Crafting Futures: Billy Lloyd at Oaxaca

Crafting Futures: Billy Lloyd at Oaxaca

Words Vilma Paasivaara

For the British Council’s collaborative residency programme in Mexico, the award-winning ceramicist and industrial designer Billy Lloyd teamed up with local potter Macrina Matteo and her family in San Marco Tlapazola.

Organised in partnership with Oax-i-fornia, an Oaxaca-based organisation which fosters collaboration and exchanges between artisans, designers, and artists, Crafting Futures brought together emerging UK- and Mexico-based designers with local makers for a creative exchange, working together in an equal partnership over a three-week period to create a new line of ceramics and woven objects which the makers could eventually integrate into their continued productions.

Upon arrival in Oaxaca, Lloyd says he was determined to begin the process with an integration period. ‘I intentionally didn’t come here with a set range of products in mind. Instead, I wanted to create work in reaction to my surroundings, a site-specific response if you will. So, the first two days of my stay with Macrina and her family were all about observation and analysis.’ This began by understanding the interplay of the surroundings, the current methods, and the local background of the craft.

Oaxaca has a rich history in making which still plays an important role in the community, especially amongst women for whom it is an indispensable way to make a living. The goal of the partnerships was to bring together these traditional artisan practices with modern design concepts to push both local artisans’ and the designers’ work forward.

Lloyd’s work has often been collaborative in nature and he was excited to share his techniques with the makers in Oaxaca. ‘I had visions of introducing radical new techniques to Macrina’s family, which would increase their productivity without compromising the integrity of their work,’ he says. As it turned out the family already had a fluid system in place, from digging the clay to producing the final objects. In the end, the exchange happened more around shapes and designs rather than workshop improvements. ‘The truth is, they are excellent makers and need very little help improving their craft skills,’ Lloyd affirms.

‘Work in progress’ exhibition at Tienda Q, Oaxaca

He also says that it was an interesting process because he had to rethink his own design concepts in terms of the very tangible local techniques. ‘It is fair to say that 100% of their pots are formed by hand. I don’t simply mean handmade, I mean that the shapes literally follow the form of their curved palm,’ he explains. Though Lloyd started as a potter, which still informs his designs, his signature style has developed in a more angular, industrial direction. Through understanding Macrina and her family’s way of making Lloyd realised he had to rely on their strengths in designing the products. Together they worked on creating forms that combined both Lloyd’s aesthetics and Macrina’s traditional skills.

The resulting line is a warm, round collection of simple everyday use tableware. Both the ceramics collection and the woven collection were on display at a ‘work in progress’ show at Tiend Q, in Oaxaca, which for many of the local makers was the first opportunity to see their work in a dedicated space. A final show, curated by design curator Ana Elena Mallet, presented the outcomes of the exchange as part of this year’s Abierto Mexicano de Diseño in October.

Watch a specially commissioned film of the Crafting Futures design residency here.