Ankon Mitra: The Art of ‘Oritecture’

Ankon Mitra is an architect by profession and an internationally reputed artist. He is the recipient of the All-India Gold Medal for Sculpture in 2018 from the Prafulla Dahanukar Foundation and the Lexus Design Award for Craft Design in 2020. He studied architecture at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, and graduated with a distinction and a University Gold Medal. He went on to receive an MSc in Adaptive Architecture and Computation from the prestigious University College London, Magna Cum Laude. His work has been exhibited in India, Italy, France, UK, USA, Japan and at the Shanghai International Paper Art Biennale in 2019. He is a member of the British Origami Society, Origami USA, the Sculpture Network in Europe and the Paper Artist’s Collective Worldwide. His work will be showcased at the Arte Laguna in Venice, CODA Museum in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, and at the Lucca Paper Art Biennale in Italy in 2021.

He is also a TEDx speaker and a warrior for 'making connections across disciplines'. With ‘Oritecture’, Ankon Mitra shares a unique vision of a universe forming and dissolving from acts of folding. To him, the ancient art of Origami, rather than being a child’s craft, is a cutting edge tool that is being deployed by robotic engineers, space scientists, biotech researchers, mathematicians, computation experts, botanists, architects and artists to create solutions for the real world in the 21st century.

Sycamore Maple (Acer Pseudoplatanus) leaf buds and sequence of unfolding leaves. To those more interested in the science and geometry of leaf-folding, I suggest the ground-breaking essay by Kobayashi, Kresling and Vincent, titled “The Geometry of Unfolding Tree Leaves”.

1. When did you decide and what prompted you to become an artist? Please give a brief account of your challenges and struggles in your journey as an artist. Any role models?

AM: I am an architect by training, and I practice primarily as a landscape designer, working on landscape projects at all scales: from small gardens to large, city-scale landscape master plans. Since childhood, I have always loved plants more than human beings. I think I'm a tree that got swapped with a human body by mistake! I'm mystified by humans most of the time. On the other hand, I understand the plant world perfectly. Nature has taught me the art of folding – there is folding in the leaves and branches of trees, in the Himalayas, the coastlines of the world’s continents, in our fingers, in our brains. Folding is everywhere (see the Sycamore Maple leaves above). And because of this idiosyncratic worldview, some people around me began to call me an artist. Irrespective of the confusion of whether I'm an architect or artist (I’m really not bothered with these labels), I coined the term ‘Oritecture, ie Origami + Architecture’, sharing a unique vision of a universe forming and dissolving from acts of folding. I passionately believe in the two maxims – Geometry Aims at the Eternal (Plato), and The Universe is Mathematics (Max Tegmark). These most succinctly define the effort of my art, trying to link the human experience to the cosmos, through a language of light, shadows, folds and colours, so that we are able to transcend human language and cultural limitations.

Architectural training creates a strong foundation in pattern identification and analysis. Origami is all about creasing patterns: how the flat sheet gets a specific creasing pattern and how that pattern edifies how the paper will convert into the three-dimensional form. All 3D forms can be reduced down to eight to ten basic architectural geometries, such as cones, hyperbolic-paraboloids, spheres, toroids, etc. Coming from a background in architecture, I ensure that in my work the essential architectonic nature of the Origami process is respected, understood and elevated. I picked up Origami by chance during my Masters’ program in parametric architecture (students could choose their own specializations), at the Bartlett, University College London, while I was designing a roof for an airport project.

I know for a fact now that many Origami artists all over the world are in fact architects. This cannot be a mere coincidence. Architects naturally gravitate towards Origami because of the wonderful tools it offers to create complex geometries with relative ease. However, Origami is still considered a child’s craft by most, so the challenge has primarily been to change those perceptions. The other significant challenge is that I’m often asked, “Is it made of paper?” Most of the time my answer is in fact, “No!” But more on that later!

Matthew Shlian and Tomoko Fuse inspire me with their folding techniques. Ruth Asawa, Richard Serra, Dhanraj Bhagat, Richard Perry and Umberto Boccioni are sculptors I admire greatly. Land-Artists Michael Heizer and Christo and Jean-Claude are seminal and inspirational for their daring and avant-garde visions. Charles Jencks, Roberto Burle Marx and Geoffrey Bawa are three architects/landscape designers I revere. There are of course architects who are too many to name; but Felix Candela, Laurie Baker, Hassan Fathy, Alvar Aalto and Luis Barragan are trailblazers in the ideals they enshrined and they remind me that the path of architecture is a difficult one, but I may definitely not quit. Not today. Not tomorrow. In spite of all the odds.

2. What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this?

AM: Currently, our studio is working on a few large paper art projects to be exhibited at the Lucca Biennale and the Arte Laguna, in Lucca and Venice, both in Italy, as well as at the CODA Museum in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands. Each of these is based on juried competition wins, and they had themes on which we created site-specific responses. For instance in Lucca, the theme was “Fear and Desire”, so we proposed a large billowing installation made of facsimile European currency notes called “Clouds of Illusion”. In India we are working on curve-folded sheet metal sculptures for the Embassy Group in Bangalore and a number of private commissions for clients in Mumbai and Delhi. I’m also excited to be slowly restarting the regular cycle of art shows and gallery viewings in my city after nearly nine months, where the art scene has been really badly affected by Covid. My work “The Song of the Earth and the Sky” was commissioned by the Gujral Foundation and installed at the Sunder Nursery in February 2020. It was seen with much excitement by thousands for a period of two months but lay quiet and un-visited post-23rd March when the lockdown was imposed, until it was uninstalled in early July. It was a work of art in the landscape or landscape within art, quite unprecedented in conception in India; I wish more people could have seen it.

Icon Unfurled (Tribute to Le Corbusier) @ RAW Collaborative, Ahmedabad

Folds of Fragrance, McNroe Corporate Office Kolkata with Studio Lotus

India Art Fair 2018 – The Divine Axis @ Art Centrix Space

Ekaya Mumbai with Studio Lotus

India Art Fair 2020 – The Parting of Galaxies (detail)

India Art Fair 2020 – The Parting of Galaxies

Shanghai Paper Art Biennale

Shanghai Paper Art Biennale