Engaging with different cultures is the key to who I am as a designer: Ini Archibong

Growing up in Pasadena and settling (for now) in Reinach, Ini Archibong is a world-renowned designer who follows his creative interests across jobs and across the world. He talks to Aerostorie about viewing the world through a designer’s eyes, the importance of engaging with different cultures and the feeling of ‘home’.

Ini Archibong. (Yves Bachmann)

Ini Archibong. (Yves Bachmann)

“It’s funny, the more people I have met and the more that I have traveled the world, the more simple my answer to the unavoidable ‘What do you do?’

Now, I very simply tell people that I make pictures for a living. Having a background in architecture, industrial design, music, and art, trying to explain why it makes sense that I have created everything from office furniture to homes to jewellery and watches can be a daunting task.

The one thing that I think ties all of those disciplines together is the fact that no matter what I am crafting, it starts with an image in my head that I must translate into the medium at hand. Even more so, most of the things I create will likely be experienced by most in the form of a photograph online or in a magazine, with the actual physical experience being limited to those who put in the effort to have access. So at the end of the day, I just humbly make the most moving and beautiful images which I am capable of for the enjoyment of as many people as I can reach.

Ini Archibong’s work.

Ini Archibong’s work.

I really feel that travel and engaging with different cultures is the key to who I am as a designer. Before I had the opportunity to live abroad, and travel frequently, my work was still heavily influenced by wide ranging cultures which I learned about through books, documentaries etc.

Being a creator has always been a process of distilling my perception of the world around me into creations which could be understood by as many people possible regardless of their background, point of view, or position in life. Endeavouring to tap into universal truths and/or qualities of beauty requires a lot of inner searching as well as as much engagement with others who are as vastly different from me as possible.

Being able to spend time in different cities and absorb the culture and experience their history and the form languages that have spawned from their histories keeps me continually inspired.

For me the best thing about having a home base in Reinach, Basel-Land (the rural outskirts of the city) is the quiet, orderly, and safe sensibilities of the town and the people. In nearby Basel I also enjoy the plethora of cultural activities, museums, and periodic events which bring the world to my doorstop like Art Basel and Baselworld Watch and Jewellery Fair.

Ini Archibong’s work in progress.

Ini Archibong’s work in progress.

The most challenging? Swiss German. It is very different from the German I learned in school, and I don’t believe it is a language that can be taught, but it’s one you learn simply by being steeped in the local culture.

My wife Pilar and I met as expats in Singapore, married in her birthplace of Ceuta, Spain and our one-week-old daughter was born here in Switzerland. In the past 4 years we have touched down in an innumerable number of cities and at some point the question comes up ‘Could you imagine living here in Copenhagen/Milan/insert city here?’ Even though, with the birth of our daughter, we feel quite settled here in Switzerland, I think we were both drawn to each others’ sense of adventure and exploration. So I think that with the partner I have and the family we are making, the only thing we know is that we are probably not going to be tied down to any one place forever!

There is always the thrill of exploring the monuments and buildings that I studied while in school or that have influenced my approach to design whenever I touch down in a new city. But beyond that, my awareness of the different qualities of space and experience has evolved over the course of my education and continues to evolve as I practice my craft.

Ini Archibong’s work.

Ini Archibong’s work.

The Environmental Design program at Art Center College of Design is very much focused on how our surrounding environment affects and guides our experiences. Whereas before I was intrigued by the formal aspects of the architecture and built environment of cities I visited, after my studies in Pasadena I became more acutely aware of how the inhabitants of the city respond to their environment, and how the culture of a city has been shaped by the public spaces and the aesthetics of the built environment around them.

Now after having studied at the ECAL and living in Europe for a few years I have found myself paying much more attention to how these cities dictate social norms, the way people choose to adorn themselves, the values of the different stratas of people who inhabit the city, etc.

When it comes to describing [my aesthetic], I find that words are the most difficult medium. From my perspective, I don’t necessarily try to have a consistent aesthetic or signature that runs through my work, but I do my best to create from an honest perspective which only I can have as an individual, so there is bound to be a continuity of aesthetic based on my control over what I find beautiful.

I will say, though, that I do my best to tap into feelings and create themes based on inspiration from ‘beyond.’ I feel that everything around us has a dimension whose quality is intangible and that speaks about its essence.

Attempting to create from this perspective is perhaps what gives my work the ‘weightless quality’ you describe. Perhaps I’m drawn to that particular aspect or quality, and subliminally instill it into my work. I honestly only think about these things retrospectively when asked.

Before I ever had the opportunity to get on a plane and travel outside the borders of the US at age 21, I spent years exploring the world and beyond through books. I think reading is a vitally important means of exploration.

Before leaving my hometown of Pasadena for the life of an expat, it would have been very easy for me to answer that question. Then for a period of time I truly felt like I didn’t have a ‘place’. The US no longer felt like home and I began to feel ‘at home’ wherever I happened to be as long as I was at peace with myself and had the means to express my creativity.

Now the feeling of home is not so much attached to a place. The feeling of being at home for me now is attached to my wife, Pilar, and the life we have been building together for the past 4 years. It could be anywhere honestly. Right now it happens to be Reinach, Switzerland.”

Ini Archibong. (Yves Bachmann)

Ini Archibong. (Yves Bachmann)