Bonding over wood
Anish and Shailna of Studio Clutter take us into the world of wood mosaics and traditional joinery
CHENNAI: A fascination with wood as a medium of artistic practice that’s what brought Chennai-based Anish Cherian and Ahmedabad-based Shailna Wadhwa together. They began their own studio in Avadi, Chennai in 2018, initially making furniture, pet furniture and photography accessories. It was in the last couple of years that the two solidified their practice and gave it direction.
“In fact, it didn’t really get its name until two years ago,” remarks Anish. In its present avatar, Studio Clutter produces artwork in wood mosaic besides holding workshops in woodworking every second weekend of the month.
It was at CEPT Ahmedabad that they discovered they had an affinity for the material. “At CEPT, we were encouraged to try out different material, not just stick to the textbooks,” added Shailna.
Some leftover wood they found on the campus gave them something to work with, and with a few extra tools they bought, they set out working. The more they kept making, the more they kept learning, and the more they enjoyed doing what they did.
A pliable medium
Wood as a medium gives an artist a lot of range to work with, they believe, and it can be moulded into any style. While, as architects, they would just draw the plan and get the work done by a carpenter, they eventually felt a hands-on approach was more fulfilling. “There was a newfound joy that came to us every time we built something on our own, and it’s a very different feeling from just drawing a design and having it built by someone else,” Anish chips in. Watching a piece of lumber transform into an object through one’s own hands is exhilarating, he added.
What the couple did not want Studio Clutter to be was a manufacturing unit, churning out one piece after another, which was why they moved into making custom wood mosaics for clients.
Shailna explains the process, “In wood mosaic, pieces of wood chipped into small triangles are put together to create a work of art.” Through their Instagram page, they put up their initial work along with descriptions of the techniques used, and inquiries started coming in, mostly from clients requiring customised work for their walls.
“The client would often send us a picture of their space where they intend to hang the artwork along with other specifics regarding the style and so on, and we initially started out making customised art for our clients,” Shailna adds.
From there, the couple has moved on to a collection-based model, where they put up their own artworks on the website for customers, from which they could make their pick. “We’ve launched two collections in the past, and the response has been great,” Shailna says.
Is there a favourite type of wood the couple likes to work with? When it comes to furniture, the obvious choice is teak. “It’s the kind of wood that listens to the tools,” says Shailna.
For their wood mosaics, they resort to a wide variety of reclaimed woods, whose history of wear and tear often gives them a texture and character, and they choose the kind of wood they need depending on the aesthetic they’re after.
But Shailna and Anish are not content with merely being custodians of this craft. Anish explains, “In countries in the West, DIY woodworking culture is fairly well-entrenched. In India, it’s only slowly picking up, and so the idea of our weekend workshops is to get people to experience the joy and thrill of making an object out of wood with their own hands.”
Held every second weekend of the month, the workshops at first provide theoretical training on the nuances of each wood and where they can be procured from. Each participant, in the end, produces objects like stools, side tables, book racks, etc.
“The idea is to teach them how to put pieces of wood together without relying on external hardware like screws or nails. In effect, we’re going back to the traditional wood joinery techniques practised in countries like India and Japan,” Shailna adds.
Unlike other crafts like pottery, where materials are easily available online, the woodworking market is rather unorganised, and anyone who takes an interest in woodworking is at a loss as to where to start.
Says Shailna, “It was relatively easier for us because of our background in design and our previous rapport with carpenters, but even then, as a woman in a male-dominated profession, sometimes it’s not very easy.” The information available online is mostly from Western countries like the US, UK and Europe, and local conditions in India are very different from region to region, she adds.
But thanks to social media, they were eventually able to reach out to woodworking communities in other cities across India. But things are slowly changing, adds Anish, and DIY woodworking is a lot easier now than it was four years ago when they started. In the coming years, the couple hopes, there will be a wider acceptance of woodworking as a medium for art making.
Studio Clutter’s newest collection of wood mosaics, titled Idukki, is now up on their website studioclutter.com, which also contains information about upcoming weekend workshops.