We believe in the importance of collaboration at Nirvana. Creative Production is a constant cycle that involves questioning and challenging in order to achieve the best possible results – so, naturally, we get excited when we sit down with someone whose passion shines through and truly inspires us.
Seetal Solanki, artist, designer and founder of materials consultancy Matter, is precisely one of those people. Since launching Matter less than a year ago at the 2015 London Design Festival, with a series of events centred around the five senses, Seetal has quickly established herself as an authority on all things physical. Using her keen aesthetic eye – a product of her experience as an art director and stylist – and deep understanding of the relationships that govern our interaction with materials, she has produced work for Hussein Chalayan and the Venice Biennale, and recently made her solo debut at Clerkenwell Design Week. The series of three workshops, focusing on the past, present and future of three materials (bamboo, marble and aluminium), provided a perfect illustration of the way Seetal thinks about the physical world – as something to be reinterpreted and repurposed according to our changing human needs.
We’re delighted that, now, Seetal will be bringing her forward-thinking vision to our Material Monday column. As a regular contributor, she’ll be introducing you (and us) to a world that reflects her unique position at the intersection of art, design, fashion, and much more. Below, and by way of a more formal introduction, you’ll find a Q&A with Seetal, as she explains the ethos that underpins Matter and the myriad challenges of opening people’s eyes to the possibilities of our material world.
How do you feel things have been going so far with Matter?
I’m definitely feeling really good about it. The people I’m meeting are so diverse. I’m meeting scientists, ethnographers, anthropologists, different artists, people that work in food, electronic companies, aviation companies. It’s incredible. I think launching at a platform like London Design Festival has really enabled me to get out there and have the potential to meet loads of people from different industries. Because design is kind of everything.
Matter has quite an ambitious, open-ended brief to it. Has that been exciting or challenging on a day-to-day level?
Both. I think keeping the momentum up and keeping up to date with what’s going on research-wise as well as having the balance of meetings and work and income is quite challenging, but also really exciting. It’s a time to develop new ideas and work with people that I wouldn’t necessarily have worked with before. It’s always going to be a bit of a balancing act, I think, until I can have a team around me.
Your work is heavily concerned with materials and understanding the processes that go into making things. How did you first get interested in this?
It’s a natural way of working when you’re working with materials. If you understand how something is made, you can then apply it to lots of different things. When you’re working with materials, you’re working across lots of different departments. You’re working with manufacturing, production, design, sampling … everything. You’re this little bridge in between all of these departments to get things moving. It’s quite a natural way to work, for me. I think it’s like that for most material designers.
How did you decide to jump from your art and design background into founding Matter?
I came to a point in my career where I was like, ‘What does this all mean, and why? And is there a link between everything I’ve been doing, because everything’s been quite diverse.’ I haven’t really taken one route. It was the material that was the main link between all that I’ve been doing. ‘What matters to me?’ was the question I was asking myself. That kind of formed Matter. It’s all about people – I love people – it’s all about materials, process, and having a place where materials can be understood and that people working with materials can be part of.
How did you come up with the concept for your website, which features an awesome interactive periodic table of ideas that people can explore?
The whole idea of Matter is that everything is made of something. For me, that sums up the periodic table quite nicely. Also the branding was very much driven by scientific and textbook education, in a more contemporary way. The whole idea with it is that you’re collaborating with the Internet, as well. We’ve credited everything because a lot of the imagery isn’t our own. When you click through you find the source of the image. What happens on Tumblr sites and Pinterest sometimes is you don’t really know who the image is done by. For me it’s a bit of a frustration because you want to research it and find more. That’s quite important for us.
What is your personal favourite physical material to work with?
I’m quite liking nanostone at the moment. It’s a flexible stone surface which is kind of strange to think about, because you see stone as being solid and thick. It’s basically shavings of stone put onto a glue film and therefore it is flexible and you can use it on surfaces and architecture, and possibly automotive and interiors. It’s quite endless what you can do with it.
Do you personally prefer digital things or analog things?
They have to meet. I don’t think it has to be one or the other. For me, it’s about both and tying them together.
What’s next for Matter?
We’re just going to continue collaborating in a cross-discipline and inter-discipline way, and approach everything from a really holistic point of view. And also do more events, which will be a lot of fun. We’re going to focus on one subject matter and delve into that a lot deeper rather than doing a whole bunch in one go. I might be doing monthly events in different places, and more consultancy. Hopefully we’ll have a physical space where people can come and grow the team a bit more.