The Catalan’s work is an intriguing balancing act between geometric precision and improvised, organic processes
Viewing victor castanera’s portfolio, you might imagine you’re looking at the work of two different people: some items reflect the precise thinking of a skilled technician; others, the gentle hand of an artist. But the 26-year-old designer has always been equally interested in both the technical and creative sides of design. Look more closely at his work and it’s obvious that each of his projects combines these impulses: items with an organic, naturalistic look are underpinned by painstaking research and experimentation, while those with an overtly scientific aesthetic actually employ technology to make life more intuitive or wondrous.
This combination of interests can be traced back several years. Barcelona born and based, Castanera briefly considered studying architecture, but eventually opted for product design because of the relative freedom and immediacy it offered. The course at Elisava School of Design in his home town was conceptual and ideas-driven, but an additional year at the Politecnico di Milano as part of the Erasmus programme nurtured his practical skills.
His Areniscos bowls, launched in 2012, are an example of the former, stemming from dreamy reminiscences of a youth spent by the ocean. Created on the beach, they incorporate nature into the making process. ‘I wanted to talk about the relationship we have with nature, that we’re now losing,’ Castanera says. He poured water into sand to fashion natural moulds, then filled these with a non-toxic acrylic resin to create a unique set of vessels caked in the sand on which they were conceived. He used the same technique for the limited-edition Costa Brava series, made on different beaches with a variety of sand colours.
Last year’s Undae cups, vases, tables and boards were also inspired by the beach – specifically, the patterns that waves and wind create on sand. ‘I was thinking about how these lines change all the time and I wanted to create a process for making objects with waves that are always different.’ Achieving this involved building precise moulds, then pouring resin into them vertically from suspended pipes. For the lighter Sand series, wood flour and sawdust are mixed into the resin, while the Sea collection is coloured by blue and black pigment. ‘It’s a low-tech process but the mould has to be built well and the pipes have to be positioned perfectly,’ explains Castanera.
On the more technical end of the spectrum is the Balance lamp, launched this year by Swedish brand Oblure. The appearance is achieved through a complex process of threading cables through the steel planks, but the aim was to elicit a sense of wonder: the spheres balance on tilted planes as if by magic, in a manner that Castanera says is meant to evoke the balancing act of life itself. Then there is the kitchen scale he designed while studying at Milan in 2014. Using Castigliano’s Theorem, Scale calculates the weight of a bowl by how much it bends the steel sheet it rests upon, but this is meant to encourage a less precise and more intuitive way of thinking. ‘Some people have very high-tech scales in their kitchen, but they don’t need them just to know the weight of pasta, for example. This was a playful and low-tech way to know just what you need, not more.’
Castanera is on the lookout for a producer for Scale, and is keen to collaborate more with companies – partly so he can experiment on a larger scale with sustainable materials and processes. But that doesn’t mean he’s giving up on his more quixotic endeavours. In fact, he’s already working on the next one, though he will only describe it in the most enigmatic terms. ‘Ice is a material that’s changing all the time, so I’m working on a way of using that to create objects.’