A shared love of dressing up inspired textile designer Kate Davies and Pilar Obeso Sánchez to explore disguise and performance in traditional rituals in Mexico and Scotland and collaboratively create a strange new performative being.
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.
On my Crafting Futures residency, I spent 10 days in the Hebrides and the Highlands, learning from and sharing ideas with three wonderful Mexican makers – Pilar Obeso Sánchez, Dalila Rubicela Cruz Fabian and Soledad Ruiz Mendoza along with the equally amazing Fiona Hall, of Camban Studio.
It’s hard for me to put into words quite how special the time the five of us spent together on the residency was. Part of this was certainly that the residency simply allowed me to take time out from the commercial side of my practice (which can be all-consuming). And part of it too, was discovering, as an introverted hermity type whom disability can prevent from trying new experiences, that I could enjoy just hanging out with a group of brilliant creative women who I’d never previously met. But mostly it was the way we all came together as a group: a group who were open to each other’s cultural and personal differences and who were able to honour those differences in terms of what each of us had to bring; who respected each others remarkable skills and talents, and who were there simply to learn from one another.
Under the working title “in my shoes” my collaboration partner, Pilar, and I began to think about some practical ways which might help us to learn about each other’s individual landscapes, our different places in the world. While Pilar introduced herself to knitting, and found out more about the elements of my life that had made me a maker (particularly my experience of stroke and disability), I began to learn Spanish, talked to Pilar about her family background, and found out more about the history of band weaving, whose common practice connects Northern European countries with those in South America. I can safely say that the weaving has been much more successful than the Spanish language learning, though I did as part of this enterprise enjoy watching a large number of wonderful new-to-me films from Mexico, Spain, Chile and Argentina.
And though my linguistic skills have not improved as much as I’d have liked, my weaving has certainly come on apace. With the expert help of Belinda Rose – whose studio we visited during the Crafting Futures residency – I was introduced to a wide range of tablet, plain weave and pick-up techniques for backstrap and inkle looms, and have now developed a keen interest in both the history of woven bands and their contemporary creative potential. Band weaving will not only feature in the work I’m now developing with Pilar, but will also play a future role in my own practice.
While Pilar and I tried to learn more about each other from different sides of the world, the key to our collaboration has been writing each other weekly letters. This process has often reminded me quite strongly of the childish enjoyment of having a penpal in a distant country. Certainly, corresponding with Pilar has often involved the simple pleasures of stamps, envelopes, packages with exciting contents and the writing of a familiar hand that has travelled half way across the globe right to one’s doorstep. But Pilar and I also sent our letters by email, and in that format we have found the freedom to discuss and share so many things. The incidental details of our lives have of course played their part, but our correspondence also rapidly became a stimulating conceptual exchange, with a firm focus on our shared aesthetics and ideas.
Both Pilar and I enjoy dressing up – as makers who are interested in fashion and design; as critical thinkers who are interested in ideas of performance, and as individuals who regard a sense of humour as integral to our creative lives. As our correspondence progressed, we noticed that we spent a lot of time talking about dressing up, and about masks and disguises, from what we were wearing for a celebratory occasion, to contemporary found art, to acts of creative resistance to biometric surveillance. Masked ritual features centrally in many different Mexican regional and religious traditions, and plays a role in Scotland’s folk traditions too, from Shetland’s Skeklers to South Queensferry’s Burryman.
Performance and ritual, display and disguise, shared aesthetics and traditions, comparative approaches and techniques – all of these things became part of my and Pilar’s collaborative process of learning about what made each other tick. And all of these things are now playing their own parts in the collaborative work we are currently developing – separate elements of one piece which together will comprise a Cadáver Exquisito / Exquisite Corpse.
Our Cadáver Exquisito will combine a range of pieces that we’ve designed and made, and which are intended to be worn on the human body, both separately and together. The pieces might be united in acts of performance and ritual, but, individually, the garments and accessories that make up our Cadáver might also form Pilar’s Mexico City streetwear, or be worn by me, as I walk my dogs in the hills around my rural home. Our strange and curious creature, with its separate bodies, heads, and limbs that together form one performative being, is our way of addressing the idea of collaboration that’s at the heart of Crafting Futures: our way of enacting our process of carefully learning about one another, respecting and honouring our differences and similarities, celebrating a new friendship, and hopefully giving us (and those who see the work) something to laugh about.
Image: Body moodboard
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 Scotland, High Life Highland, Museums Galleries Scotland and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and funded by Creative Scotland, Edinburgh College of Art and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.