At the 9th edition of the FNB Joburg Art Fair, the Museum of African Design presented designs by Kossi Aguessy at the FNB Private Wealth Lounge. We asked Aguessy a few questions. His responses are poetic and thought provoking. They looking at human evolution, understanding, and the power of design for change.
1. Where have you lived?
I was born in Lomé, Togo. Life has brought me to New York, London, Paris, Rotterdam, Nancy, Toulouse, Milan, Rio de Janeiro. I do feel totally and deeply a world citizen, yet I guess a whole new generation of multiverse-minds have multiple roots and cultural influences. Each one of these places has brought me knowledge and experiences that allow me to build perspectives on life. I can only be thankful.
2. Have these places and cultures influenced you?
Human culture comes in different forms and expressions. The different locations, their cultures, habits, and lifestyles have built in my mind something which is not the addition of them; but a whole new perception of life; a sort of new “cultural spectrum” that I call my own holy hybridity. You naturally combine them and get the best mix.
3. Is there a focus or philosophy behind your work?
There is not, to my knowledge a single focus or philosophy behind my work. I am full of questions. I try to find answers, not always successfully.
4. What do you term/define as design?
From a western perspective, design is a solution based proposal. In reality, design has always been part of daily life. We used to call these designers and manufacturers craftsmen. Every industrial production process today starts with prototyping. Prototyping is as far as I know, a craft.
Mass production is a process. Technology is the means; not the main purpose. The main purpose is the first intention. I guess it is a reflection of society, which tends to partition everything, that wants to define craft, design, or art separately. Personally, I give up. Providing a useful object, is for me just a piece of being an African artist.
5. How is your practice pushing design boundaries?
My problem is I do not feel or have mental boundaries, so I do not need to push them. I live in a bubble where the very notions of boundaries never had a place.
Usually I conceptualise and design things first. Then I am forced to work within technology's limits to bring them to life. My design process is an evolution. Stepping forward, leaving the comfort zone, and questioning what is behind the horizon line...this brought us to where we stand today. This is in our DNA. It’s natural.
6. Does design influence the future?
It’s a very accurate question.
We evolve and adapt to our environment, natural or (in our case) manufactured. Human beings transform their environment.
We cannot predict where we will be tomorrow, but we can see the shadow of it. What we are doing today is changing tomorrow's landscape. Design does not influence our future, but creates it. Design, alongside industry, research, etc. creates what will be our tomorrow. It is a circle, a continuum, everything is linked and it is our responsibility to somehow question the possible evolutions effected by what we are about to do.
7. What for you, is responsible design?
We produce tons of useless junk-like things with no care of their impact on our environment. We exploit the wellbeing of people to make products cheaper than cheap. They're made on the other side of the globe, then we ship them across the ocean. Whatever the consequences, social or environmental, they will be deserved. Well deserved. I refuse being part of that movement.
8. How do you hope to see the design world evolve?
I‘d like the world, and not only the design world, to be more responsible and balanced. The changes I’d like to see in design are the ones I’d like to see around me, as an individual in human society.
Design, like culture in general, is global. It can’t be only western-oriented with African design called a niche or “exotic." If you are capable in your everyday life of having sushi for lunch, imbibing vodka, and having bananas with your pancakes, you should then understand that "exotic" is a misnomer.
9. Lastly What are you currently working on?
I am finishing my 2016 program while preparing for the first two quarters of 2017. My "Making Africa" group show just travelled to the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam. I am working on “Perfect Futures” with Gallery Vallois and assistance from MOAD, and “Regnum Tabula II” a 3 month exhibition Vallois Gallery in NYC. I’ve also been preparing for Art Basel Miami.
11. Anything you would like to add…
A “Thank You” Perhaps?
All Images are from Kossi Aguessy's Catalogue, Twenty Fifteen, 2015.