Kudi: Structures of Design

Kudi: Structures of Design

Kudi is a London-based artist whose work questions the stasis of social dynamics in today’s world. His pieces arise from a deep connection to social psychology and its relationship with materials – asking the viewer to examine their place within an ever-shifting ecosystem. Kudi speaks to Aesthetica about power structures and their relationship with design, architecture and communities.

A: Your practice combines elements of art, design and architecture. How would you describe your process? 
K: I would describe the process of my work as outcomes of social and cultural observation. Studying about class and social systems during my BSc studies in Psychology helped drive my interest. I have always found the effect and impact of certain designed and structural mechanisms on our daily life interesting – especially psychologically – in the way they drive perceptions and stereotypes.

Another factor that informs my process is the understanding that design is not always necessarily glamorous. There is this notion that if something is designed, it must be aesthetically beautiful and in that it then has value. But growing up in a working-class space, I realised there were objects that might not have been the status quo of design, but were sensational and well thought out, and we made work. The “Ghana Must Go bag” being one for example.

I really try to take the approach beyond aesthetic value: let’s get under the surface a little more and understand what design means for different social groups and races. And on the flip side, asking how does it drive our perceptions of social groups?

A: You explore class, race and structural social systems in your work. How do your pieces reveal – and begin to break down – these systems?
K: I was born in Nigeria, then migrated here, living in North London. I then moved to Devon – being the only black family for 10 years – and then back to London. Race and class were already in my world through experience. To add to that, I grew up in a house where my parents were always teaching me about these topics, and the impact variables within them would have on my life. I have always tried to find a way to think about and discuss these topics.

That is really what I try to do with my work; to use materials that relate to a cultural and social place. Take, for example, the horn chair. It is really about the clashing of social classes – like deers or rams do. The problem is that between the working class and upper class, or black and white, we have been locked in this age-old clash for a long time. One from the concrete the other from the top seat. The question I ask is: are we ever going to unlock, or are we stuck in this constant stack of clash? Is the structure developed in such a way, that for it to exist, the clashing and the separation is almost necessary? Is it like the chair, where if you remove the clash you also lose the seat, structure and form?

For a while, trying to communicate such topics was hard, until I was fortunate enough to work with two architecture firms at my previous job – Foster and Partner & AM. I got the opportunity to discuss with Norman Foster about how, from a micro level (such as household objects) to the macro (buildings / estates / communities), designed objects have profound psychological effects on our social and world view. Moving forward, we have more of a duty as people to be aware of this.

That was really the kind of “rahh” moment for me – because I then realised there was a link between my studies and design. So, with that understanding, it was about deep diving into a lot of books, Tumblr photo save sessions, Google searches. Trying to piece together how I had been impacted psychologically by objects and materials: in my parents’ flat, our bungalow in Devon, growing up in Nigeria and the buildings that surrounded us.

A: You’ve spoken about the concept of a “New Bauhaus.” Could you expand on this?
K: Sure. Most of the design people will probably gasp, but my honest view is that the Bauhaus model is not really going to serve the future state of the world – neither in architecture nor design. Of course, it is a fundamental block to help us propel to the next version – similar to constructivism that was prior to the Bauhaus. With the way the world and society has shifted; it will soon be the turn of Bauhaus to give way to a new fundamental set of design principles.

These will serve the future state of the world and society in a much better way. They will help bring global efficiencies and update broken systems that do not serve certain social classes very well – or even races (sips tea). What this new system is, I am not sure on yet, but speaking with peers and friends I know for sure it is coming within the coming years. The mindsets are already moving in that direction.

A: Your pieces evoke a sense of pressure: bodies are confined within slabs of marble, for example. Can you expand on these works?
K: It is really about the oppression of a race and social class. We associate marble with the highest social class. In the piece, there is this black body being squeezed between the slabs and a scaffolding pole – it was about how a social class or race are boxed and squeezed in like a vice. This is mainly due to other social classes having life advantages at the start, or racial advantages that then create this vicious loop of systemic oppression. It is also a visual double entendre, because some would say the body and pole are supporting the very structure of the piece, and without them it cannot function.

A: What projects are you currently working on? 
K: I am currently working on a series about travelling and immigration, thinking about the parallels between people flying and crossing borders from above so easily, whilst below them are migrants crossing borders for survival.

Apart from that, I’m just focused on making one good object at a time and continuing to be free thinking in my approach. Just making sure my message is always clear. That was some good advice I was given – to try make things as clear as possible.

A: What do you hope viewers take away from your work?
K: That they are able to talk with their peers about the impacts of design on racial and social perceptions and stereotypes. From the small household designed object to the large infrastructural. And then, from that, to then have an eagle view perspective of the world around them, looking at methods to improve it.

A: Where do you see your practice moving in in the future?
K: Just trying to do good and better work as I move forward. I have a plan that it will eventually evolve further into architectural scale works. I have started my conversation with the micro objects, and therefore see the natural route of progression to be how large designed objects impact us.

As well as this, I would like to go heavily into film – asking “can a film be a sculpture”? What does that look like? Can you create a sculpture via film? I got that thought whilst eating plantain chips, watching Inception in the studio. There is a dream scene, where she was folding the roads and creating this sculpture type thing.

A: Where can audiences find out more about your work?
K: At www.kudii.org, exhibiting in real life or at my studio.

Image credits: Jermaine Miller. Instagram: @_jermainemiller