Raised between England and France, Germany and the United States, the Iranian-born, Paris-based designer India Mahdavi had quite the nomadic upbringing—one that has led her to capture her outdoor surroundings through landscape-evoking interiors. With the storytelling abilities of a seasoned filmmaker (Mahdavi cites Federico Fellini, Stanley Kubrick, and James Bond as her early influences), the artist has an uncanny ability to convey landscapes in her technicolor objects and interior design. Standing among her work at Design Miami/ Basel, Mahdavi spoke with Artsy about art, design, her not-so-secret love for filmmaking, and which works from the fair she was quick to covet.
Marina Cashdan: You’ve lived a nomadic life. Can you talk a little bit about how that influences your practice, your designs, and your interiors?
India Mahdavi: When you design, you’re always influenced by your own memories, by your life, by what your childhood was about. I happened to grow up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I think my first memories were in color—it’s like a technicolor vision of life that I have in my memories about that time in the United States. And I think that’s why I’m very attracted to this color. For me, color brings light, and this whole project is about how you bring the outdoors indoors, and how you bring the indoors outdoors. So it’s all about these spaces that are in between, that are usually covered in homes, and that are not quite outdoors but not quite inside, you know? So, how do you bring a landscape inside? Throughout the tables, throughout the colors, throughout the light—light and shade does that together—thats how I’ve been using color.
MC: In addition to the landscape, there seems to also be an aspect of anthropomorphism, as in the table, which almost looks like its covered in fish scales?
IM: Yes, absolutely. What I liked about that shape is its geometry, its rounded geometry. My work is always about the masculine and feminine, so that’s the way I play with things, that are rounded [feminine] and also quite angular, quite masculine.
MC: Growing up, was design always your primary interest?
IM: No. My primary interest was, rather, movies, for a long time.
MC: Being a filmmaker?
IM: Yes, I wanted to be a filmmaker. I think that what I was attracted to—and didn’t really know about it, because filmmaking was for me the best way to get out of reality—was to be in another world. So I think that was what I was [initially] attracted to. But when I started doing this work that I do, I realized that I tell stories in the same way. And through my interior design work I do exactly that, I tell stories. I work like a photographer in many ways, because I create perspectives; first I have a plan, and then I have the depth of the image. I also work like a storyteller, because I try to construct the space, telling a story also like a portraitist when I [design] a home. I use all this vocabulary that’s very close to filmmaking. And I think the whole industry—when you produce a place like a restaurant or a hotel—is very close to the film industry, because you have the producer, you have the filmmaker, and the actors...and then you go to promotion, and it has that link.
MC: I just had a conversation with Rolf Sachs and he said he felt there was too much of a demarcation between artists and designers when there is more overlap than not. Do you agree?
IM: Well, I don’t know. I think artists do things in a much more radical way. And I think you don’t choose to be an artist. In fact I think it’s a choice that’s imposed on you. So you become an instrument of...something. And I think when you’re a designer—first of all, designers often work with missions, and you have projects and briefs, and you have to answer to that. It’s like to answer a question that is asked to you in a much more specific way. I think an artist maybe answers other questions, but he’s asking himself more.
MC: Just being here at the fair, are there other objects that have stood out to you or are there other designers that you’re looking at?IM: First of all, the beautiful Maison des Jours Meilleurs by Jean Prouvé from Galerie Patrick Seguin. I was very impressed with that. I also think the quality of the fair is really great. I really like the historical pieces from Gio Ponti, the Joaquim Tenreiro table from R 20th Century Gallery. So on the whole, I think it’s a good show.
Revisit Mahdavi’s works at Carwan Gallery, Design Miami/ Basel 2013 - Design On/Site Galleries