The Dual Meaning of Sustainability

Textile maker Fiona Hall of Camban Studio participated in a residency in Scotland with Soledad Ruiz and Dalila Rubicela from Oaxaca, the most culturally diverse state of Mexico, and as they explored identity and sustainability she discovered parallels between their human stories and the dual meaning of sustainability.

This blog is part of a series by the Scottish makers participating in a programme of residencies with makers in Mexico, Thailand and Canada as part of the AAS international exchange project to create new work on the themes of identity and sustainability for an exhibition, Meet Make Collaborate.

Although I sometimes work alongside others, I had never collaborated on a project like this before, and I don’t find it easy meeting new people. However, I applied for the residency for these very reasons – to push my practice and myself; to discover.

As Camban Studio I create textiles heavily inspired by landscape and the natural environment of my home in Aberdeenshire. I love to be outdoors in the wilder spaces and observing the details, shapes, textures and colours that sit within these places. The residency locations filled me with excitement and the knowledge that I was about to have a whole week away from my busy home life, just focused on textiles and my practice of making was exhilarating.

The range of disciplines across us was fascinating to see, as were the immediate parallels in our working practices and interests.

Myself and Kate Davies represent the Scottish contingent of the residency. Kate specialises in hand knit design and her collaborative partner, Pilar is a shoe and accessory designer and design curator based in Mexico City.

On residency (left to right) Fiona Hall, Dalila Rubicela, Daniela Lara Espinoza, Soledad Ruiz, Lynne Mennie-Hocking, Pilar Obeso and Kate Davies

My two collaborative partners, Soledad Ruiz and Dalila Rubicela, are both based in Oaxaca. Sol introduced her weaving expertise – working with naturally dyed wools. I have a strong interest in natural dyes, so it was lovely to see how Sol and her weaving collective work with the natural dyes of Oaxaca – Indigo and Cochineal.

Dalila is a materials designer. To hear of her use of natural and waste materials like fish scales, sugar cane waste and leather waste to be re-created as paper and ceramics was inspiring.

During the introductions, and despite language differences, we immediately felt at ease with one another born out of genuine respect and interest in one another’s making practices and expertise. It’s a truly wonderful thing to share time with others who are not only extremely talented, but equally thoughtful, intelligent, passionate and interested in textiles with no competition, no comparison, and no expectations beyond learning and developing their practice.

Over the course of the residency we visited a range of inspirational makers and manufacturers to introduce thoughts, ideas, and working practices happening within Scottish Textiles. There were also continuous, open, honest and highly stimulating discussions and conversations between us as a group of makers.

Kate instructing Sol in knitting with an example of Sol’s weaving in shot

We started to discuss within our collaborative teams how we could develop our project under the themes of Collaboration, Sustainability and Identity. Of particular interest to our team of Sol, Dal and I was the dual meaning of Sustainability – having two separate words in Spanish – something sustaining itself at a certain rate or level, versus the maintenance of future natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.

We discussed our own identities, and how local materials and skills have been retained or lost within our own heritage communities. Sol spoke of how sheep are no longer kept locally within her area due to a downturn in weaving. Dalila spoke of her rescue and repair of natural resources. And I thought of my own identity as the granddaughter of a gamekeeper, and the tensions that exist for sustaining those ways of life, language and communities in the future.

By the end of the residency period we were starting to identify where there were overlaps and parallels within our human stories and how they could connect through our hands and our work.

Work in progress – greca weaving, screen printing and embroidery

By the time we left Braemar we had made firm friendships and I had started to approach my work with a renewed perspective. However, working to collaborate remotely has brought challenges. We now had to find ways to share thoughts and ideas across different continents, languages and time zones. We quickly realised that trying to physically collaborate on a finished piece would be difficult, therefore we set ourselves the brief of creating a triptych of pieces that will work together to tell our parallel stories. We are each working on pieces individually over this time, but checking in, and feeding back so we can effectively reflect each other’s textile making paths. It will be a great thrill to see them come together.

Image: Visiting the Calanais standing stones in the Hebrides at sunset Photo: Soledad Ruiz

Read about the experiences of other Scottish makers taking part in Meet Make Collaborate – ceramicist Susan O’Byrne and weaver Cally Booker.

The Meet Make Collaborate exhibition is part of an international project by Applied Arts Scotland SCIO in partnership with the British Council Crafting Futures programme including the British Council Mexico and British Council Thailand, the British Council ScotlandHigh Life HighlandMuseums Galleries Scotland and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and funded by Creative ScotlandEdinburgh College of Art and Highlands and Islands Enterprise

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