New Delhi: The down-to-earth stainless steel has travelled a long way into its 100th year as an industrial metal for manufacturing everything from kitchenware to surgical equipment to aircraft and also serving as a medium for sculpture and niche designs.
Stainless steel - an alloy of iron, chromium and zinc - was born as a medium of contemporary sculpture in India in the 1990s when artists Subodh Gupta and Anish Kapoor used it to create futuristic installations.
Gupta assembled customised stainless steel utensils into sculpted forms like ‘Spill’ (spilling water), "Incubate (floor arrangements)" and ‘Very Hungry God (skull)’ to comment on social realities. Kapoor, on his part, fashioned giant stainless steel public installations like ‘Cloud Gate’ and ‘Sky Mirror’ - giving the household metal a spiritual edge.
"I knew Subodh Gupta for a long time. Subodh knew we were making stainless steel for `bartans` (utensils) which weren`t readily available. He asked me whether my plant (Jindal Steel) could get it done for him," Deepika Jindal, managing director of JSL Lifestyle Ltd, told reporters.
Her stainless steel lifestyle art firms, "Arttd`inox" and "U", and her unique art house, the Stainless Gallery in the capital, are trying to push the metal into the core art segment with a designer range sculpted in combination with wood, stone and glass.
"I have been trying to open up the medium because of the perception that stainless steel lacks aesthetics. It was known as a poor man`s back-end material used as cheap kitchen utensils. But over the decades, stainless steel has become a strong medium in terms of art - well accepted and well-respected. Designs in stainless steel have to kept simplistic which challenges artists," Jindal said.
Stainless steel is in its 100th year worldwide. History says that on October 17, 1912, German engineers Benno Strauss and Eduard Maurer patented a variety of austenite stainless steel - baptising it ThyssenKrupp Nirosta - after years of experiments with corrosion resistent iron-chromium alloys by various engineering firms.
It was initially used in Sheffield cutlery and as surgical equipment in hospitals because of its anti-bacterial composition.
"But no one knows what actually prompted the improvisation," Jindal said.
"Arttd`inox" unveiled March 3 a "(p)Roto-type" exhibition of steel sculpture and home art designs at the Stainless Gallery to pay a tribute to the metal in its 100th year.
The showcase is also a collateral event of the ongoing India Design Forum by the Coimbatore Centre for Contemporary Arts in the capital March 2-10 which is addressing the importance of new materials in contemporary designs.
"(p)Roto-type", features innovative steel and mixed media designs by six talented designers: Shristhi Bajaj of Designbait, Siddhartha Chatterjee of Seechange, Bikram Mittra of Trampoline, Prateek Jain and Gautam Seth of Klove and independent designer Mann Singh.
The exhibits show the flexibility of stainless steel as a medium of niche art that can fit into daily life with products like abstract lampshades, decorative art, designer dinner sets, containers and chapati-making contraptions that look like contemporary sculptures.
Curated by architect-artist Vishal K. Dhar, the exhibition plays upon the word prototype, which means "an early model built to test a concept or process".
"Stainless steel has qualities beyond utilitarian material. It has durability and can be painted, coated and moulded. It is an exciting and a challenging medium to handle because it is an engineered material unlike bronze," Dhar told reporters.
The steel was mutant in nature originating from a progressive space in modern art, Dhar said.
The "(p)roto-type is a three-year project which will engage with middle class and upper middle classes in an academic exercise to raise awareness about the aesthetic value of metals and create new networks", Dhar said. The artist has worked with steel in 2008.
"The Stainless Gallery is the only art house in the capital which promotes steel art. In 2007, we hosted `Saptarishis`, an exhibition of steel sculptures by leading artists and we followed it up in Dec 2008 with `Ashtakanya`, an all-women show of steel art," said Meetu Kapur of the Stainless Gallery.
Steel solid art lie around in pleasant disorder.
A steel seat, ‘Lotus’ crafted by Seema Kohli; ‘Dream Machine’, a mechanical bird by Pankaj Panwar; and ‘Display’, a steel outfit by Hyderabad-based Shanti Swarupini from earlier shows draw the visitor to the nooks of the spacious gallery where they stand witness to the journey of stainless steel.