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Malls awe visitors with installations that are works of art

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When Henri Matisse was quoted saying ‘Creativity takes courage’, perhaps he was foreseeing the efforts that would go into designing giant size art installations that adorn atriums and foyers of malls in India. A sight to behold, these creative geniuses by artists have in their own way proved to be crowd pullers for mall rats.

Adding glitter and glamour to festivities and celebration of special days in any mall are art installations that resonate with a prevalent theme. At the onset of spring-summer, more often than not, shopping centres come to life with installations of fresh flowers, Holi sees a myriad of colourful decorations, while Diwali is all about crystals and lights. Then there is the welcoming of Christmas with innovative Santa Claus-themed installations, along with a jaw-dropping Christmas tree, decorated to the hilt.

While they work to add glamour to the season, art installations in malls and shopping centres have now got a greater purpose. They have graduated to serve as platforms for artists to showcase their creativity and at the same time offer the common man a chance to see works of art live and in person.

Understanding the Purpose

Bangalore’s Phoenix MarketCity initiative, ArtSci, which wascurated to celebrate Indian art and science had renowned names like Late artist KGS Subramanian, museum artist Reghu, National Award winning artist Dattatreya etc sharing their works of art based on a concept note that was curated by the shopping centre six months prior to the final installations. A total of 200 artworks and 60 sculptures were spread across Phoenix MarketCity during this event.

Quoting an experience shared by a visitor, Gajendra Singh Rathore, Senior Centre Director, Phoenix Marketcity, Bangalore said, “ArtSci had initiated an art gallery inside the mall where millions of visitor comments were recorded. One most popular comment was that the audience found peace the moment they entered the gallery space. Learning sculpting inside a mall was another activity that connected the artist with art learning enthusiasts.”

Another important rationale served is that of offering visitors a perfect backdrop for their next profile picture that they can proudly showcase. One such installation – a dazzling elephant – was created by none other than Gauri Khan, celebrity interior designer and superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s’ wife.

Frequent mall visitor, Ankita Sikka, who resides in Santacruz Mumbai, says, “I make it a point to visit Phoenix MarketCity Kurla every two months at least if not that frequently simply because I know that they come up with the most beautiful of art installations. More than being a treat for my sight, these installations bring to life my Instagram updates. Imagine where else would I have got a chance to click a picture with a creation of Gauri Khan!”

Amit Kumar, Senior Center Director, Phoenix MarketCityKurla says, “Gauri Khan’s Dazzling Elephant Installation created for the 100-day Phoenix Festival has been the most successful one till date. The concept, textures, accents, the palettes, shapes and compositions made the installation a spectacular visual treat.”

Visitors love to treat themselves to visual delights, capturing these installations and sharing them on their social media profiles.

Accentuating this, Rajiv Malla, CEO – Malls, Runwal Developers shares, “Given that shoppers these days like to share their experiences with their online community, all art forms have a high visual quotient.”

Rajendra Kalkar, President (West) Phoenix Mills Limited adds, “These unique installations garner various eyeballs and people wish to be photographed against the beautiful décor. When it comes to the millennial audience we have seen a sharp increase in their online engagement. We run various digital contests as well that helps the customers gain more by winning gifts and vouchers by simply uploading their selfies on their social platforms. Digital being the way forward, we consciously create photo opportunities near the installations encouraging more participation which only helps popularize the décor and artists further. Customer engagement is the key and a smart digital plan works effectively for us to achieve it.”

Eventually art installations by malls have become a strong means to pull in shoppers thus increasing footfalls on any given day which then becomes a win-win for malls and retailers.

Yogeshwar Sharma, Executive Director & CEO, Select CITYWALK says, “Selfies offer shopping centre visitors the opportunity to interact with the installation that they see. If they share those images on social media, the art installations and the shopping centre get a much appreciated viral boost as well.”

Individual Initiatives by Prominent Malls

Where Phoenix MarketCity across its locations has created a niche for itself when it comes to display of art installations by prominent names, other malls across the country too are engaging in promoting a host of artists across categories.

Earlier this year, R City Mall organised the ‘R City Art Festival’ from February 15 to 24, for art lovers in the suburbs of Mumbai with over 30 installations of Kala Ghoda Artists. The festival also had performances by renowned artists. This 10-day event also hosted around 20 workshops ranging from dance, caricature, origami, pottery, block printing, decopauge and tote bag making.

Rajiv Malla says, “From this year onwards we have initiated the R City Arts Festival to provide an annual platform for more artists. Earlier this year R City hosted 21 students who created the largest Rubik Cube Wall as per Limca Book of Records. Last year we had invited artists from all over India to showcase traditional dance forms during Diwali.”

Under the direction of the Phoenix Mills Ltd. Director, Gayatri Ruia, Phoenix MarketCity Kurla is well known for its distinctive associations and creative art installations. Talking about one of their most recent installations that proved to be a super success, Kumar says, “Marking the onset of monsoon this year, Phoenix MarketCity, associated with celebrity designer Sussanne Khan to create a distinctive installation to be displayed in the mall atrium. The installation, ‘Drops of Paradise’, is made from glass and crystals and is approximately 30 feet high and features three dragonflies in vivid colours dancing under monsoon clouds with crystal raindrops.”

It is interesting to note that besides promoting art either through art exhibits or installations at the mall, Phoenix MarketCity Kurla has now started collaborating with experts like Gauri Khan, Tomas De Bruyne or Sussanne Khan thus adding in oodles of glamour to their initiatives. Prior to Sussanne Khan’s work of art, the centre had collaborated with International Floral Designer, Tomas De Bruyne to create The Tree of Prosperity for its spring summer décorat the mall. This installation was a visual spectacle as 500+ people created this magnificent 30 feet high tree with more than 3,00,000 flowers.

Kumar adds on the efforts being undertaken by the mall in promoting art stating, “We started with promoting the art installations considering the rise in need for selfie spots. However, over a period the décor at the mall gained popularity and the visitors demanded beautiful installations. The upcoming season shall have the centre adorn the mall with major installations to resonate with the Diwali theme. The mall will be converted into a ‘Kingdom of Lights’.”

Meanwhile its sister mall, Phoenix MarketCity Bangalore has been promoting budding, as well as renowned artists, in their mall since its inception in 2011. Rathore cites a few of their prominent works saying, “We created the tallest Christmas tree in 2017 and 2018, recognized by the Limca Book of Records – 18.05 m (59ft. 2.6 in) height,weighing 2.3 tonnes at Phoenix Marketcity Bangalore. The tree was installed on December 8, 2017 and was made by 55 people. The Christmas tree for 2018-19 was also dubbed the tallest by the Limca Book of Records.”

“For Diwali we created the décor around the theme of palaces around India. A grand royal entrance was created in 2018 inspired by the kind of Diwali that royals celebrated in the past. The mall drew inspiration from the royals of tradition and folklore for the grandeur and architecture. Brightly lit palaces with a grand expanse of celebrations were depicted in this décor concept,” he adds.

Rathore says it took 3 months and 100 people to build this installation, and a whopping 1 lakh LED lights were used to light it up.

Capturing the spirit of Mumbai, Palladium, Mumbai launched Spirit of Bombay in June, an exhibition of large scale sculptures by Valay Shende. The selection of artworks, inspired by the artist’s interpretation of motifs and anecdotes from the metropolis, were exhibited in the central atrium of the mall whilst the pièce de résistance– a colossal lifesized truck titled Transit (Truck) depicting migrant workers being brought into the city – was placed outside, along a walkway, for passersby to see.

“Spirit of Bombay showcased artworks that draw upon the city’s indomitable spirit; images such as those of commuters in the infamously busy Virar fast local train and the iconic dabbawala – the tiffi n delivery man who has been an integral part of Mumbai’s landscape. Made in Shende’s signature style of assembling stainless steel discs, the sculptures are intended to create a dialogue around ongoing social issues in Mumbai whilst bringing people together in a celebration of the city’s history, culture and ethos.” Last Christmas, High Street Phoenix unveiled a Christmas Ballet Décor creating the quintessential Christmas mood, the 40×40 feet installation took inspiration from Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet, The Nutcracker. The installation showed ballet dancers inside a beautifully lit and colourful gazebo representing the Christmas magnificence and festivity.

Kalkar says, “The structure was created over the period of a month with painstaking eff ort from approximately 50 people. The vibrant exterior that decked up the structure was made with 300 acrylic sheets and lit up with almost one lakh lights, each carefully crafted to size and attached.”

Apart from these two, the other very prominent installation would be that of the Enchanted Garden which personified a European garden in full spring bloom, with a range of flowers spanning from hydrangeas, tulips and roses. “Resonating with spring magic, the entire décor had around 50,000 flowers in myriad shades of pink, purple, magenta, mauve etc. Adorning the centre of the garden is a 15-ft European styled fountain with vibrant florals popping around it. Adding to the visual splendour were mythical elements such as unicorns and fairy angels dressed in awe inspiring fl oral gowns. The walkway path featured prismatic fl uttering butterfl ies with vibrant glass wings and a bewitching bridge overlooking the blooming garden,” Kalkar explains.

Talking about the initiatives taken forward by Select CITYWALK, Yogeshwar Sharma says, “We recently hosted an art exhibit titled Rooh – The essence of being. The exhibition had 4 great artists showcasing their splendid artwork under one roof. Other than that, two other installations – soldiers created with bullet shells and Environment Day: There is no Planet B – have been well received.”

“This year we have launched a unique initiative – Designagram- a design contest for colleges. Theyhave been given the opportunity to curate their vision for creative installation ideas which we will then shortlist via a panel of experts and execute through the year,” he adds.

Mumbai’s Viviana Mall has been actively promoting various artists though this is done with a theme that runs as a central theme across all their celebrations. Rima Kirtikar, Senior Vice President – Marketing, Viviana Mall says,“This year being our 6th year in operation we ran a color theme and a week-long extravaganza was organised. This theme ran through our installations and art exhibits as well as the activities conducted as part of celebration, various activities like stilt walkers, musicians, jugglers, unicyclists, magicians among others were part of the activity. A well-known band, The Kamakshi, performed live within the mall.”

She further adds, “One of the most successful initiatives was a gold themed installation to celebrate Christmas 2018. The installation became a selfi e point among the customers across age groups.”

What Works and What Doesn’t

More than catching the fancy of the mall management, the art installations need to stand out tall to take the shoppers by surprise with their creativity. The dazzling elephant at Phoenix MarketCity, Kurla had a strong name behind it – that of King Khan’s wife, but then for a visitor just walking in the mall, how was he to know that without reading the art description board. It was the sheer beauty of the installation that pulled people to it.

“Artworks that draw on everyday experiences and existing ground realities are quick to strike a chord with viewers and when they are ascribed a fresh perspective, they tend to leave a strong imprint on minds and generate a larger impact,” explains Kalkar.

Kirtikar highlights an interesting way on how best one can judge the success of the artwork, “Art and design is a broad discipline, which occupies the complete attention of creativity, function, expression, form and composition. The most authentic and credible way of communication is ‘word-of-mouth’. However, with technological advancements, social media has become one of the driving forces. Likes and dislikes for any installation / art becomes evident with how many people are either photographing the installation or clicking a selfie to eventually share it on the social media.”

She adds on the criterion in place before narrowing down on the installation stating, “For most of the installations, the process of short-listing artist is determined by varying factors like occasion, previous work done, time relevance (how long to keep the installation in the mall) and cost-effectiveness. The other important factor which we consider is checking the type of materials that will be used to create the artwork.”

Talking about R City, Malla states, “We always keep its shoppers and visitors at the heart of its decision making. We work with artists who are able to assess the hopes and aspirations of our visitors to create an art form or an installation so that people can connect with it. For example, the millennial generation, which forms a large part of our shoppers, are a highly creative and environmentally conscious age group. Our installations therefore focus on taking creativity to another level so that it inspires our shoppers and also receives their appreciation.”

Kumar stresses on ensuring that while selecting an artist or a piece of art, the style philosophy of the work matches with the mall and its customers.

For Rathore, the four points that helps the centre narrow down on the art installation include – Curator, The Concept (brainstorm and get creative ideas), the Design (unique ones only) and the Outcome Strategy (unconventional and experiential).”

The Logistics

Putting together a 50 ft installations is absolutely no child’s play and such works of art take days and months before they are ready to be showcased to the people. And as difficult and tedious is the installation, so is the task of dismantling them. But then malls have intelligently and successfully worked a way out to ascertain a seamless to-do procedure for both. For instance, At Select CITYWALK, the team tries to use recycled / sustainable products wherever possible like papier-mâché/ origami made from waste material. The installations are broken down and reused by the participating associates.

Similarly, R City Mall also pays attention to the material being used for the installations. Malla explains this saying, “To minimise the environmental impact of the installations that are put up at R City Mall, we prefer our artists to work with eco-friendly material that can be re-purposed or recycled later. Care is taken that environment friendly lighting is used in the installations so that public utility such as electricity is not wasted. Not just for art forms, even food wastage is avoided at R City Mall through our bio-gas plant. In fact, we give free manure to our visitors so to help them reduce their carbon footprint too.”

On the time taken for the installations, he adds, “It takes at least 2-3 weeks for installation. ‘The wheel of fashion’ installation for the R City Arts Festival 2019 was developed in 3 weeks, while the storyline of ‘Blackhorse’, which depicts unity in diversity took 4 weeks to develop. The works are kept on display from a week to ten days.”

Kirtikar elaborating on the action plan in place at Viviana shares, “Almost all artworks and installations at Viviana Mall are creatively made using techniques like carving, assembling, welding, patching, modeling, casting, etc. The installations are easy to dismantle. There are some works that are dismantled and parts of which are utilized as décor item for other mall activities. Viviana Mall being environmentally conscious, we ensure that all our works are recyclable.”

On the time taken to put together to install the artworks, she adds, “All the creation set up at Viviana Mall begins with a vision. The artworks and designs take anywhere between 15-30 days to be ready.”

For High Street Phoenix Mumbai, Kalkar reveals that typically each installation takes about a minimum of a month’s time before it gets unveiled to the audiences. He shares, “More than the set up time the planning begins way months in advance that helps in smoother execution every time. Depending on the installation and the artist, the time dedicated to set up the art piece varies every time. Since we collaborate with newer artists every time to bring in fresh talent and dynamic perspectives, there is a team that works ardently to deliver the timelines.” On the time period for which the work is kept live, he shares, “The installations especially the seasonal décor stays for a minimum period of 60 days at the Festival Square while the other art exhibitions stay for a minimum duration of a week to 15 days.”

Kumar states that the artists displaying their work at Phoenix MarketCity, Kurla usually take back the installation or at times it is sent to other Phoenix malls for display. Considering the installations here are gigantic, one wouldn’t be surprised to learn that on an average it takes about 2 months for the ideation and execution and depending on the season (and at times public demand) the installations are kept for long. However, on an average they are kept for a month or two.

And to conclude with understanding on the need for malls to promote art through installations and artists across other categories through various shows, Malla rightly states, “In a space constraint city like Mumbai, shoppers are increasingly visiting malls with their families to spend time and engage in different entertainment activities together. This create a huge need for shopping destinations to go beyond offering fashion brands, food and beverage and entertainment. One of our strongest observations has been that people like to engage as a community.”

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