The chance to work with makers in a different part of the world and to immerse yourself in different cultures can often act as a catalyst for change and lead to exciting new ideas.
This was certainly true for handwoven textile designer Lynne Mennie who travelled from Aberdeen to Oaxaca in Mexico at the start of this year for a three week residency as part of the British Council Crafting Futures programme in collaboration with Applied Arts Scotland and Oax-i-fornia.
After travelling from snow to sunshine she says “My first impressions of Oaxaca were joyful, from the brightly coloured buildings to the atmosphere of geniality and the craftsmanship evident everywhere (in buildings, in shops, in the clothing, and the regular street parties).”
During the residency she stayed mostly at the Ex-Hacienda de Guadelupe near Tlacochahuaya, around 30 minutes drive outside Oaxaca City. She explains “This is the home, design studio and workshop of Raul Cabra and Oax-i-fornia, and is a former farmhouse that has been lovingly converted and filled with a mixture of contemporary and traditional artisanal pieces from the state of Oaxaca.”
When she applied for the residency her proposal was to work with pedal loom weavers to create a new collection of patterns inspired by sounds, building on an ongoing collaborative project in Scotland – Aural Textiles – that explores the co-creation of textile patterns inspired by the sounds around us. In Mexico she worked with members of the Bii Daüü collective of artisan rug weavers, all of whom live and work in the town of Teotitlán de Valle in Oaxaca state.
Describing what was special and unique about the place she says “The state of Oaxaca has a hugely diverse craft community whose work encompasses a range of techniques and materials including black and red clay, pedal and backstrap loom weaving of textiles, palm weaving, carizzo (river reed) weaving, woodwork (especially handcarved and painted alebrejes, brightly coloured sculptures of imaginary creatures) and metal work”.
“Techniques are typically localised within communities, and the skills passed on from parents to children. And most artisans work from their homes, combining work with the day-to-day tasks of living. Many of them are starting to coalesce into collectives for the purpose of marketing and selling their work.”
In a blog for British Council Crafting Futures about the residency she describes realising the cultural significance of different sounds. In the first workshop “Each weaver recorded a sound of personal significance to them – birds from the area, church bells ringing, crickets chirping at dusk, the chinking of beer bottles in celebration, a marching band, the mixing of hot chocolate, their baby laughing, or their daughter counting to ten in their native language, Zapotec.” From these personal and emotive sounds new works were created and shown in an exhibition.
She also discovered that although there was a limited shared spoken language they shared a language of weaving by hand, and this shared knowledge and skills set engendered a mutual respect and trust.
This time working with the weavers has changed her way of thinking and will influence her future work. She says “Personally, the experience of working together with a collective of weavers who produced the co-designed pieces has allowed me to think differently about the way I work, perhaps by freeing more time for research and experimenting in my weaving lab while working with collaborative partners for production of some pieces.
“This work will also inform the development of the Aural Textiles research project, and perhaps influence the formalisation of a collective to commercialise work created.”
Image top: Lynne taking in the vastness of her experience in Oaxaca Photos: Lynne Mennie