A new, patinated material typology and the reinvigoration of traditional weaving by Neha Lad
By Purva Chawla
Do you ever get the feeling that something occupies two territories at once? That not one, but two definitions capture its meaning? That two distinct ideas meet, and find harmony in one body of art or design?
It is that thought that follows you, as you view and begin to understand the work of Neha Lad. Through creations that lie between art and design, Lad has generated a new material typology, whose innovative structure and aged appearance stretch from the past and into our future. All this, while nourishing and propagating traditional skills and craft.
On the one hand, Lad embraces copper and paper waste streams, transforming them into textiles of immense beauty. These fabrics, woven from discarded copper wire and recycled paper yarn exhibit today’s sustainable and circular design ideologies. On the other hand, the beautifully rusted, crackly surfaces and textures of these textiles trigger a new appreciation for what has aged–thereby extending the lifetime and value of these works. This regeneration, extension of value, and appreciation of aging products seem to hark to the principles of the Circular Economy–Among the many reasons that MaterialDriven was drawn to Lad’s work.
Lad’s work is the summation of diverse interests, investigations, geographies and timelines–a union that reflects in her elegant and many-dimensioned work. Each of these components plays a role in her work: From the visual inspiration for her patinated textiles, found while walking the narrow streets of Ahmedabad's Old City (in Gujarat, India)–rusted shutters and metal scraps for sale; To her awareness of electrical and paper waste streams and their potential, while studying in London. And finally, working closely with traditional weavers in India throughout her professional and academic journey, not only to co-create products and materials with them but also to educate them in contemporary design practices and facilitate their evolution, has played a crucial role in shaping Neha Lad's work.
Lad’s journey has taken her from studying textile design at the prestigious National Institute of Design (NID) in India to delving further into woven textiles at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London to now practicing as a Color and Material Designer at PSA Peugeot Citroën in Paris.
Having showcased multiple iterations and formats of her patinated, woven copper and paper textiles at prominent design exhibitions and forums in Europe, the textile and material designer is currently creating commissioned work for architectural projects, while she further investigates her material medium and the development of new product formats from it.
In a recent conversation with Neha Lad, we talk about the roots of her practice, her material investigations, her collaborations with and mentorship of weavers in India, and what lies ahead for her. Here is a summary of that conversation:
On gravitating toward textile design
MD: Neha, you studied Textile design in Ahmedabad, and later woven textiles London; And in the interim years, you worked closely with weavers across India. Tell us about these formative years.
Neha: I think at the very onset, I was drawn to study Textile design (at NID) because of the interest I had in the handloom and handcrafted sector in India. I was always intrigued by the prospect of employing traditional skills to create contemporary objects.
During my years studying at NID, and then practicing independently, I had the opportunity to work with an organization called WomenWeave, in India, which has supported and developed the role of women in handloom weaving since 2002. WomenWeave organizes workshops for young weavers–helping them keep traditional skills alive, and equipping them with the know-how for making handloom a profitable, sustainable and dignified income-earning activity.
Through this involvement, I was able to travel to several remote and rural parts of the country and work in close collaboration with weavers there. After working for four years in this realm, I decided that there were artistic aspirations that I wanted to pursue further and that I wanted to explore materials without preconceived functionality in mind. This led me to my studies at the Royal College of Art.
On sculpted textiles, made from copper and paper waste
MD: When did you begin working with copper wire and paper as your material medium, and begin your investigation into patination?
Neha: It was during my second year at the RCA, that the copper textiles project started for me. It was the collusion of many different factors for me. The first being the realization that I had always been fascinated with waste, as well as aging or patination. I had spent countless hours while I was in Ahmedabad, walking the old city, taking many, many photographs of aged metal, motor parts being sold as scrap, rusted electronic waste–finding beauty in all of it.
At the same time, I was acutely aware of waste collected around me, even in the UK itself–some of which is shipped to other locations, to be sorted by hand. While I could not gain access to a junkyard at the time in London, during my visits back to India, I was able to get my hands on a large quantity of discarded electrical wire–a commonly aggregated urban waste. I stripped off the outer coating, exposing the copper wire underneath, and began to weave the copper wire, and explore the material’s potential.
The copper wire woven by itself created a rather brittle material, and that is when I began including paper into the weave. I learned of a group of makers in London who were turning paper waste into yarn. Using these two elements–the copper wire and now paper yarn, I began to create a few samples at the RCA, and also map out the ways in which this new, woven material could be finished.
On Patination and scaling up
MD: How did you give these textiles the Patina that many of them possess?
Neha: At this time, I had created a series of samples at the RCA, At the same time, I was creating large scale iterations with the help of weavers in India who I had worked with in the past, whom I was now coordinating with remotely. With the samples in hand, I worked at the School of Jewelry at the RCA to test the creation of a patina or oxidized surface and texture on this woven material.
I experimented with several techniques, including electroplating, and learned that not every process that works on regular sheet metal could work on the copper wire format. In my case, the material was even more complex–being half metal and half paper. Electroplating proved to be challenging, but the ability to create a beautifully aged surface for these textiles–with varied textures and hues–was exhilarating. Going forward, I am keen to revisit and further investigate some of these techniques for patination.
Exhibitions, commissions, and collaborations with hand-weavers
MD: These beautiful textiles and materials have appeared in multiple exhibitions since then, and have been commissioned by prestigious architectural projects and individuals. Tell us more.
Neha: I am fortunate that I was able to exhibit these works at 'Future Heritage' for Decorex International, and SustainRCA for the London Design Festival, among others. Decorex, in particular, was very exciting for me as a fresh graduate and young designer, as it is one of the largest trade shows and gatherings of luxury interior design. Being a part of this show has also been an impetus for me since then– towards developing a product, and not only a material.
Regarding commissioned work, It has been a pleasure creating pieces for Lady Helen Hamlyn (of The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design) and architect Peter Salter, as well for residential projects in the UK.
Parallel to this, I have continued my association with weavers in India. Through the WomenWeave's The Handloom School project, I have played the role of consultant, helping a group of young weavers create a collection of fabrics that was recently used and showcased by fashion designers at India’s Amazon Fashion Week. My role was to prepare these weavers to create both with, and for contemporary designers while keeping their traditional skills alive. Funded by Indian design house Good Earth, the project also enabled me to educate the weavers on design basics such as color theory and more.
CMF design and what is next
MD: You are currently practicing in the CMF (Color, Materials, Finish) realm, in Paris. What is next for your work?
Neha: The beautiful thing about the CMF industry is the diverse backgrounds that designers come to this industry from. Conversely, practicing in this realm exposes one to unseen and unexpected combinations of design and effects. This has been the case for me: the industry, as well living in Paris– with its exceptional sensibility and aesthetics–inspires my work on a daily basis, and even its detailing.
Going forward, I am keen to explore patination further–particularly how to arrest the aging of surfaces at a certain point. I am also working on more commissioned collaborations with architectural projects where the textiles and materials created by me will be employed.
I see my work, on the one hand, performing as sculpture or an installation in public spaces, or even institutional architecture; and on the other hand, being used for products aimed at residential use. It is this development of a product that I am exploring now.
MD: Thank you so much Neha! We look forward to seeing your beautiful work evolve and grow!
Readers, do continue to learn about Neha's work here.