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!