Areal Art: Kenneth Cobonpue Uses His Lifelong Fascination With The Circus As Inspiration for his New Lighting Collection - Lifestyle Asia

In Limbo, the designer’s newest aerialist-themed lighting collection, he conveys the message that design is “one big show.”

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Kevin Cobonpue’s Cebu-made functional art pieces are acquired by markets across the globe. As seen in lodges in Rwanda to hotels in Barcelona and restaurants in Tokyo to celebrity homes in Los Angeles—Cobonpue’s contemporary designs makes refined statements through the use of locally sourced natural materials. 

While his designs are constantly on the radars of those with a keen appreciation for art and craftsmanship, Cobonpue considers his influential career an extension of his childhood. “My work is always about fantasy and about bringing you into my imagination,” the multi-awarded designer shares. “To another world of fantasy, playfulness, and I want every piece of mine to tell a story.”

As the son of Betty Cobonpue, a renowned furniture designer and founder of Cebu’s Crafts of the Islands Incorporated, his upbringing deeply honed his passion for design and technique. Betty invented a patented method for working with rattan by laminating the delicate vines that would emerge into a structural shape. Even though his first mentor on innovation and technique was his mother, Cobonpue digs deep into his own curiosities to birth designs that “are not for the faint of heart.”

In his newest collection, Limbo, Cobonpue uses his lifelong enchantment with the circus and its performers as the source of its inspiration. “The performers always exude beauty and grace even under pressure, and the things they do always fascinated me,” the 53-year-old explains.” And so I wanted to capture these arealists mid-flight. As if I could take a snapshot of what they were doing, capturing the movement in a certain second.”

An experimental process

The Limbo collection merges intricately made life-size sculptures with functional lighting fixtures. In Chandelier, the sculpture molds to appear as if it’s swinging on the ceiling fixture. While in Trapeze, the human-shaped mold is holding on to two lamps in each hand. 

Chandelier from the Limbo Collection (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Cobonpue)

Cobonpue says that since Limbo’s conceptualization, it took years of trial and error runs to perfect the manufacturing process. He shares that the first hurdle was creating each sculpture’s shape, which was crafted using store mannequins. Together with his team, Cobonpue cut up each figure to situate them in contorted positions. Once the mold’s place is finalized, the craftsmen hand weave gossamer wires and a lattice pattern around. “For every piece, we have to cast, measure, conduct metalwork, weave, weld, and even enhance shapes,” the industrial design graduate summarizes. 

Due to the complexities of the production process, Limbo was winded down to three lighting pieces, “there were supposed to be five,” Conopue reveals. “There was a juggler, and there was a hoop aerialist.” Fortunately, he and his team aim to release the aerial hoop piece still and are currently working toward the technology to bring it to life. 

Livelihood of workmanship

After years of experimentation, it now takes six weeks to manufacture one Limbo piece. Every step of the process requires the meticulous workmanship that only trained hands can provide. “In the beginning, we hired Cebuano men who weren’t able to go to school. We took them off the streets by working with a foundation,” Cobonpue shares about his team of craftsmen. 

Trapeze from the Limbo Collection (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Cobonpue)

“It took them quite a while to learn [furniture making], so we paid them while they were learning. Now, they’ve learned how to build quite fast.” He adds that the same craftsmen make his brand’s pieces up to this day, and this is now their sustainable livelihood. 

Given the Limbo’s dramatic and niche feel, the designer did not expect the collection to sell in large quantities. However, he’s pleased that the collection is “actually doing very well.” With that, it seems that stepping into his imagination continues to manifest thought-provoking pieces of functional art. 

With his circus fascination as an inspiration source, Cobonpue shares that Limbo conveys that “design is one big show.”

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