In this spirit, our My Odyssey series invites artists, writers, and designers from around the world to develop creative expressions resulting from walking near their home base—in whatever medium they choose. It is a visual experiment about what happens in the mind while walking and how we respond to inspirational impulses such as memories, shapes, landscapes, and interactions.
We begin the journey with Octavio Barrera, a Canary Islands-born designer and co-founder of Proyecto Islas Canarias, an independent collective that aims to explore and rediscover traditional Canary culture and crafts. Barrera crafts furniture, lighting, and objects using wood and primary materials, which he likes for their simplicity, austerity, and clear identity. His process is intuitive and spontaneous, allowing the work to unfold organically.
While he now splits his time between the islands and Barcelona, we caught up with him while he was building a new studio on the tiny, rugged volcanic isle of El Hierro, where he created this work.
It is a plant native to the island, but one he had barely noticed before. “Walking is a line of learning. When we walk there are moments of disconnection in which one feels completely free, where we sharpen our senses and capture smells, colors, textures, and moments more easily,” he says. These totems serve as a way to remember significant moments on a walk, whether they spur an idea, a flood of inspiration, an emotion, or a memory.
Barrera had already been pondering the value of walking when this project began. During the lockdown, he began a series of exercises to slow his mind and occupy himself. Using the materials that surrounded him on the island, he crafted a series of sandals as a metaphor for slowing down.
After bypassing the prickly pear cactus leaves on countless occasions, this project inspired him to take notice and see their inherent value. In the future, he plans to use the material in functional applications as well.
“My Odyssey—Octavio Barrera’’ is an excerpt from a story in the 2021 issue of Directions, our annual magazine that looks at movements in travel, art, design, food, and wellness. This year’s issue “Odyssey’’ explores the central theme of Walking by inviting a broad range of voices to take a conscious exploration of this simple act.