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On Exhibit: a marriage of media

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Some rebellions start with a sword. Anjelika Krishna's started with a sewing machine.

"My parents always wanted me to become a doctor because we're from this whole range of doctors and engineers," says Krishna, a 22-year-old fashion design student at the School of the Art Institute. "I had to revolt a lot to pursue this."

In part that meant forgoing the business college she had enrolled in for the Wigan Fashion School in her hometown of New Delhi, India. A project involving the use of candle wax as a surface embellishment earned her a partial scholarship, and after graduation she took a job with Aparna Chandra, a well-known Indian designer.

In the fall of 2000, after six months of helping create designs for major stores in Bombay and New Delhi, she rebelled again by coming to Chicago. "The fashion I had been doing before coming here was very practical. Because the Indian market catered to practicality, if you went a little over the marketing point, it won't sell. I found it very confining."

She began moving away from the embroidery-based styles she had been accustomed to and started getting more and more interested in architecture. "I'll look at a Frank Gehry form; I'll draw an outline of the whole building. I try to see what kind of curves that he's mostly taken into consideration--maybe it's like a circle and he's really multiplied it, or it's a triangle--and I incorporate that in the silhouette of the garment." Her interest in merging architecture and fashion was in full swing when she met Mahendra Sambandan, 24, a fellow Indian native who'd arrived at the Art Institute last fall to pursue an MFA in interior architecture.

Sambandan's family has been in the construction business for three generations in Chennai, and he'd already designed buildings for the Chennai Women's Christian College and a few other projects. But like Krishna, he was interested in discovering new directions for his work. The animation techniques and computer-generated forms he's been experimenting with at the Art Institute have altered his notions of what a structure can be. "It's not far-fetched," he says, "to think that a building could change shape based on a force that acts on it--if a building is large and huge winds are predicted, it could shrink and actually the wind could be diverted."

Sambandan asked Krishna to collaborate with him for an art show he had been invited to participate in called "Arranged Marriage: Outer Space(s)." The exhibit, curated by photographer Marjorie Vecchio, was supposed to pair artists with similar interests but different approaches and put them to work on a deliberately broad theme: the outer and inner environment.

"Trying to find a line in between both of us required a lot of talk," says Sambandan. "I'd have to explain stuff to her, because her terminology is different from my terminology, because when I say 'structure' I mean a different kind of thing than when she says 'structure.'" Despite a few bumps in the road, Krishna says, the collaboration "has influenced my technique." She was particularly interested in the numerous software programs that Sambandan, a computer and robotics buff, used to help create their installation: a five-by-three-foot movable sculpture composed of 32 strips of wood and adorned with both traditional and industrial fabrics.

Both Krishna and Sambandan are scheduled to graduate in spring 2003, and Sambandan intends to go back home to work in the family business. "There's a lot of opportunity for [new technologies and forms], especially in the south, because Delhi's becoming more saturated and Bombay's completely saturated, so everyone is shifting over to Chennai. Ford Motors is there. The Marriott chose to have the highest-rated hotel of their chain there."

Krishna, who will be interning this summer in New York, is still up in the air about returning home after her studies. But if she does, she says she'd like to push the boundaries a bit.

"If [fashion] is happening one way, why don't I do it the other way around--be impractical in my clothing? I think in India that would be a good way to get people's attention."

"Arranged Marriage: Outer Space(s)," featuring works by 11 pairs of artists and sponsored by the Contemporary Arts Council, opens Friday, April 26, at River East Plaza, 435 E. Illinois, lower promenade, and continues through May 18. Call 847-733-0892 for more info.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J.B. Spector.

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