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Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol

Marta Armengol

Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol

Palma de Mallorca: I had a relaxed chat with Marta one afternoon, just after lunch. I knew Marta from Barcelona, but in the summer of 2020 I had the opportunity to witness her creative process. Apartamento and Clarks did a project where we asked four artists to imagine their own desert island and create an object in response. The main components of Marta’s island were a thread and a maze. The labyrinth protected everything important at its centre, and the thread connected the outside with the inside world. Through our weekly video calls, I saw Marta develop her idea step by step, sketching, experimenting with materials, and working with a craftsman, until the thread became a continuous, curved iron bar that formed a chair, which demarcated a space for solitude.

Maybe it was reflecting a desire in her personal life for introspection, a time when she needed to realise what things were important to her in life. In Marta, I see a great desire to express herself and to tell stories through her objects. She’s tireless and works methodically but not rigidly, searching for ideas, materials, and gestures that help to materialise all these concerns. After talking to her this time, I think the thread and the labyrinth are a way of explaining how she works. For me, the thread represents the union of all these ideas, images, learnings, and objects that Marta has been gathering and creating to get to where she is now, both professionally and personally. And the centre of the labyrinth represents her love for her work, for telling stories, and for the people she surrounds herself with.

Marta grew up in Mallorca and moved to Barcelona to study architecture when she was 18. After graduating, she formed a studio with her classmates, but left to focus on designing objects and furniture. Marta returned to Mallorca four years ago and moved into an old, three-storey flat in the centre of Palma, which she restored herself. It was an experimental phase where she was playing around with objects and freely expressing herself, and is documented here in Robbie’s photos. A year ago, she left for a month in the Andalusian countryside to experience a life closer to nature. Since her return, the house has completely changed. All the decorations have been removed and the layout has been reconfigured, following the instructions of a geobiologist who analysed the energies in the house. Her lifestyle and aspirations now convey a quest for calmness and tranquillity. The overall feeling I get is one of being where she wants to be, and contentment with what she’s learnt along the way.

Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol

How’s it going? You’re in Mallorca, right?

Yes, I moved back. For the first few months, I wanted to get the hell out. But look, I’m still here.

The first time we properly talked was for the project with Apartamento and Clarks. There was very little time to conceptualise an idea to produce an object, but I get the feeling that these two elements played in your favour. 

What I find most interesting is the whole process to get to an object, not so much the end result. The most fun thing is to investigate how you’ll do it, what materials you’ll use, who you’ll work with, and the time that you’ll have. Limitations make you squeeze yourself to find solutions. I usually start from my own personal research on topics that interest me, whether they’re more related to design, literature, science, or conversations and recurring thoughts I’ve had. The piece is part of my ongoing process, therefore it’s never finished. It’s part of the evolution of me as a person and of my career.

Have you always felt this way? Or did you discover the way you like to work? 

I don’t think I knew that from the beginning, but I’ve learnt what stimulates me by workingresearching, reading, and cultivating myselfand it’s kept me evolving. Much of what happens in design focuses on the final image or the final aesthetics, but for me, design is a tool that helps you understand what you want to show, what you want to talk about, or who you want to stimulate. It has to open up questions, both in the personal sphere and in society.

It’s a very different perspective to the one you get when you start college. Everything goes really fast, information is thrown at you. You don’t really know who you are or what you want and you’re already choosing a career.

I’d like to start college again to enjoy everything much more. I wasn’t aware or mature enough to realise what I liked and what was useful. When you come out of education, you realise that you’ve appropriated what you studied and you’ve taken it into your field. My way of working is quite like an architect. We have a concrete way of doing. The way my mind functions is a tool, and I’ve turned it into my language. 

Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol

You’re an architect and you’re from Mallorca, two very strong characteristics. Architecture definitely leaves a mark, and I see this thing of being from an island in the people of Mallorca.

I wouldn’t know how to identify what it is, but islanders share something, some kind of energy. Being back, I’ve come to realise the value of having grown up here. I’ve also begun to understand many of the influences or the references that I’d assimilated. When I was younger, I was much more naïve, I didn’t pay so much attention. 

Can you give me an example?

It’s as simple as nature. Reminiscences of nature and the wild spaces around me have influenced my way of designing and producing things. Also the proximity to more rough and wild materials. I like to expose these shapes. All this has a lot to do with what my eyes have seen or what they’ve felt. I’ve always tried to put it into what I do without thinking much about it.

What was your environment like growing up?

I have very fond memories. I’m the oldest sister of four siblings—two boys and two girls—and I’m very close with them. I grew up in a country house with a garden, in a small village here in the Serra de Tramuntana. My family is Catalan, from Sabadell, but moved to Mallorca a long time ago. Everything I experienced when I was little was very quiet and very beautiful. But at 18, I felt as if I was drowning from living on an island. I needed to get out, to study in Barcelona or wherever because I couldn’t stay here. And that’s where I went. I created a kind of rejection towards Mallorca, and barely stepped back on the island. When I returned four years ago, I had the same mentality. Two years later, I said: ‘This is amazing, was I blind?’ It also changed a lot. When I returned, lots of people were coming back, you could see that there was a lot of movement, and I felt I had things in common with them.

There’s been a revaluation of nature, especially because we were deprived of it.

The quality of life you get is incredible. It opens your mind to the important things. In Barcelona, I was frenetic. It’s rewarding to learn to go at your own pace.

Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol

What’s your relationship with cooking or food?

It makes me hallucinate. In fact, my parents have a restaurant. It’s a very small place called La Mirona. They have suppliers from different places in Catalonia, Mallorca, and northern Spain. My parents work in the fashion business, so my father travelled a lot and is a big fan of restaurants. At home, he was always the one who cooked on Sundays. He loved it so he opened the restaurant 10 years ago. Both of them work there. It started out as a gourmet shop, but he started doing tastings. He has no stove, it’s all already cooked, and he mixes different foods. As he likes to say, they make assemblages. My brother is also a cook and my best friend has a colmadito—a deli—of delicious products, called Colmado Sant Jaume. I’m fascinated by this whole world. The act of eating is a ritual for me and one of the most important moments of the day. For example, today we’ve been cooking lentils here at home. We stop for as long as it takes to cook and eat them. One day we’ll spend an hour cooking and another day we’ll spend three hours. In the past, that would’ve made me super nervous, I would’ve said: ‘My god, I don’t have time!’

Tell me about one of your projects related to the ceremony of eating.

I’ve made many. I produced different everyday objects that could transform this act by making the person eating aware of what they’re doing. When you take a cup, you do it without thinking because you already know which way to grab it. I made a spoon that was almost too ergonomic; it didn’t fit your hand and that made it more complicated to grab. The glasses I made are very comical and really uncomfortable to drink from. I like playing with irony to make you realise how you should drink with these special objects. You can’t drink in a normal way, because if you do, the content falls from the other side. I’m not producing any at the moment, but every once in a while, I like to get back to it. All this comes from the love I have for the act of eating, cultivated in the last few years. The people around me are also fans so I love being able to cook and do these ceremonies.

Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol

Why glass?

I function like this: I get interested in a material and I try to approach it and study it when the opportunity arises. I was asked to participate in Barcelona Design Week. The theme was transitions and I was directed to install my project on the roof of Casa de les Punxes. The whole theme of stained glass appeared. I then associated transparency with the reflections made by glass and with the passage of time. It was the perfect excuse to begin working with this material that was already running through my head, but I didn’t know how it worked in practice. I created a kind of self-supporting greenhouse all made of glass. It was like adding a spike to the house, and daylight made the shadows transform on the patio floor. It was the first time I worked with blown glass.

Are you going to keep working with glass or have you got tired of it?

It still interests me. Glass is super intense and extensive, and you can apply it and work with it in a million ways. In fact, I hadn’t worked with it for a long time, but I’m using it again at the moment. I’m also doing things with fabrics.

Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
The Glass, 2020. Photography by Nacho Alegre.
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
The Melting Bowl, 2020. Photography by Nacho Alegre.
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
The Melting Spoon. Photography by Nacho Alegre.
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
The Glass sketches, 2020.

Did seeing what your parents were doing in the textile industry have an influence on you? 

My mother had a store—she was and still is very fashionable—and I travelled with her to choose clothes for it. As well as working in fashion, my father painted, restored, and collected. All of this was present in my house, and when you’re little, obviously everything around you influences you. Your eye gets educated. I’ve always been fascinated by fashion. I never thought about studying it, though in the end it’s patternmaking, which is very similar to making technical plans. I haven’t experienced fashion as the designer, but it’s part of my imagination and it definitely translates into what I do. I like to pay attention to it, know the brands, the way they work, and what they do. This has led me to collaborate with several clothing and footwear brands. It all started with Paloma Wool; the root was a friendship and many common interests. In the end, one is doing fashion, the other one furniture, but we’re moved by the same thing. The connection between different disciplines generated friendship and fuelled our desire to do things together and try new things. The first pieces of furniture that I did on my own were for her first pop-ups.

Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Transicions, Casa de les Punxes. Barcelona, 2019. Photography by Carlota Guerrero.
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Transicions (detail), Casa de les Punxes. Barcelona, 2019. Photography by Carlota Guerrero.

For the piece at Casa de les Punxes and in the furniture for Paloma Wool, movement and the assembly process are very important. 

As soon as I start imagining an object, I think about the material, the size of the material, the way in which it can be joined, and the most realistic way to produce it. I can’t remove this part of my process, it’s part of what I do. In order to build these objects, I need a system. It comes entirely from architecture, construction, and the assembling of things.

Assemblages too!

Yes, like my parents. Maybe it comes from there, something innate in my family. It’s exactly the same. For my thing, you have to know how to combine one material with another and for their thing, you have to know how to combine all the ingredients.

Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol

Going back to textiles, what are you working on with this material?

With interior design, with space, and with objects. I bought myself a sewing machine for a project and made a chair. Since I didn’t have a very specific space at that time—I was in a nomadic phase—I asked myself: ‘What would be a suitable chair for me right now? I don’t want to make a normal chair because I won’t be able to carry it with me’. It was winter, so I made a chair that was a puffer coat and also a sleeping bag. I made a pattern, chose the fabrics, looked for what clicked, what buttons, and what gestures I had to do in order for it to work. I did tests. I made everything and filled it with feathers. It’s kind of a creature that you can wear. It has a hoodie that you put the back of the chair inside and it stiffens your back. It also has a mechanism to close it. You can take it wherever you want.

From the way you’re explaining this, I picture your gestures guiding the idea. 

The intentionality of the gestures are much more important than whether it’s beautiful or ugly. Only 15% of the entire narrative sees the light. The intentionality, the investigation, and the process—all these things take the most work.

Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Cargo chair, 2022.
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Cargo chair, 2022.
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Cargo chair, 2022.
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Cargo chair, 2022.
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Cargo chair, 2022.
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Cargo chair, 2022.

This reminds me that, not long ago, we did an interview with the late Spanish artist Ouka Leele. She had started painting with palo santo and said that the smell of it obsessed her. It dragged her to paint.

In the end, what everyone is doing is following their intuition. She knew it was there, she was carried away by intuition and what the palo santo may be giving off. I can understand this connection and what she was trying to explain—it seems very pure.

It seemed very primitive. She wasn’t doing very well health-wise at that moment. It was a heavy impulse that came to her almost from her subconscious.

How beautiful. I like learning she was doing that. The lowest moments are the ones that wake you up. They open and illuminate you. You dive into it and that’s where you really find the answers to many questions. It’s also important to feel it. To believe in what you do and be convinced that this is the way at that moment. 

What are your influences?

It depends a lot on the moment. Nowadays I naturally return to things that seemed interesting to me during university but that I disassociated myself from. Though I don’t look at many architecture books now, I’m more caught up in literature or essays. The people around me have very strong interests in more scientific topics, like ecology, and they pass it on to me. I read Timothy Morton. Also, with the pandemic you end up researching in fields you never thought you’d get into. Then there are things that have been in your imagination for a long time that you hadn’t exploited and that suddenly appear for you to incorporate into what you’re doing. My grandmother tells me something, or my father tells me that my grandfather was dedicated to making ties. So you keep finding connections. 

Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol

Which area do you feel most comfortable in, art or design? 

Right in this dissolution of not knowing exactly what I do, that is where I like to be the most. In the middle between the architect, the designer, and the artist—well, I don’t consider myself an artist, this word has a lot of weight for me. I like to play many disciplines, to collaborate with many people, and the more mixed everything is, the better. The more I play, the more alive I feel.

You work very closely with craftsmen. Do you think the crafts have had a comeback in recent years?

A generation has approached crafts that were there but weren’t known. Luckily there are still people who do things very well and who master a material or a technique. They make it possible for my ideas to become something real. In the case of glass, Ferran Collado, who I’ve worked with so far, is a very important element in my process. Seeing that someone understands, contributes, and transforms the sketch almost perfectly into lung-blown glass is very interesting. For me, it’s like acting as a conductor: ‘Blow more here or less there’. Before, there’s always a process of him saying to me: ‘You’re completely mad. This is impossible, I can’t make these dimensions because the oven has these dimensions’. I like to look for the limits of materials, and I’m very attracted by this whole research process of discarding. And the function of this person who executes is indispensable because they’re the one who masters the technique. As you work with a material, you learn how far you can go with it. This can sometimes be bad because you limit yourself. When planning, your brain already knows it won’t be possible and goes the other way. That might be why I like to jump from material to material: ‘I’m going to another one, this one is already limiting me, I’m going to do something I know nothing about’.

Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Marta Armengol: Labyrinthus⁣, 2020.
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
CAN CAMPER, 2022. Photography by Jeroen Verrecht.
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
CAN CAMPER, 2022. Photography by Jeroen Verrecht.
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
CAN CAMPER, 2022. Photography by Jeroen Verrecht.

I see two sides of the same coin. When there are too many limitations, you want to go out to look for another material, but at the same time, limitations motivate you.

It’s always about looking for solutions.

And having curiosity to explore. 

Yes, totally! To get lost in what you do, to get inside, investigate, and to explore.

You’ve continued to work on architectural projects, right?

Yes, my latest project is a store that Camper opened in Valencia. I was in charge of renovating everything. It was a large project—300 square metres on two floors—so it was dense, very interesting, but intense. I feel that it’s like being inside one of the last objects I’ve made, but with more elements at play and more people involved. It’s like having written a little story. Now that I’ve done this, I’d like to continue doing it. It’s been a way of reconnecting with architecture. When I finished my degree, I started a studio with some friends, but then I decided to move away a little from what was strictly architecture. I wanted to go along other lines, and that’s why I started focusing on designing ephemeral objects. Now I’ve done a renovation, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I hadn’t worked on other things previously and returned to architecture from another point of view. I needed to go through another phase before I got hooked and could be fascinated by it again.

Does the building have the use you expected? I was thinking about how you approach your glasses and spoons. 

You create something thinking that it’ll work in one way. The function is intrinsic to the object or the space that you create—or at least everything I do has an implicit function. Sometimes you’re surprised that it doesn’t work as you expected or when people give it a different use. For better or for worse. I’m not afraid because I think, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?’ With large-scale architecture it’s different. Building from scratch—or construction generally—requires professionalism because of the magnitude. It’s a big responsibility; you have to do it well because it has an environmental and physical impact. You have to be superb. I have a lot of respect for it because it seems like a beast to me. I like the small scale, the domestic one. I feel more comfortable because it’s more detailed, so you can have full awareness of what you’re doing and make sure that it’s well-done. But you never know, I might work at a large scale, depending on the project.

Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol

How did you end up living in this space?

When I moved back to Mallorca, I lived in a house that my parents have, the house where I was born, but I wanted to live in Palma. At a dinner, I saw a friend who told me that the person who was renting his father’s apartment was leaving. An old apartment in the centre of Palma. When I went to visit it, it was dilapidated, but I loved it. It fit me perfectly. Three floors for me alone, like a tower. There was enough space to live and set up a studio. I did a little renovation and transferred all my energy and imagination from the past few years—which had been somewhat repressed on many levels—to create a kind of ecosystem for myself. It was half-done, with things hanging from the ceiling, lamps I’d made, and gifts from friends everywhere on the walls. It was very eclectic, an explosion of information. It represented how I was at the time. For me, coming back to Mallorca was like opening up creatively, it was a very important moment in my life. This house was like being inside myself. Inside my head. Things were popping up and happening everywhere. I was in the experimentation phase and my house was my experiment. It was a little chaotic, kind of a bazaar of memories and knick-knacks. It lasted three years or so and I loved it. 

And now?

The pandemic happened. I spent it here on my own. It was a moment of great hardship, but it was also very introspective and good for me to spend it that way. Then I was given the opportunity to go for an artist residency in Aracena, in the south of Andalusia, in a cabin in the middle of nowhere for a month. When I returned, I said: ‘There’s no way I’m staying in Palma, I want to live surrounded by the sea and nature.’ I emptied my apartment, rented it, and went to Llucalari, which is not even a town. It’s next to Deià and has about 12 houses. I went to a place that was like a carport, a very small garage that had been renovated into a small apartment, and I lived there by the sea. I was there for four months. I worked from this house, but I began to miss a workspace like the one I had in Palma. This past February I returned to the flat, but now I live with my partner and a friend. They’re musicians and have set up a recording studio on the top floor. Now I have my studio downstairs and I’m setting up a studio in a much larger space next door. So the place is like a totally new one. It’s been good for me, doing a reset and a clean-up of all that eclecticism and chaos I created. It feels like new to me; it has a different aesthetic and energy.

So many parallels. You’ve returned to the house you lived in, you’ve returned to Mallorca, you’ve returned to architecture, but to all of it from another place. Are the photos Robbie took from the previous set-up?

Yes. He came just before I left again. They’re the only photos I have. 

Now I like the photos even more because they tell a story. You might not even be the same yourself.

Definitely not. Just like in my job, I’m also changing all the time.

Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol

Is having space important to you?

Just today we had a conversation about what most of society believes is luxury. This desire that everyone has to make houses, have bigger spaces, with I don’t know how many rooms, and the whole interior made to measure. But when you get older, what do you have left? For me, luxury would be to live in the countryside and to have a much smaller space with less information, that’s simple and more honest. I hope to simplify everything. It’s a constant challenge because I like complexity, but I also like spaces to be neutral, calm. The energy of a place is very important. A geobiologist came to my home to check the electromagnetic waves, to see if there were any groundwater flows. He came over with the pendulums and the rods and checked the Hartmann and Curry lines, and he measured the influence of all this to help us arrange everything. The house is about four meters wide, it’s very narrow. There’s a groundwater flow passing through the middle. If I’m working, I can’t be sitting on it because my energy gets drained and I can get distracted. Many cultures—Hindu, Japanese, also Chinese—have ways of studying the physical orientation of space. There are whole subjects in feng shui like colour rhythms, sounds. I’m into it and I want to keep investigating.

Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol

You aspire to calm, to live calmly.

I’m inclined towards wellbeing, establishing good foundations. I’d like to live in the countryside.; it’s where I feel better, calmer, and more comfortable gradually doing the things I enjoy doing. It’s where I’m less distracted. There are fewer inputs. Home is like a refuge, so I have to feel comfortable. In the end, it’s an extension of oneself.

Do you have a place in mind?

I had a dream once which left a mark on me. I was living in a house like—have you seen The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez? It’s directed by Wim Wenders and Nick Cave stars in it, playing the piano. This movie might be a bore to some people. It’s based on a Peter Handke book, a dialogue about love between a man and a woman on a porch. One of those metal structures—I don’t know if they’re more typical in France—which have entangled vines. I imagined a house with a porch like that and a garden. There were lots of plants. Very wild. If we could mix all the ingredients together, I would choose a simple, humble house in the middle of nowhere on the island of Mallorca near my family. It’s not that it’s a dream that couldn’t be fulfilled. But who knows, I might end up living in Brazil. Where I am is where I want to be at the moment.

Apartamento Magazine - Marta Armengol
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