Daniel Carrion is El Reinventor — a man with a cheeky disposition — an alchemist of sorts, turning silver leftovers into jewelry, and Berlin’s discarded treasures into repurposed functional installations. He has put out objects such as his Kingbins, which are chairs made of oil bins, Trumpet lamps, consisting of parts of trumpets, and other brass instruments, welded together and supported by lanky, vintage, adjustable tripods. His design career was prompted by an unfulfilling stint at a corporate finance in London, and further inspired by a guy at a market making bracelets from old silver spoons. With that, Daniel decided to abolish reason and follow his heart, which led him back to Columbia and eventually landed him in Berlin.
His designs are inspired by the wealth of materials found at various markets and thrift shops. Recently he realized that “Jesus is all over the place”, and created a series of twelve show-pieces where crucifixes serve as the essential structure of each object. And while a ping-pong paddle with a crucifix handle may be offensive to some, Daniel is simply responding to whatever materials are abundantly available around him, with an open mind an a huge dash of humor too boot. The outcome, a calendar for 2014, named Oh My God, with a picture of one object each month, was unveiled at Holy Shit Shopping in Hamburg on the 30th of November and will be arriving in Berlin next weekend.
Can you tell us how you got into design and redesign?
I was totally bored of what I was doing before. I was studying finance and international commerce for five years, then I did corporate finance in London. But it was not for me, so I folded my diploma and started selling jewelry at the markets. I quickly realized I could make a bit of money doing that without being stuck in an office all day.
You don’t strike us as a finance guy… It’s hard to imagine you in a business suit!
Not anymore. I never used to wear suits anyways, only for weddings and job interviews [laughter].
Did you upcycle from the beginning?
No, in Colombia I studied industrial jewelry making as a hobby, and learned how to make industrial copies of things like rings. In London I saw a guy who was making spoon rings and I thought it was a good idea, all though, at the time I thought it was a bit like cheating, to make pieces out of already made things.
I decided to put my own spin on the bracelets and made them out of fish knives. In London, they have cool shapes and patterns. I bought fifty knives and bent them into shape, took the handles off and put a band of leather. That was my favorite product to sell at the flea markets, and I sold 10 to 20 pieces every Sunday, which was enough to make a living. I managed to pay my rent and be happy.
How did you make it from London to Berlin?
I met my girlfriend in London and when my visa was up, we went back to Colombia and got married. Then she wanted to study in Germany and applied to universities in Hamburg and Berlin, and got accepted to the one in Berlin. I had never been and didn’t know what it was about. I just followed… and now I don’t want to go anywhere!
And apparently, if you look at the globe and draw a line between London and Berlin, through the Atlantic Ocean, it crosses Bogota, where I’m from. Quite crazy!
Corporate finance was not for me, so I folded my diploma and started selling jewelry at the markets. I quickly realized I could make a bit of money doing that without being stuck in an office all day
How did your name El Reinventor come about?
In London I worked under the name Reused, and I printed up business cards with my name and the word reused, and that was it. It all started in Columbia when I had the chance to work in a big workshop. Inspired by a trip to Hamburg where I saw that people were doing a lot of cool and fun projects with recycling, my first idea was to make rocking chairs out of oil barrels, because there were so many barrels lying around where I lived. I paid a weldor to help me make the first prototypes and acquire the necessary skills. Then I bought myself a welding machine and made 15 rocking chairs. Following that, I started ransacking markets for materials I could use and from that came the first instrument lamp, made from a trumpet and a microphone stand. Just before moving to Berlin, the ambassador of Mexico in Columbia bought it, so I took that as a good sign that I should continue with that.
Also, from the spoon and knife bracelet, came the idea of melting down the silver and making new shapes. My first model was a heart and a brain on two opposite sides of a chain, going through a small eyelet at the end of a chain that you wear around your neck. The title, Con ràzon Corazon, means reason vs. heart in Spanish, and in the design, the heart is made to be a bit heavier than the brain, so that when you are thinking a lot, you can pull on the brain, and slowly, as you move around, the heart will pull down — because the heart always wins over reason!
I started ransacking markets for materials I could use and from that came the first instrument lamp, made from a trumpet and a microphone stand. Just before moving to Berlin, the ambassador of Mexico in Columbia bought it, so I took that as a good sign that I should continue with that
How did you end up in this location?
I started like everyone else, working from home and making my jewelry on a small desk in my room. Too many things were happening and I couldn’t concentrate, so I found a cheap place to work from in an old brewery on Landsberger allée. There I had a one hundred square meter private studio, but there was no bathroom and all of my electricity supply came from a cable in the corner, stretched across the whole garden and from the fifth floor of the next building. When they sold the place, I got kicked out, but then I heard about this place opening up from someone in my German class and I went for it.
This place is big with a storefront, a back room and a basement where I can make as much noise as I want. The front room served for a short time as a combined café and showroom, but it became too hard to keep it up along with producing my products. Now I rent the back room to a photographer and a 3D designer, and we get along great and even do collaborations together.
There is an inherent history attached to found materials, does that ever come into play when you are creating?
One of my favorite things is trying to make the lamps look as if they had been done fifty to seventy years ago. I’ll mix objects from different decades, the switches are made from various tin boxes and cases form the 50s and 60s, the instrument will be from the 40s or 50s and the tripods from the 70s. I have found so many cool objects in Berlin, and just the other day I found an amazing old chest form 1785 that I made into a wine box. Only here can you find 300 year old objects that are still in good condition, for a good price.
My work is always a reflection of my mood. I was making these chairs at a point when I wasn’t feeling so good, and therefore they all ended up looking like toilets
Is most of your work commission based?
It varies. I recently did the interior for a bar in Mitte, where I built ten storage boxes for wine, an accordion lamp for the ceiling, a record player lamp for the bathroom, and a collection of twenty-five trumpet lamps for the whole place. I had the worst months from February to July, only making enough to pay my rent and no fun, but Since August things have started to pick up. I was in the DMY (International Design Festival in Berlin) this year, and while it didn’t seem to be paying off at the time, the event has resulted in a bit of work for me recently. It’s good to know that six months after that event they still remembered my work. A lot of people come to me through word-of-mouth, or after seeing one of my pieces in one of their friend’s living rooms.
I also give workshops where I help people realize their own ideas with materials they bring, or I teach them to make an instrument lamp of their own where they can also buy the materials directly from me. That way, people who like my work, but perhaps lack the money, can put in the work to make their own for about half the price of a finished lamp — and they get to have a lot of fun doing it!
You seem to enjoy the immediate contact with the clients, do you only sell through your shop?
At the moment I’m selling in the Upcycling Deluxe store on Kastanienallée, and in the Upcycling fashion store in Mitte, but most of my business is conducted right here. I do like talking directly with the clients, because I am the only one who can explain all the relevant details. The stories are part of the objects and people like to relate them to their own stories.
I do like talking directly with the clients, because I am the only one who can explain all the relevant details. The stories are part of the objects and people like to relate them to their own stories
I had a one hundred square meter private studio, but there was no bathroom and all of my electricity supply came from a cable in the corner, stretched across the whole garden from the fifth floor of the next building
The chairs we are sitting on are made from old sinks and they’re called “What do you Sink”. Do you generally incorporate a lot of humor and wordplay in your work?
I do that because I have fun making my work, or else I wouldn’t do it. It all started with the Kingbin, the barrel chairs. A kingpin is a pimp or mafia boos, and the kingbin is his throne. Now I’m taking it more seriously, and making objects with personalities, so I name the series, and each individual piece within the series are named according to their personality. It’s difficult to come up with the names, Sometimes I think of a name and it will inspire the object, other times it happens the other way around.
Your pieces always seem to tell interesting stores…
My work is always a reflection of my mood. I was making these chairs [pointing to low wooden chairs with storage on the bottom] at a point when I wasn’t feeling so good, and therefore, all the chairs I made ended up looking like toilets. [We all laugh]. I meant to make chairs where you could store magazines and books underneath, but everyone perceived them as toilets…
What are your opinions about the upcycling community?
I don’t feel like I’m part of a community as much as a movement. Ten years ago it was considered cheating to build with already existing materials. Now it’s seen as clever. New materials are expensive and our planet is dying because of over-production. We already have enough material. A lot of it won’t last forever, but we have produced billions of things that are no longer in use, and now we just need ideas to turn them into something else!
Ten years ago it was considered cheating to build with already existing materials. Now it’s seen as clever.
I have fun making my work, or else I wouldn’t do it
You’re currently collaborating with a photographer to make a calendar with your Jesus-pieces. Do you view collaboration as helpful or cumbersome?
The current collaboration on this calendar, with photographer Frederick Schulz from pan-o-rama.com and industrial designer, Andre Satche, is a really fun project. I see collaboration as both helpful and cumbersome, but i’m looking for it constantly. It’s one of the reasons I started with the workshops, because people bring in so many new ideas, and open up conversations. Often people have great ideas, but don’t know how to bring them into life. Those bring forth the best collaborations and pushes me to constantly add to my skill set and learn new trades as well.
What do you do to promote yourself?
Promotion is the hard part because I do everything myself. My focus is on production and perfecting my craft. In the beginning my trumpet lights were not as refined as now. One time, a potential client asked me how to take the bulb out of a lamp. I went to demonstrate and there whole thing short circuited. My arm went flying back and I got electrocuted. Needless to say, I didn’t make that sale. I had to name them “light installations” and not lamps, because they were not safe enough to be legally categorized as lamps. Now, after years of refining, they are totally safe. I focus, first of all on making high quality products and from there I build a reputation.
Do you become attached to your pieces? And do you have a hard time letting them go sometimes?
Most of the time I do. This studio is my little hut. I spend a lot of my time in here, so I get familiar with my surroundings, and if I sell a lot, it feels empty. I am still very happy when I sell a piece though!
You can find El Reinventor at these upcoming events
The Holy Shit Shopping
Köln: December 7th & 8th 2013
Berlin: December 14th & 15th 2013
Stuttgart:December 21nd & 22nd 2013
And at the following locations in Berlin
The other side gallery on Gryphiusstraße 10,
The Bright Side Werkstatt on Bernauerstrasse 26, Mitte
The Upcycling Fashion store where you can find his jewellery
The Upcycling Deluxe store where you can find some of his lamps
Photography by Santiago Ramirez