How to Make It

Memory Catcher

Anna Carnick

Nacho Carbonell on crafting objects—and moments—to remember

In Nacho Carbonell’s world, objects don’t just sit—they spark, demanding our full attention. Approaching his work as designer, sculptor, and raconteur, Carbonell crafts evocative objects and scenes at once familiar and strange, braiding together the real and the imagined. “I want to create... objects with a fictional or fantastical element that allow you to escape everyday life,” the Spanish-born, Eindhoven-based maker has said. “I like to see objects as living organisms, imagining them coming alive and being able to surprise you with their behavior.”

Pink Cubes Concrete Base by Nacho Carbonell, 2019. Photos © Carpenters Workshop Gallery

Consider, for example, his ongoing series of tree-like, illuminated sculptures, some rooted in the ground, others dreamily suspended in cloud-like canopies. Or Evolution (2008) and Re-Evolution (2019), Carbonell’s curious, cocoon-like, covered benches, intended as refuges from the hustle and bustle of modern life, if even for just a few moments. Like characters in a play, they draw us in, offering up unexpected tales.

Evolution Bench by Nacho Carbonell, 2008. This piece sold at Sotheby's London in 2016 for £62,500, over 3 times its highest estimate. Photo © Sotheby's London

“I see every project as a unique opportunity for storytelling,” Carbonell says. “I tell the story to myself, and if it’s worth it to tell it to the rest of the world, that’s when the object is born. Then I use different materials and techniques to help the objects achieve the right emotional impact.” He goes on: “I am always playing with the basic, most essential emotions that we all have—the feelings that make us human—and observing how we interact with our constantly changing surroundings and society.”

Carbonell sits beside his Big Round Chandelier 1, 2018. Photo © Carpenters Workshop Gallery

With each piece, large or small, Carbonell’s goal is to create an “enchanting moment,” in which one may form a relationship with the object, as you try to interpret its meaning for yourself.  He consciously draws on his own life to fashion these moments for others. His organic lighting, for example, “is an [ongoing] exploration of my memories, [at times] recreations even of my experiences with light and shadow throughout my life, from my childhood in the Mediterranean to my present life in the Netherlands.”

Broken Brown Light Bonzaï by Nacho Carbonell, 2019. Photos © Carpenters Workshop Gallery

While the lighting works vary in materiality, form, and scale, ranging from tabletop pieces to immersive installations, all are produced using a hands-on, sculptural approach. (Carbonell believes that by using his hands, he leaves a bit of his own spirit in each piece.) Every one is composed of natural or upcycled—and locally sourced—materials. Recent iterations have incorporated everything from recycled beer bottle glass to tin and bronze.

Carbonell and his team at work in the studio. Photos © Carpenters Workshop Gallery

The majority of Carbonell’s lighting designs are sculpted upon steel mesh frames, which he handworks to a desired form, and then covers with a plaster-like material—a creation of his own composed of paper pulp, sand paverpol, and pigments—to achieve varying rough textures and colors. The extending branches and roots are made of welded metal, and the bases are frequently concrete, though on occasion brass or other metals. Over time, Carbonell observes, “The body of work has become stronger, more expressive, more immersive.”

Carbonell at work. Photo © Carpenters Workshop Gallery

The results are dramatic, romantic. Carbonell says, “The play of light and [dark] creates a space for you to be in; for this moment, you belong to that specific atmosphere. They [are] attempt[s] to transport you somewhere else, a place in which you need to let yourself go.”

Clockwise from top: Inside a Forest Cloud Chandelier, Trono, and Under A Light Tree, all part of the 2019 Dysfunctional exhibition presented by Carpenters Workshop Gallery and Lombard Odier. Photos © Carpenters Workshop Gallery

And the work stays with you, long after you’ve stepped away. In one recent, especially ambitious and memorable lighting installation, for example, a collaboration with Carpenters Workshop Gallery on the occasion of the 2019 Venice Art Biennale, Carbonell planted a “forest of light” within a 15th-century Venetian courtyard. A series of shimmering metallic trees directly responded to the site’s historic mosaics, while inviting audiences to explore an enchanted theater-like setting. Carbonell wanted “the public to engage with the objects as much as they [could] by walking through them, passing underneath, exploring them as more than a collection of individual pieces. The idea is to create an emotional experience, by building some kind of a stage."

Carbonell at his Eindhoven studio, working on pieces for Dysfunctional. Photo © Carpenters Workshop Gallery

So what’s next for Carbonell? He says the events of the past year have only reinforced his sense of purpose. “I think more than ever, [this is a] time to keep reflecting, being in contact with ourselves and what surrounds us,” and, ultimately, he says, “taking action on what we believe in, and what will create a positive impact on all levels.” ◆


You can find works by Nacho Carbonell through Carpenters Workshop in the Design Miami/ Shop here.

Tin Laying Bubble Lamp (2020) by Nacho Carbonell; Image © Carpenters Workshop Gallery