At first glance, the function of Ini Archibong’s piece for Holy Handmade! is cryptic. It’s a statuesque block of black granite with 31 droplets of white marble inserted in two perfectly symmetrical lines. Its intriguing presence is entirely intentional: ‘It’s meant to be viewed as a sculpture to anyone but the owner,’ explains the Basel-based American designer. ‘The owner has the secret knowledge of its function.’

The ‘Ritual Calendar’ is actually a tool for practising mindfulness. Each day of the month, a new droplet-shaped totem is taken out of the calendar and carried in a pocket for the day, before being put back in place at night. ‘So many things are competing for our attention throughout the day,’ says Archibong. ‘When you’re carrying the totem around with you, and you mindlessly put your hands in your pocket, you’re reminded to bring mindfulness to something that you’ve embedded in the object. Whatever power you’ve embedded this piece with, the totems give you the opportunity to tap into it.’

For Archibong, who grew up as the son of Nigerian emigrants in Pasadena, California, the exploration of ritual is nothing new. I’ve had various totems throughout my life,’ he says, remembering his days as an American football player in high school: ‘As an athlete, it was very important to practise every day until certain motions became like muscle memory. And being of West African origin, I grew up around a lot of masks and statues that carry a feeling of reverence. I wanted to embed this feeling within the calendar.’

To design the calendar, Archibong drew inspiration from dolmens, as well as the tribal artefacts he remembered from his youth. The simple silhouette he created is intended to convey a sense of reverence, or a spirituality that transcends different cultures. As such, stone seemed like the natural material from which to craft his altar to mindfulness.

Working with Italian stone specialist Testi, Archibong set about exchanging drawings and samples with the factory’s craftsmen, who, having worked on two previous Handmade projects, were familiar with the exhibition’s tight time frame. Guided by the expertise of Testi’s commercial director, Tomas Brolin, Archibong selected a Black Absolute Zimbabwe granite that was machined to create the main oblong form, while the smaller totems were painstakingly hand-carved from Creole Beige marble. ‘Given the time scale, what Testi delivered was incredibly impressive,’ says Archibong. ‘They were able to quickly handcraft those 31 pieces, which is by no means a simple task. Each one had to be almost exactly the same and slide into place in a very special way. They executed that perfectly.’

To create the velvety, honed surface of the piece, Testi employed the hand-finishing technique of zigrinato, which it first invented for a line of Tobia Scarpa lamps. ‘It creates a texture that feels crystallised and smooth at the same time,’ explains Brolin.

‘It was important for the totems to have a certain feel in the hand,’ says Archibong of their rounded and tapered form that fits perfectly into the palm. ‘The size, texture and gentle slope of the surface were all intentional. It’s the perfect shape for rubbing your thumb across and rotating it in your pocket.’

Just days after the piece was finished, on site at the Wallpaper* Handmade exhibition in Milan, Archibong watched as curious visitors approached the calendar to closely examine its totems. ‘It was fascinating to see how people gravitated towards it without really understanding what it was,’ he says. ‘To me, it was an indication that it is imbued with the power of the concept.’

As originally featured in the August 2017 issue of Wallpaper* (W*221)

RELATED TOPICS: AMERICAN DESIGN, WALLPAPER* HANDMADE