He's got designs on India

Jul 02, 2012, 07:32 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Italian artist and designer Andrea Anastasio is back in the country. This time around, he is working on a series of books on kolams, or Indian floor designs, as well as one with Gond tribal artist Bhajju Shyam. Last Saturday, he delivered a talk at Book Building, in Chennai, where he discussed the possibilities and future of the 'physical' book. Excerpts from an email interview with Fiona Fernandez

Over the decades, you’ve dabbled with several media; which have you found to be the most challenging?
I consciously select the type of media — it emerges organically from my research, as something of a natural choice. So, in that way, each type of media is not a challenge, but a reflection of the project that it projects.

You have said in an interview that you feel “fully Italian and fully Indian”. What is it that makes you want to return to India? Has the experience been different each time?
That’s interesting — I think when I said that in the interview, I was referring not so much to a national identity, but to a complete interaction with the complexity of the culture. When I say that I feel both Indian and Italian at the same time, I think that this reflects the fact that I have been commuting between the two countries for three quarters of my life! This stays the same despite obvious changes in India, Europe, and indeed the rest of the world.

Anastasio tries to incorporate everyday objects and people into his art, as he believes that it encourages viewers to engage with the works in a more personal way

In an age where the physical book is becoming redundant, what are you hoping to achieve through your Chennai sessions?
First of all, I think that I have to say that I don’t think that the physical book is becoming redundant. I don’t believe that freedom from material objects means necessarily discarding the matter — which is of course, the physical book. The digital book is certainly a new innovation with its own momentum, but at the same time there are still a huge number of forms that the physical book can take. In spite of its centuries-old history, it has enormous potential to be adapted. Innovation is something that is wired into the human brain and, interestingly, it is often most striking and beautiful when it emerges from a narrow or precise context. The book offers us such a context.

In the course of your research, what have you found to be some of the most revolutionary strides made in bookmaking?
I see bookmaking as a work in progress that has been going on for centuries — a continuous narrative, which is hard to pin down. However, the development of the non-linear or non-logical narrative stream of thought at the beginning of the 20th century seem particularly important to me.

Can the physical book and the e-book co-exist in an ideal world?
Of course. I believe that they can nurture and offer inspiration to each other.

What or who have been your inspirations across different media? Were you influenced by anyone in particular as a youngster, especially while you were forming impressions about the world of books?
It’s hard to pinpoint a particular person, but I would say that interdisciplinary approaches have been very important for me. In this way, you don’t have to study bookmaking to make books — what’s important is to interweave knowledge. The contemporary arts have also been very inspiring.

Fingerprint by Andrea Anastasio is a visual fable celebrating resistance to state surveillance and control. It was published in India by Tara Boks, in 2009.

Where does India fit in the scheme of books and readers?
India has an enormously rich narrative culture, which takes several different forms. For example, storytellers in Bengal produce scrolls, and the oral tradition is so strongly linked to the book, because remembering is in a sense creating. The context of remembering is so central to Indian philosophy, which makes India a cultural context perfectly suited to contribute to contemporary bookmaking.

Any project/s that has you excited at the moment?
At the moment, I’m working on several projects with Tara Books about Indian floor patterns, or kolams as they are known in Tamil Nadu. I won’t give away too much, but one of the books aims to give a sense of the actual process of creating a kolam — because the kolam is not something static, but a process involving communication between the creator and the space she works in.  Other books in the series experiment with differently sized pages, and a non-linear narrative, bringing the reader into the dialogue of the book. These will be released in 2013.

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