You may remember my writing about my Crafting Futures residency, and my subsequent creative collaboration with Mexican designer-maker, Pilar Obeso Sánchez. I have spent the past couple of weeks doing some more work on the collaboration (you’ll hear more about this shortly) and, before I bombard you with images of, and tales about, all the stuff I’ve been making, I thought you might like to catch up with the development of the project. This piece was originally published by Applied Arts Scotland last year.
On my Crafting Futures residency, I spent 10 days in the Hebrides and the Highlands, learning from and sharing ideas with 3 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 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 learned from Pilar about her cultural and family background, and found out more about the history of band weaving, whose common practice connects Northern European countries with those in South America.
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.
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 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.
More about my creature soon!
I followed with interest the exchange you and Pilar shared last year and am glad to know it is continuing. Your Cadaver Exquisito is fascinating project and I am excited to see it unfold. I am definitely on of those “introverted hermit types” a way of being I can now enjoy since I retired and one of the few benefits of Covid! Raising the question of pen pals I haven’t had one since I graduated, I remember the excitement when a letter arrived … For me your blog and he was of the islands does that for me, It also helps me continue to treasure my childhood having spent my early years on the Isle of Bute. Your project was particularly interesting. Thank you and all your followers for sharing your gifts.
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Super cool! How exciting to have such a personal exchange.
So rich! Those moodboards are driving me to a bigger screen so I can explore in more detail. The experience of mutual examination that you describe, Kate, reminds me of the sensations I’ve had learning new languages. While there are common threads among human languages, each has seemed to me to have a distinct personality. Learning to speak a new language (or, as you and Pilar are doing, learning new hand languages) opens the mind to entirely new perspectives. So excited for both of you and the unveiling of more projects!
How does one get a pen pal these days? I had a few when I lived in London 30 years ago. I remember the excitement when their envelopes and stamps lay on the door mat! One Greenland pen pal always used lovely polar bear envelopes.
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There are heaps of ways to connect with new pen pals – try the annual InCoWriMo (International Correspondence Writing Month happens every February ), swap postcards with Post Crossing (https://www.postcrossing.com/), or dip into Pen Pal World (https://www.penpalworld.com/index.asp). Swaps are also occasionally run by individual websites around a theme – in the past I found a pen pal via a craft blog. Happy writing!
Oh, those moodboards – the “body” collection is especially glorious! Thanks for sharing them.
And, like Stef, I’m borrowing “introverted hermity type” to describe myself as needed.
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This is exciting. Desperate to hear more.
LOVE!!! You are both so amazing!Such an exciting project! I cannot wait to see what happens next!!
How fascinating! It will be so interesting to see the pieces.
My three-way ‘pen pal’ exchanges with two women who I’ve actually never met in person (one in Scandinavia, one in New Zealand, and me in the US) have been enlightening. We share so many common values and interests, but there are also things that we are constantly learning about each other, our countries, and, of course, about ourselves.
Looking forward to this very much!
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“introverted hermity type” – such a great expression! I need to write this down in order to describe myself if ever needed :)
I’m glad this was such a good experience for you and am looking forward to your creature!