The Earth Series Installation at India Design 2017
Nothing makes us happier at Vertiver than a big brand visibly celebrating nature.
So it was exciting when we ran into this installation by Asian Paints titled EarthSeries today at India DesignID. The installation features the “treeoflife” stating:”Tree of Life is an expression of hope and harmony. It is also a gentle reminder of the
vulnerability of our earth, while exploring how we are all interrelated.”
A paint brand gently reminding us of a vulnerable earth as part of its marketing.
the needle is surely moving! a bit.
The installation text further states: “The Earth Series seeks the living. an
abstraction of natural and a reflection of the times, each expression is a celebration
of life in its strength and vulnerability.”
Close up of installation text
hmmm an Abstraction?
That’s a bit tricky..Reducing a tree to a mere idea, not a reality… Abstracting
nature’s forms is a timeless tradition of course . But as Asian Paints
itself acknowledges, we live in a time of “”earth vulnerability”, a time of deep
crisis, as our own work on climate change at Vertiver has taught us.
When we abstract an idea like a tree, a life-force that is essential to sustaining
humans, wildlife and providing essential ecological services, into a mere aspirationa
motif of luxury and high-design in Circa 2017, do we not become accomplices to the
branding trick that keeps people always consuming, never truly creating?
If designers and brands enshrine an abstract “notion'” of nature through symbols that
purport to “celebrate” nature, but do not at the same time offer solutions to restore nature,
with whom should the responsibility of inspiring people to take real action
towards conserving nature, lie?
Indigenous societies all around the world have a version of the Tree of Life, one of the most
universal visual concepts. The work below by the amazing Gond artist, Durga Bai
in Bhopal,celebrates a very similar motif to that used by Asian Paints.
From Shristi, a portfolio of works by DurgaBai
As a Gond Artist whose family for generations has lived inclose proximity to
forests, Durga Bai’s Tree of Life offers a direct expression of her own relationship
to forests, one in which she is nurtured by forest ecosystems and whom she nurtures
back through a lifestyle that does not extract unsustainably from those ecosystems…
When a ‘designer” versions of that same Tree of Life is offered- the uneven hand strokes
replaced with smooth vector lines, the form a bit more ‘abstractized’, the colors a bit
more ‘understated’, it is worth asking why someone should ever embrace such design
to embellish the urban life, a life far removed from forest ecosystems or the traditions
from which these rich motifs evolved. Yes it may appeal to some primal nostalgia for
a life that maybe we want to live or have ancestral memory of having lived, but
doesn’t embracing it on the side of our urban houses become a final nail in the coffin of
the complete disconnectedness of our lives from forest ecosystems?
When a big brand introduces the Tree of Life in terms that
acknowledge Earth’s vulnerability while ïnspiring” people into
commissioning a #treeoflife as urban wall art without a call to
action to preserve the actual ecosystems where such “treesoflife”
thrive, do they not contribute to the general dystopian disconnect
that current exists all across the world of design and art between
actual nature and abstraction of nature”?
Urban folk love the post-modern aesthetic of nature manifested
in products, design and art, a pastel tree art for the children’s room,
a tree-like lamp by the bedside, a nicely polished tree log as coffee
table, a tree wall paper etc. etc. The idea of “connecting with nature”
through design is compelling. It speaks to our primal connection with
nature that we have so quickly lost, albeit for those few trips here and
there for R&R.
Designing with symbols of nature while alluding to “protecting” nature
is a slippery slope. Much of such design, lives and dies within an echo
chamber of self-laudatory efforts that per designers and brands own claims
“celebrate” nature’, because it fails burst through our canvases, furniture
or books to connect with the very real vulnerability faced by nature’s ecosystems.
“Celebrating nature” without truly “protecting nature” is a paradox the
design community must rally together to solve!
What our earth needs more of is real trees with deep roots and huge
branches that sustain the multitudes of birds, insects that make our
ecosystems truly beautiful and sustainable. We need to repair the broken
link between real nature and its abstract expression.
Imagine if as designers we were to insist on the use of nature motifs
for our clients with actual action towards conserving nature. Imagine that each time
someone painted the #treeoflife on their house as wall art, some real
trees of life were planted for real…
Now THAT would make truly great DESIGN 🙂
If your organization is looking to truly connect your brand promise with real conservation action call us!
Let’s be #trimtabs together!