosebumps, I believe there’s a truth somewhere and that’s how I’d like to explain it.
When it comes to the discipline of design now there is a lot of intermingling of medium. The lines are blurring. Artificial intelligence in particular is growing rapidly. What are your thoughts about the same and would you use AI in your practice?
Absolutely, this is also because I’ve incorporated different mediums in everything and I work across mediums. That’s the joyous part for me, I connect. I have no ego about where I work, that this is art and this is not. When I started working in fashion about 20 years ago, my friends in the arts would say, don’t mention the F word. I just looked at it as an opportunity. I worked between fashion and film, one thing fed the other, likewise I work with a lot of technology. 3D mapping, 3D printing, there’s nothing that I haven’t worked with so I see AI fitting in very smoothly in my practice, but also the correct aspect of it fitting in, not just for the sake of using AI as a tool. In the end, it has to be about the emotion. Anything to make the truth work and that will include everything. Years ago, when I was a Fulbright scholar, I had visited the MIT media lab as part of my research and many things that were there are now a part of our lives. It should happen organically, if it comes in and works you will continue using it. It’s not something that has to be forced in because it’s fashionable.
How do you think your craft and creative process has evolved over the years?
I would say it’s become smoother, it’s become easier. The process of healing, the process of being authentic to myself, being true to who I am and not trying to be something or someone else. Yes, I also do certain projects that bring in the money but there’s also projects that I choose to do because I feel they’re very important to do. Keeping this balance is a hard one but what has also happened is that my intuition, my level for understanding what feels right, the skill of connecting the dots has become much quicker. When you’re younger you’re driven by peer pressure, insecurities and they also push you and become a part of what makes you achieve things. You feel this need to prove things maybe to yourself, to your parents, maybe to your peers and sometimes it’s the invisible eyes you’re judging yourself with. The moment you stop doing that and ask yourself what is actually me, now that you’ve done this for so many years you know what works and what doesn’t. So in this entire process my creative expression has become very fluid and it’s become very quick, there’s a lot more clarity.
What do you think defines you?
Kindness. My instinct is to be kind to things around me, I constantly struggle with that. In the past I’ve been not in an obvious manner but I have been self-destructive which comes from low self-esteem and the moment you start valuing your own self you’d like other people to have value for themselves as well. If I see something special in someone, I will tell them. It would make such a difference just to be a mirror. It’s important to tell someone, ‘Oh I think this is very precious about you don’t lose it, hold onto it.’ Enough people don’t do something like this. I think that’s an aspect but it only comes once you start being kind to yourself. Usually you’re just hard on yourself and I can be quite hard on myself because I just want to do things but as that has eased through my stresses and traumas and resolved issues. Your interconnectivity in the chain of the universe is precious because that’s the magic.
Finally what’s coming up next?
There’s a very interesting research project that I’m working on. It’s a mix of a lot of different things from AI to mechanics and others for a performative project. I can’t tell what it’s called yet since it’s still in the R&D phase, there’s a group of us working on it. It’s a longer term project. Coming up I also have a wedding, I just wrapped up the fashion show, there’s also a talk in the pipeline about trends for India Design.