Seven speakers talk passion, creativity and what to expect at Design Indaba

16 February 2020 - 00:01
Technology and art come together in harmony in Paul Cocksedge's work. This piece is titled 'Please Be Seated'.
Technology and art come together in harmony in Paul Cocksedge's work. This piece is titled 'Please Be Seated'.
Image: Supplied/Design Indaba

Design soothsayers from all over the world will coalesce at the 25th Design Indaba conference in Cape Town in a celebration of creativity.

Six of those who'll be speaking at the event tell us more about their work and inspirations:

1. PAUL COCKSEDGE

Designer Paul Cocksedge blurs the lines between art and function, re-imagining social spaces as places to interact and challenge the status quo.

I studied maths, physics and art at school, and design felt like the sweet spot in the middle of all three.

A big part of discovering art and design was that I come from a down-to-earth family in a very multicultural part of London, which helps guide my creativity.

I love working in new territories. I don't want to feel like I'm retreading old ground or doing something that's already been done. Design should always be for people, and it should be helping and improving their lives.

My recent project, Please Be Seated (pictured above) helped bring people together. It was multi-layered, sustainable, wood innovation, three-dimensional design and, most importantly, people could interpret and use the piece in many ways. We also did a piece called Kiss That, which literally connected people. Someone got married in the project, someone proposed there and someone had their first kiss there.

Technology plays a part in everything we do. It can be something as simple as ways of cutting into a piece of wood or casting concrete. We find technological innovation, even within the lo-fi.

The moments I enjoy most about design are looking back at photographs of a work when it's surrounded by people, all becoming part of the piece. We're working on a broad set of projects from strict industrial design, with lots of rules and regulations, to more free-thinking pieces in materials including clay, light and glass.

The Vamp is a self-generated project that we started in the studio. It was our first mass-produced electronic piece, which we still design, manufacture and distribute. It's our way of bringing back old speakers, which are often thrown away even though they're amazing pieces of technology. It's a small object with a battery, amplifier and Bluetooth technology. You connect it to a speaker and turn it into a portable sound system.

2. NHLANHLA MAHLANGU

A composer who explores key moments in South African history, singing and dancing his research rather than writing it. To process the country's complex history, he explores Isicathamiya, an a capella-type musical form that combines vocals and movement. Chant is his first solo work.

Singing and dancing history into being, Nhlanhla Mahlangu performs 'Chant'.
Singing and dancing history into being, Nhlanhla Mahlangu performs 'Chant'.
Image: Supplied/Design Indaba

I came to the world of dance by accident. Looking for a music school I got accepted
in three places but couldn't afford the fees. I went to a dance audition to de-stress and got a scholarship at Moving into Dance Mophatong.

My upbringing is the subject matter for most of my work. When we lived in a squatter camp it didn't seem catastrophic but now, when I look back as an adult, I see that I lived the unliveable, like most black people in
this country.

South Africa has a unique style and aesthetic in dance and it's constantly evolving. But we are challenged here by funding, having a supportive platform and developing audiences.

3. PATRICK THOMAS 

Patrick Thomas is an artist who creates graphic responses to public events which spark public participation.

Art and design have the power to influence people because they are so deeply embedded into our lives. From a very early age I was regularly taken by my aunt to the gallery in Liverpool. Obviously, I had no idea what art was at that age but I remember the feeling of wonderment as I stood in the galleries. When I was a bit older and an art teacher told me that people could make a living making that stuff I was hooked.

One of my favourite projects is the Protest Stencil Toolkit. The original commission was to make a book about my work using the medium of stencils. I suggested that instead of making it about my work it might be more interesting to collect signs and symbols of popular protest from the 20th century to allow people to put together their own visual messages.

An important aspect of the book is that there are no locked messages, basically the user can say whatever they choose. I love the idea that people can interact with my work and make it their own.

Some of graphic artist Patrick Thomas's protest stencils.
Some of graphic artist Patrick Thomas's protest stencils.
Image: Supplied/Design Indaba
Artist and speaker at the Design Indaba Patrick Thomas.
Artist and speaker at the Design Indaba Patrick Thomas.
Image: Supplied/Design Indaba

My practice has been evolving towards non studio-based projects that take place in the public realm and right now the project I find most exciting is Open_collab, a web-based tool created to enable real-time collaboration between creatives. We will be test driving v. 2.0 beta in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban and giving an exclusive presentation of the results in Cape Town before making it freely available online.

I'd advise aspirant designers and artists to try to find a healthy balance between commissioned and self-initiated work and most definitely embrace collaboration.

I find it almost a moral obligation to make work that's socially conscious. It's no longer something that I expressly set out to do with each project, it just happens.

I believe that art should be of its time, it should be provocative and ask more questions than provide answers.

4 & 5. HONEY & BUNNY

Better known as Honey & Bunny, Martin Hablesreiter and Sonja Stummerer's deconstructive and provocative performance art challenges convention. They design edible goods and have developed "eat art" performances.

We changed course (from architects to food designers) by coincidence. We became interested in food and started researching it. Then we found out that not a single publication about food design existed. So we decided to create our own one, J. This was during our first phase of Honey & Bunny as an atelier for architecture. Our first book was successful and people asked for more.

We love working together — it's normal for us. On the other hand, many architects, designers, artists worked together in the past but only the men became famous. The women got the stupid title, "muse". That was ridiculous.

Like architecture, food design is one of the oldest and most important creative disciplines. It keeps you alive and is part of the origins of human society. Food and architecture create body temperature (without them we wouldn't survive), they create groups sharing food and spaces or rituals and they create the cultural values necessary for communities and civilisations to develop. The difference is, food design is cheaper than architecture.

Honey & Bunny find deep ethical meaning in creating food designs.
Honey & Bunny find deep ethical meaning in creating food designs.
Image: Supplied/Design Indaba

Unfortunately, some of the people we'd most like to eat with are dead: Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King jnr, Mahatma Gandhi. We'd definitely have a meal with anyone trying to make the worlda better place.

Nothing is as ethical as eating. Whenever you eat, you show who you are, where you are from, your political, cultural and religious ideas. Because of that, food is the best material for designers. Nothing is so emotional, so interactive and so related to the basics of being alive. Designers should think about food first, not about the [expensive] chair or pullover. Food keeps us alive, food makes the (sustainable) future, food creates and solves social problems.

We are inspired by Marije Vogelzang, Marti Guixe, Marc Bretillot, Cloe Rutzerfeld, Francesca Sarti, Emilie Baltz, Sonia Massari, all of us.

6. IBRAHIM MAHAMA

An artist who uses the transformation of materials to explore themes of commodity, migration, globalisation and economic exchange. His materials, jute sacks for example, are gathered from urban environments, stitched together and draped over architectural structures.

I loved doing art in high school and later at university I enrolled, with the backing of my supportive family, in a painting and sculpture programme at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana.

My art is predominantly made from jute sacks, common materials in Ghana. They're used to transport cocoa from the farms to the port, where the produce leaves the country but the bags remain behind. I became interested in the life the bags led after they were used. At the last point of the material's life, it's like a body that reveals the conditions that it's been through.

Malam Dodoo National Theatre, site specific installation by Ibrahim Mahama, 1992-2016.
Malam Dodoo National Theatre, site specific installation by Ibrahim Mahama, 1992-2016.
Image: Supplied/Design Indaba

I take something common and turn it into an important work of art which sits in important museums around the world.

The ghosts of decaying objects speak volumes but at the same time are quiet. They're so sublime you can easily overlook them. That's where art comes into play. I like using objects that are overlooked because that's where politics are buried. Colour is important in the way I select and use objects.

Since university I've exhibited in international institutions. Part of my training was understanding issues around the evolution of form.

Ibrahim Mahama uses overlooked materials to release what he calls 'the ghosts of decaying objects'. He also wants to transform the art scene in his native Ghana.
Ibrahim Mahama uses overlooked materials to release what he calls 'the ghosts of decaying objects'. He also wants to transform the art scene in his native Ghana.
Image: Supplied

The contradictions around capital and the surpluses it produces make the production of my art possible. I'm interested in how the residue of capitalism makes my art truly democratic in my society - I use money made from my art to build cultural institutions like SCCA Tamale and Red Clay [studio] which make art accessible.

I work with whatever I have. Even the challenge of not having enough cultural institutions or spaces to show it has pushed me to work the way I do. Why make objects when they can be shown to everyone? Why build institutions that are insensitive to the conditions of productions within a generation? What should art be in the 21st century? What can we learn from art?

7. CHEF SELASSIE ATADIKA

Self-taught experiential African dining chef and chocolatier Selassie Atadika is the owner of Midunu Food Enterprise in Ghana.

I'm motivated by the power of food. Food touches almost every aspect of life. It brings us together, tells us of our history, environment, culture and values. It can also bring communities together and create livelihoods. The interconnectedness of food can be overwhelming at times but it shows the opportunities we have to use food as an agent of change.

When I'm missing home the dish I miss is my mother's palava sauce. It's traditionally made with cocoyam leaves (I believe it is called amadumbe/madumbi in South Africa), and egusi, a wild melon seed.

A dish called waakye is trending in Ghana right now. It's a rice and beans dish from the northern part of the country. The dish gets customised with everything from gari (grated, fermented and dried cassava) to spaghetti to salad to fish to beef to fried plantain. Everyone has their favourite spot to get it with a combination of fixings.

Some of the creations to be showcased at the Design Indaba
Some of the creations to be showcased at the Design Indaba
Image: Supplied

The three essentials to Ghanian flavour and cuisine are: palm fruit oil, prekese (a flowering plant of the pea family) and ginger.

I'm very public with my love affair with the grain millet. I love how low-maintenance it is from an agricultural point of view. You'll find it in my salads, grain bowls, a breakfast porridge, as savoury porridge, as a side dish for dinner, popped to add texture to anything, and I've also been known to use a fermented version in ice cream. The sky's the limit!

One of my favourite dishes developed for my Miduni enterprise is kofi richman. It's a dessert based on a popular street food by the same name, featuring roasted plantain and groundnuts. The name hints at the accessibility of the snack for even the smallest of budgets. I decided to elevate those flavours to the dining table. The dish brings in a cake made from overripe plantain and dzowe (snack made of groundnuts, ginger and chilli which is made and sold informally) and tiger nuts (a delicious tuber which doesn't have a fully developed value chain in Ghana). I love finding uses for things that are often overlooked and undervalued.

I'm usually on the run. For breakfast, I throw a few things into the blender and keep it moving. At the moment, I'm loving amaranth leaves, avocado, coconut milk, moringa powder, coconut oil.

I will be focusing on sharing my love for chocolate beyond Ghana this year. Midunu Chocolates, my line of hand-crafted chocolate truffles, are made with Ghanaian cocoa and feature the flavours and essences of Africa. You can taste the infusion of the bounty of the African continent - fruits, spices, coffee, teas and tisanes. These complex flavour profiles embody the beautiful patchwork of Africa's culinary heritage. The inspiration for the chocolates comes from different parts of the continent, reflected in the name given to each truffle. I have named the truffles after different African women who are culinary custodians throughout the continent.

It's important to take Africa to the world through the dishes because I believe we have a lot of lessons from the African kitchen which the world is looking for: plant-forward, low waste, ancient grains, bold flavours over fat, communal dining ... the list goes on.

GO BE INSPIRED

ATTEND THE DESIGN INDABA CONFERENCE

The 2020 Design Indaba Conference will take place from February 26 to 28 at the Opera House of the Artscape Theatre Centre in Cape Town. Tickets available via webtickets.co.za

BOOK FOR AN AFRICAN DINNER WITH CHEF ATADIKA

Chefs Atadika and Bresselschmidt and his team at Aubergine Restaurant will be collaborating on an exciting African food and wine experience.

Date: Thursday February 27 at 7pm

Venue: Aubergine, 39 Barnet Street, Gardens, Cape Town

Cost: R2,310 per person including menu, wines and gratuities

Bookings: info@aubergine.co.za


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