Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Criss + Cross: Swiss Design returns to India

Design for India

Image: Criss + Cross: Swiss Design on show at the NID Design Gallery in Ahmedabad. The exhibit opened on Tuesday, 5 August 2008 and stayed on show for public from 6 - 14, August 2008

The Criss + Cross exhibit is traveling in India after having journeyed through a number of other countries since it was first put together in 2003. Criss + Cross has been curated by Ariana Pradal, Köbi Gantenbein & Roland Eberle. The exhibitions in India are part of the jubilee celebrations commemorating 60 years of Indo-Swiss friendship and put together by Pro Helvetia worldwide, the Swiss Arts Council, dedicated to promoting cultural works of nationwide and international interest. Three hundred of the finest Swiss designs assembled by the curatorial team are on display in six “Magic Boxes” under seven themes as follows:
1. small + beautiful: meticulous Swiss precision and things that just work
2. the tiny helpers: ubiquitous products for everyday use but with a difference, the Swiss way.
3. up to the mountains: natural wisdom from the Swiss terrain and the mountains,
4. the longsellers: all time classics
5. hip + young: youthful expression and products for the young at heart.
6. a visual statement: a slide show that presents about 300 recent works of graphic designers from various fields.
7. library: beautifully designed and printed books
The exhibition opens in Bangalore in partnership with the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology & Goethe-Institut Bangalore. 
The venue: the Goethe-Institut Bangalore, Max Mueller Bhavan
: opening on Friday, 5 September 2008 at 6:30 pm 
Exhibition will be on view from 6 - 20 September 2008, each day from
10:30 am - 6:30 pm (Mon - Sat)
and 10:30 am - 5:00 pm (Sun). Those designers and design students who missed the exhibit at NID, Ahmedabad are strongly advised to catch the earliest flight to Bangalore and make it for the show. If you are already in Bangalore you have no further excuse to miss this very special Swiss treat, all packed in six crates.

Image: Criss + Cross: Swiss Design exhibition was packaged in six cases and organized in seven sections, each in wooden crates with integrated lighting and the seventh, a slide show projection system, The exhibit on the right is the “Library” of fabulous Swiss Graphic design books and on the left is the exhibit called “Small & beautiful” with several of the finest examples of Swiss fine craftsmanship from medical devices, watches to computer accessories.

My personal favorite here in this section is the Kern Compass Set, which reminded me of the much bigger and elaborate professional set that was given to me for personal use when I first joined NID as a young design student in April 1969 and this did help whip up my passion for fine geometry diagrams by using some of the finest drawing instrument in the world! NID knew quality in those days and respected it to ensure that every student used the best of class in the world of drawing devices in their classes and that for me is represented by the Kern drawing instruments that was standard supply for all students joining NID in those days. Circles drawn with the Kern set did not leave gaping holes in the drawing sheets since the compass point is of hardened metal and the tip is adjustable to remain perpendicular and most of all the joints just worked and did not shake or slip due to the fine precision that came from the Swiss workmanship and their understanding of quality and design at the functional as well as the aesthetic level. There were no compromises in their product.

The other remarkable exhibits in this section are the Swiss Passport which can make every citizen proud to hold one that is so distinctive and secure while the other is a commemorative edition of the Swatch which is one of four special designs offered for the 700 th anniversary of Switzerland in 1991. Each exhibit has a story to tell and the Criss + Cross catalogue is a useful resource that can add value to the exhibit, I have one in hand, special thanks are due to the Swiss Embassy in Mumbai which kindly spared a copy for me to review.

Image: Dimple Soni, an NIID faculty and coordinator of Exhibition Design studying the exhibit detailing at the “Little Helpers” container. A finely detailed box, hinged and mounted on roller castors can be opened and mounted in a jiffy, with all the signage, lighting and exhibits in place, all in one simple case, unpretentious and elegant, just great design detailing and treatment. At the top are a row of peepholes that invite the viewer to participate, each shows one colour slide of an object and the solution is a simple 35mm slide picture viewer mounted behind the peephole that uses the glow of the lights in the box to show the slide in sharp view, a simple plastic viewer that gives us great pleasure, that many electronic gadgets would not be able to.

The objects in this section are consumer and domestic products from everyday life, each designed to get the job done with minimum fuss and the objects all but become invisible to the user since they just work and the title “Little Helpers” is an appropriate label for this category of ubiquitous products of our day, all well designed. My personal favorite here is the Omega drawing pins with three legs instead of one central pin, each made by punching thin sheet metal into an embossed and therefore sturdy pin, comfortable for the thumb that could hold drawing sheets to the wooden drawing boards that we all used as students at NID in the heady days of the late 60’s of design learning under the Swiss influence that came through our Graphic Design department. In those days all our graphic design teachers had traveled to the Mecca of Graphic Design in Switzerland, the Basel School, to be tutored by none other than Armin Hofmann and his colleagues to come back and introduce the International Style in India with over 500 or more corporate logos, all designed by the Institute under this strong and durable Swiss influence over the early years of NID and its practice of design in India which I have mentioned in an earlier post on the subject..

Image: Detail of two of the six cases that make up the Swiss Design exhibit. On the left is the “Up to the mountains” crate showing designs produced by the traditional wisdom of a mountain dwelling people rooted in the reality of the land. On the right is the “hip + young” crate with designs for the youthful and playful generation.

Each nation around the world can boast of indigenous design solutions in their food, homes, objects as well as votive occasions and festivals, all designed through local action over the years by ordinary human actions. We too will need to look at what India has to offer as an enormous resource with our huge regional variations and long history of settled civilization. Design at this level is a product of culture and it goes to a very deep level in each refined manifestation, which may take many centuries to mature. The Swiss have learned their lessons from their mountains and these exhibits represent this deep respect for the mountain, particularly one as imposing as the Great Matterhorn, a challenge for climbers of all ages. My favorite in this section is the Avalanche dog, the Grand Saint-Bernard, a Swiss contribution to the world of specially bred and designed nature shown as a small ceramic model since the real one could not be shown. Design with nature is just as Claude Levi Straus tells us that the Mayan civilization created many of our vegetables, which were all “designed” by their careful breeding and imaginative nurture of nature in the past. In the youthful category my favorite is the Classic Micro Skate Scooter now used by adults and children alike to get around town but for me it brought back memories of my own childhood scooter from my fathers factory in Guindy, Madras when I had my very own scooter to zip around the toy factory and the vast grounds that led up to the Mount Road entrance. I will save this from another post that will link up to the Rockytoys story from my childhood days.

Image: “The Longsellers” or Swiss all time classics with many exciting and famous offerings as seen from the pages of the Criss + Cross catalogue.

Seen here are the famous Vitra design miniature pieces, each a precise scaled down model of a design classic produced by this remarkable design led company which also makes the original items in true and faithful detail, as specified by their designers. Max Bill’s Ulmer Stull is seen hanging at the top of the box and below it is the classic Univers font that was designed by Adrian Frutiiger another one of the NID’s great visiting teachers in the roaring 60’s. He was also responsible for the design of the famous NID symbol that is now standing at the main entrance gate as a cast in concrete negative form, which is back-lit at night to be seen from the road. Further on the shelf, is the triangular Swiss delicacy called Toblerone, my favorite chocolate, which is visible from both sides through the cut-out section in the display box. Clockwise, the thumbnail images below show – the section separator in the book, the Univers font by Adrian Frutiger in 1954, the famous Victorinox – Swiss Army Knife revised as ALOX in 1980, The Landi Stuhl by Hans Coray designed in 1938, the Le Corbusier LC1 Armchair from 1928, the Station Clock by Hans Hilfiker in 1955, the Garden Chair by Willy Guhl in 1954, Ulmer Stool by Max Bill in 1954, and Verner Panton chairs by Vitra from 1958 and 1960.

For me personally many these items of furniture along with the ones that we saw frequently featured in Danish and Italian magazines in the NID library formed the impassioned introduction to design as a young student at NID in the late 60’s and early 70’s when these very designers inspired me with their work and their imagination as well as deep understanding of material and form that is represented by their classic design offerings which we now see in the Swiss design exhibit now in India for the first time. The Ulmer Stuhl is for me a very special exhibit since this was one of the remarkable products that was available as a reproduction at NID along with the box-wood filing cabinet that was used by Prof Kumar Vyas and Prof Sudha Nadkarni, both having returned from Ulm exposure in the early 60’s. I was given the filing cabinet to redesign in metal wire as my very first design assignment at NID by Rolf Misol, my German furniture design faculty when I joined NID in April 1969, but that is a story for another day.

Design for India


  1. Congratulations for your blog.

    First i want to apologize because i´m spanish and i speak english very bad.

    Your analysis is very great. You have made a good job.

    I study sociology and your blog is very interesting for me.

    See you!

  2. I saw the exhibition in Bangalore. Absolutely loved the concept of carrying and displaying an entire exhibition in boxes! Brilliant! Loved a lot of things, especially the butter box, walking stool, navel pendant.... and also the "photographs through lens at the top of the boxes." The book explaining the products was also very helpful.
    But I guess the high point was seeing comments from people back in NID.. felt connected :)

  3. Dear Hector and Cool Spice

    Thank you for your comments. I will get to see the exhibition again at Bangalore since I am teaching at NID Bangalore from 15 September 2008 for two weeks and I intend to take my students to see the exhibit.


    M P Ranjan
    from my office at NID
    8 September 2008 at 11.30 am IST


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