Design objects are tactile storytellers

Valencia-born and now Eindhoven-based artist Nacho Carbonell is featured designer at this year's Guild fair taking place in Cape Town from February 27 to March 9. Carbonell is exhibiting Playground Closes at Dusk, a four-piece installation that explores the undefined connections between our senses and our surroundings. His early collection, Evolution, marked the start of ongoing collaboration with curator Rossana Orlandi, a guest at this year's Guild. "The best thing about creating with my hands is that I can tell stories," he says. 

He studied at the Spanish university Cardenal Herrera CEU before graduating in 2007 from the Design Academy Eindhoven.

You were named designer of the future. What do you think the future holds for design? 
Design is not just about the concept of finding solutions to a problem or about the finished product, so it will keep growing and developing. Design will transform and encompass many different fields, creating new ways of thinking and representing changes that are happening around the world today. 

Design is a way of looking at the future to create something new. We are discovering that it's very important to look at the future before we create something, realising that whatever we do now in the present will have massive consequences for the future. That's why I feel that design is very important because it anticipates the future and people will rely more on designers because of this.

Is that why you source your raw materials from around you? Are you very environmentally focused? 
It depends on the project but I like to put my projects in a context, so that it tells a story of its environment. I feel like all my projects express my personal life, how I've grown, stages in my life and where I've found myself in certain places or situations or even my mood. 

I don't want to call my work "eco-friendly" because I think it's become more of a trend than a real solution. What I always try to do is analyse what I may approach, and determine how a particular project or object can communicate – I try to use my objects as communicative tools. 

Like books, they tell a story or give you an insight. For me, my way of expressing my thoughts is through my objects.

When is it design and when is it art? 
Even though we live in a society that seems free and open, we all still need labels. I am a designer because I studied at two designer schools, but design is changing. I try to create self-made objects that have a kind of a function or use, but it's not only about a lamp illuminating something or having a chair to sit on. 

I like to put more meaning into objects. It depends on who you are but some will read beyond the lines of the work and there are people who will just pass by and see it as a beautiful lamp or chair. It's also about provoking different reactions, different meanings to different people, that's why I always try a range of things because I don't feel like there is one solution that is ever right, it's like a whole family of solutions that bring us to the idea.

You make things by hand.  Are you against mass-produced objects or design? 
No, I was employed as an industrial designer in Spain, creating mass-produced industrial design; functional things like toasters and juicers. That is my background, but later I came to Holland and I was inspired to think of new ways to approach a project. My plan is to combine these two universes – the way I know to build something and the knowledge of how to approach a project in a different and more personal way. 

Your work has been described as organic, animated and communicative … 
Yes, I think my work is storytelling but what I find that I am missing is a kind of combined fantasy and dreamy world that we all have and the reality of what is happening. I try to communicate how I see society and the world through my work. 

The work is a contradiction of seriousness and humour. Things are never black or white; I like to explore different meanings and materials. I like things that are tactile.

Has living in Holland changed your aesthetic more than Valencia did? 
I feel like both of them contributed to who I am, so both are very important. Holland gave me the opportunity to express myself more, that nothing was impossible to create by hand. 

You and your design team eat and work together. Was that your idea?
It's not my idea, it's been a part of me all my life, my society and the way I was brought up in Spain. Holland is very different, but in Spain everything happens around the table. I kept my roots and the way that I live. Cooking and eating together help us to know each other better and that makes a stronger team that creates better results.

Who has been your biggest champion? 
Rossana Orlandi gave me the opportunity to show my work in a gallery. We first met in 2007-2008 and we've been working together ever since – in Milan, Basel, for my solo shows; she has been very supportive. 

Late last year I visited Orlandi's Pan e Acqua design eatery in Milan and saw your incredible wall backdrop. How did that come about? 
That was a functional project. She wanted something created from foam because the acoustics in the place are extremely bad. We asked ourselves how we could fill such a big space with something created from small pieces, so we thought of a landscape encompassing the earth and the sky. We worked on it for three months. Every piece was created by hand and then sewn in as a tapestry – about 40 000 pieces woven into a net to create the tapestry wall. This is exactly the kind of process I use in most of my work – handmade.

Which is your favourite work that you have made or conceived? 
I hope that it's still coming, but my best work so far was my first work called Pump It Up
chair. It is also about contradictions – life, death, and thinking about how we together can create something. 

A chair can come alive – I depend on the chair for seating and the chair depends on me to give it life. There are so many layers involved in this object that I use to inspire my other work.

How do you think design can help with social change? 
Design is so broad and open and it can touch many points of society and break through old ways of thinking, from very practical to quite conceptual ideas. 

In my hometown of Valencia, which I visit every summer, there was a river that flowed through the middle in the city. It used to overflow and cause a lot of damage; they rerouted it and created a park in its place. It's the lung of the city now, which connects the north and south parts where people ride their bicycles or play sports. That is a great example of urban planning.

Have you been to South Africa before? If not, what are your expectations? 
This will be the first time and I am very excited about the potential to evolve and to be shaped by people there. There are so many things to discover. South Africa is like this house that everyone has moved into and they can see the potential for change. Some people just want to move in and accept what it is; others see something much more.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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