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Hendzel + Hunt - Upcycling in India

17 May 2012
by Jan Hendzel

Earlier in the year we sent South London design studio Hendzel + Hunt to the Unbox Festival in New Delhi, India to create and run an upcycling workshop. Here are their reflections on the experience:


A call comes in two weeks before Christmas and it’s the British Council. They say "we’ve seen your work; we’d like you to run a workshop at the Unbox festival. And by the way it’s in New Delhi in India, would you be interested?" Hand over the mouth piece – a series of gestures and swears, slap on the back, and then back to the phone. Yes we’re interested. We just need to check diary. We clear the diary – push back all deadlines, condense all work to meet the well-deserved jolly running an afternoon’s workshop and discussion about our work.

The idea of a holiday is dashed when we are swiftly met by a man at the airport who hands us a box labelled “Oh shit I need!” - an Unbox welcome kit containing basic must haves for the next 10 days. He proceeds to take us to our accommodation for the night’s stay where we unpack before the phone rings again telling us we only have three hours before we’ll be taken to British council HQ to the meet our team. There is Martin, part of Hendzel + Hunt, who won a fellowship to join us, Arya a photographer, Deepanjana a graphic designer and  Parul an architect. Their expertise and knowledge of New Delhi would be paramount to the success of the trip.  We bond during happy hour, over loud, off - key music, realising mime as a genuine form of communication.


Topic of conversation turns to the festival and what we could make based on local industry. We know the locals are savvy in their re use of materials – seeing value in plastics and metals, cards where at home we might see none. They collect, consume and recycle.  To really excite people we would need to find things that are overlooked in worth and value. On the spur we decide to create a series of objects based on a typical Indian household and decide on seating and table with earthenware stool tops. It’s the starting point to research and a guide on the journey through the hectic streets of Delhi. We start the morning’s search at the famous thieves market, and heed our local brother Losal’s countless warnings of pickpockets. Minutes later we exit to the horror of our infallible brother, who himself has been robbed of his possessions. Ridicule and laughter follow and we continue the journey with the memory never too far behind.

We’re told one of the cottage industries in New Delhi is earthenware and the next stop is the potter’s colony where after hours picking the brain of a nationally acclaimed potter, the idea to make handmade tiles is dashed. The pressure for time instigates the trail for second hand bathroom tiles, which leads us to Old Delhi. An area broken into districts of service providers, where you’ll find the tool man selling his tools, the bike man selling his bikes, eat the must-have foods in distinct quarters, as we jostle and hustle for our tiles, there is a real feeling of the daily hubbub of Delhi life.  We hear word of ‘The Farm’; a graveyard of old furniture. We make calls, holler taxis, and divide in pursuit of the now promised land.  We travel more than an hour out of the city but the farm delivers. Expert haggling turns into a test of patience but now we have four rosewood table legs and forty police truncheons that we later use for stool legs.

Back in New Delhi a colonial style bedroom becomes the site for debate and plan of action. We have three and a half days to turn a pile of objects in to a table and chairs. We assemble our ingredients - bike chains, bike chain ring, a sheet of ply, a door, motor and push bike. After plentiful food and drink, a heated discussion and the gentle squeeze of pressure, we confirm the table and as many stools as we can within the festival’s time frame. Three days of sourcing then gives us three days to complete the challenge. Technical drawings assist the compound angles within the table and stools. The decision for compound angles added a greater difficulty that if successful would showcase our technical ability whilst producing a beautiful object.

Cardboard maquettes are made, rough measurements drawn up and we devise plans for the numerous amounts of jigs we need to make a batch of stools. The original idea to only use the small tool kits we brought with us along with local hand tools proves unrealistic after twenty minutes and the strength of four men only produces a wobbly saw cut half-way through the sheet of plywood. To put it bluntly we needed power.  After frantic calls and repeat attempts at bludgeoning the material, we find power tools and the assistance of Saleem, a carpenter found on the streets, who without a word of English proceeds to give us an education in the art of using Indian tools; lubricating the saw with ghee and a very delicate poise - elbows high and ass out, guides the blade cleanly through our timbers.

A steady stream of wide-eyed students at our makeshift workshop outside the British council slows our pace but despite friendly interruptions our eyes are on the prize. We need to prove the stool works and the table will stand on four legs in preparation for the workshop at the end of the week. We continue problem solving late into the night until we produce a series of jigs that will enable us to produce fourteen stools. In the morning we are told that our workshop is over-subscribed – are we happy to accommodate? With numerous tasks and not much time to complete, a quick look at the tired and apprehensive members of the team suggest the more the merrier. After a successful presentation of our work, closing on the video of the 24-hour design challenge, we suitably excite the crowd for the workshop we are about to hold.

We have one stool, and one table. Both standing.  We have the recipe that the Unbox participants can use to replicate the design, with the help of the H+H team. Participants constantly rotate between tile cutting, chopping, head-bobbing, hole drilling, chain breaking, shaping, sanding, gluing and painting. It runs long into the evening - with people able to see the process from beginning to end. It is an incredibly rewarding experience to see seven stools complete and many, many happy faces.  A great sense of achievement for all involved.

For us the hard work doesn’t stop with one day left to completion before exhibiting the final pieces at Hauz Khas village. The following day we work until midnight, laying in excess of a thousand pieces of tile for the stools and tabletop.  With lacerated fingers, exhausted bodies and some seriously cool furniture we finish and retire for beers and much needed sleep. We finally showcase the fruits of our labour and present our furniture, aptly named “Made in New Delhi,” on the last day of Unbox, a series of open studios in the artsy enclave of New Delhi that is Hauz Khas.

A very big thank you to all that helped us on the projected, namely Martin Price, Tina Mina, Stanzin “oh shit I’ve been robbed” Losal and Team India, Arya, Deepanjana and Parul. And massive thanks to the Unbox team for all their assistance and to British Council India and British Council UK for making this trip possible. We look forward to working with you guys in the future! Jan Hendzel and Oscar Hunt