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Fernando Laposse’s ‘Ghosts of Our Towns’: a narrative of materials, culture and evolution
Ghosts of Our Towns by designer Fernando Laposse at Friedman Benda gallery, New York
Image: Timothy Doyon, Courtesy of Friedman Benda and Fernando Laposse

Fernando Laposse’s ‘Ghosts of Our Towns’: a narrative of materials, culture and evolution

Exploring the Ghosts of Our Towns exhibition at the Friedman Benda gallery NY, where Mexican designer Fernando Laposse honours the beauty of nature and community.

by Aarthi Mohan
Published on : Oct 10, 2023

In the ever-evolving world of design where trends come and go, there exists a unique approach that transcends the superficial allure of aesthetics—it is a philosophy known as ‘endemic design’ and at its heart lies the London-based Mexican designer, Fernando Laposse's ouevre. The product designer’s work isn’t just about creating objects, it is a profound exploration of materials and their intricate historical and cultural connections to specific locations and their communities.

This enduring commitment to his craft takes centre stage in his first solo-exhibition with Friedman Benda gallery New York, called Ghosts of Our Towns, a captivating collection that challenges our perceptions of agriculture, production ethics, and the usage of waste materials as a canvas for innovation. Laposse’s design journey begins with an intimate connection to the entire process, from planting and harvesting to designing and fabricating. For him, “efforts to regenerate the land go hand in hand with efforts to regenerate the community." This holistic approach forms the foundation of his creative expression, forging a bond between the Earth and its inhabitants that goes beyond the mere physicality of his product designs.

Laposse's focus for this showcase, presented from September 7 - October 14, 2023, revolves around three materials: corn, agave, and avocado. These selections are not random, but the result of extensive research carried out by the designer into the collective impact of the trade and consumption patterns on small farming communities in Mexico. Laposse’s work forms a bridge between disruption and restoration, dissolution and hope. He believes that “to get to the root, one must go to the soil,” and his exploration of fibres delves deep into the complexities of our environmental crisis, the loss of biodiversity, community disintegration, and forced migration.

The works within the Ghosts of Our Towns design exhibition narrates a tale of ever-changing landscapes and a social fabric that keeps tearing due to the decline of native corn varieties, herbicide use, and the influx of genetically modified seeds. In Laposse’s furniture, material exploration and sustainable design narratives unite to weave a story of deteriorated environments and social abandonment. His use of residual materials is a poignant reflection on a landscape marked by remnants—a lingering testament to forgotten knowledge, forcibly erased over time.

Amid the stark realities depicted in Laposse’s works, a glimmer of hope shines through. Communities are gradually rediscovering traditional ways of living, crafting, and producing. In 2015, the Mexican furniture designer initiated a collaborative project and workshop in Tonahhuixtla, a small village in the Mixtec region of Puebla. For Laposse, this endeavour, born from a lifelong connection with the town and its people, goes beyond just erosion control. It serves as a comprehensive system for re-evaluating challenges and seeking solutions rooted in principles of community restoration, visual innovation, and material ingenuity. Laposse forges a seamless dialogue between native materials and innovative craft techniques, creating culturally relevant systems of sustainability, as showcased in Ghosts of Our Towns.

The core of Laposse’s design ethos lies in his commitment to material experimentation. He fearlessly delves into the world of natural resources, constantly seeking new avenues of creativity. His extensive repertoire includes materials such as sisal, loofah, corn leaves, and more. Through his innovative approach, he challenges preconceived notions about the possibilities of these materials, igniting discussions on their cultural, ecological, and artistic significance in the world of design.

One of the forefronts of his pioneering work is the development of sisal and heirloom corn husks as contemporary design materials. Pieces such as the 'Totomoxtle Snake' coffee table and the 'Corn Kumiko' showcase the designer’s signature use of Totomoxtle, a veneer crafted from heirloom corn husks in collaboration with the community. Raw sisal fibres, found in the leaves of agave plants, are used in furniture designs such as the ‘Hair of the Dog' cabinet, wall mirrors, and armchairs, each meticulously combed and hand-knotted.

Drawing from recent research on Mexico’s avocado industry, the ‘Resting Place’ as well as the tapestries in the exhibition are dyed with avocado pits, paying homage to Cheran, a self-governing town in Michoacan that courageously defends its land and community against violence and deforestation. Ghosts of Our Towns is accompanied by a digital catalogue with essays by Glenn Adamson and Mario Ballesteros.

For Laposse, active involvement in every phase of the creative process is paramount. His collaboration with indigenous communities in Mexico not only creates local employment opportunities but also raises awareness about the challenges they face in an increasingly globalised world. Through his projects, the designer addresses critical issues such as the environmental crisis, loss of biodiversity, community dissolution, migration and the adverse impacts of global trade on local agriculture and food culture. By documenting these challenges and proposing innovative solutions through the transformative power of design, Laposse has earned recognition on the global stage, with his work featured in prestigious institutions as well as museums worldwide.

Laposse’s creative designs exhibited in Ghosts of Our Towns teach us important lessons about how we can improve our world. The exhibition reveals to us how materials, culture, and positive change come together to tell a fascinating story. It is a celebration of design as a tool to transform, repair, and change the narrative from erosion to renewal. His art is not just appearances—it encourages us to reevaluate our relationship with the land, the environment and the communities that depend on them.

Fernando Laposse's 'Ghosts of Our Towns' exhibition is on view from September 7 - October 14, 2023, at Friedman Benda, New York, USA.

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