Wednesday, June 4, 2014

From scissor woman to the lady of the lights

On the second or third day at what was then my new work place, someone stole my scissors. I was distraught. They were hot pink, my scissors. Hot pink, Friskars, and they cost me 19 dollars at a Michael's in Houston, Texas. I'd had my name clearly written on them too. Minati. Which is an archaic, Sanskritic name that only women over the age of 80 seem to have anymore. I searched high and low, and even the sweet receptionist came with me to every floor and department to ask about the said missing scissors. I even told the HR guy to just pass around the message that I don't care who stole it, or why they stole it- that I'd just really appreciate if they would just put my scissors back on my desk.

Yes, I was making a mountain out of a pair of scissors (though, to be fair to myself, 19 American dollars is a good amount in Indian rupees, and they were the most comfortable pair of scissors I ever beheld), but the point was, I liked my place of work. I liked my new bosses and I liked my new colleagues and co-workers. I just wanted to think the best of my new work place. And that's why I wanted my pair of scissors to be returned- so that I could keep thinking the best of people.

My scissors were never returned, though they were replaced by a much cheaper pair which were not hot pink or too comfortable to hold. But they did the job well enough to produce all the work below. I was, also, now known as the scissor lady. I don't think anyone wants to be known as the scissor lady.

Anyway, though I am still a wee bit bitter about my scissors, I managed to get by, managed to not dislike my work place- I even enjoyed the work. One of the projects that I have been focusing on is lighting. I had previously done some work, mostly for myself, in this area. There's something comforting about about lighting- be it a candle when the electricity has been out in a third world country and you don't own a generator, or strings of fairy lights around a tree, or the harsh glow of florescent bulbs softened by sanded glass shades. The world is made up of what we see, and we make up what we don't see, or we partially see with the shadows of the light.

I am, however, getting ahead of myself here.

I started working on lampshades a few years ago, employing techniques one once learned in primary school- balloons, flour and newspapers and tissues.

Photo borrowed from Lucia and Fadi's Journal at:

Then, on a work trip to Nampula, we sourced a variety of vine used locally for furniture, and I was in love- with the material.

Wonderfully flexible and lightweight, I played around with concepts until I found its best friends - superglue and fusing fabric. Clothespins helped a great deal too.

I made very few of these. Production usually stops being fun after the second or third piece, especially with the tedious process of individually marking and cutting out each section of petals. That's the thing with using natural materials-everything in nature, as with our own selves, has it own way of working, moving. Each petal, therefore, was different, no matter what steps I took to maintain consistency.

The result was incredibly lightweight and ethereal, and also very fragile. Superglue can only do so much.

I tried employing similar techniques to the recent project. Context is, of course everything. The vine was from  some small village in Nampula, Mozambique, and each lampshade took the attention of hours of my own labour, in the quiet comfort of my own living room. And thus I listened to the entire series of George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones,  Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and Stardust, and Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. I made about 7 of the lampshades, and that was it.

None of this, would, of course translate well in my current context: India, Factory, Mass production. I would have to use different materials, techniques. Still, a challenge is a challenge, and I was up for it. I tried maintaining the same shape, but when you base something on the basic structure of a material than came specifically from a certain part of a foreign country across the Indian ocean, it just doesn't work.

The new product is about the product. The context is production. The methodology requires a need for easy replication and repetition, and an understanding that it is, all in all, just a product. I had some fun with the prototyping, though. That is when the work is truly mine.

The hours of calculations, the cutting, the figuring out of which process comes before or after what. I did, a couple of times, bring the work home. Spent hours sewing in contemplative silence. It was a different time, different place, different context. The work would no longer be mine - other people would eventually do the marking, cutting, sewing.

One of the things that I'm realising is that it is hard to let go. It is hard to watch other people make mistakes on a product that you worked so many hours on. You simplify the process, you recreate, you redesign-  so that other people can make them with fewer mistakes than you yourself did. It is hard to let go when the processes keep changing in your head, because you want it to keep evolving until it has reached its perfect stage.

I guess this has become some sort of a metaphor on letting things go. On letting unfinished dreams go. On letting unfinished ideas go. Let one dream go so that another can form, and maybe that will have a better chance of becoming reality. Let an idea go because that is what is letting process and progress stagnate.

So I've let my scissors go. I hope whoever is using it is enjoying its hot pinkness and its smooth cut. My name is permanently Sharpie marked on it though, so that the person who took it will always know that it once belonged to someone named Minati.

I still like the people I've worked with, and, recently a colleague informed me that I'm now referred as the lady who makes the lights. That title itself is worth losing a pair of scissors for.

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