MACHEIA

Published by Lisbon Art Retreat on

with Iany Gayo and Lucrezia Papillo
of MACHEIA

"Look at what's around you, look at what the Earth has to offer."

MACHEIA is a term that refers to a measurement of quantity equivalent to one’s hand. The studio was created in 2020 by italian-german product designer Lucrezia Papillo and mozambican-portuguese architect Iany Gayo. After graduating from their respective masters at the Bauhaus University Weimar (DE) and Instituto Superior Técnico (PT), they established in Lisbon their practice. With an intentional focus on natural fibers, ancient techniques and their continuity, MACHEIA’s work ranges from storytelling-objects, collaborative installations and private commissions.

Recently, their work was showcased in Venice at Homo Faber 2022, displaying a reinterpretation of an ancient loom, as part of their ongoing research. Either in reshaping weaving processes or by designing new outcomes, their constant drive is to challenge new perspectives – bringing to the forefront an ancient appreciation and connection to our surroundings.

MACHEIA is a project about knowledge, people and contrast. How did this project come about and what are you exploring through it?

L: We found ourselves in the same place where there was Manuel Ferreira. Iany was participating in this workshop with Homo Faber and Passa ao Futuro, and I was working with Passa ao Futuro. So we found ourselves in a workshop or experience where artisans were around, designers were around, for three weeks, sharing about basketry.

I: It was like a summer camp where we would learn five techniques from different parts of the country, but it was a magnetic thing, me, Lu, bunho, the material, and Manuel, and we started going to him after the summer camp just to learn and learn.

L: And before that, I was already focused on design and craftsmanship, so I had already started my research, and it was the perfect moment to go deeper with Manuel who was super open, and Iany was also interested. We were sitting next to him and watched and learned what he had to teach. It’s also important that the project is about people, because it’s through a person that you arrive at the craft and technique. Contrast is for two reasons. There are lots of contrasting aspects in crafts and especially crafts that are dying out, there’s the contrast of past and future, there is the contrast of age of who is still working with this technique, which is mainly an older generation. … 06.52… And at university, even if you study something like design or architecture, there is no link to the craft world, which is such an important field that could really teach you the basics that could then be expanded on by younger generations. And contrast also because what we saw or felt is that if you bring contrasting topics or persons or ideas, an interesting spark will pop up.

I: We also believe that in order to bring crafts and craft knowledge forward, we need to have this combination with other materials that are more contemporary and somehow contrasting to what some of the craft materials can be, to create something new that is more long-term. We strongly feel that that contrast is needed.

"The project is about people, because it’s through a person that you arrive at the craft and technique."

Lucrezia Papillo

"To bring crafts and craft knowledge forward, we need to have this combination with other materials that are more contemporary."

Iany Gayo

How did the name MACHEIA come about?

I: We work closely with Manuel Ferreira and he’s always like “give me a ma cheia of this, give me a ma cheia of that”, and basically it’s a quantity of material that fits in your hand. In translation it’s a handful. It’s basically this idea that your measurement comes from the size of your body and the size of your hand and how that closely impacts what you do and what you produce because your hand is not the same as my hand and vice versa.

L: It has this uniqueness that all craft has. Your hand always gets translated into the object that you make. It’s super difficult to spell correctly for people who are not Portuguese. And at the beginning we were like, oh no, what about that? And we were like, you know what, like the ma cheia that is different for you and me so also the spelling, we can embrace it, you spell it in your way and that’s okay. And it was such a constant with the artisan we work with. When Iany came up and said, Lu, I have the name, it’s Ma Cheia, I was like, yes, that’s it.

"It has this uniqueness that all craft has. Your hand always gets translated into the object that you make."

Iany Gayo

As a duo, can you describe how your approach towards the project?

I: When I did the summer camp, it was because I just finished my master’s in architecture. I had been a bit disconnected from architecture overall for various reasons, but I always had this craft thing on the back of my mind and wanted to pursue something within that. So I enrolled in that course to try something, and it made sense, and it started from there.

L: It’s super interesting for us to see how much has changed already over these three years. When we started, it was even for us not quite clear which direction we are taking, how we name ourselves. We say we are designers, we work with crafts and with natural fibres, with plants. People were always like, so you do basketry. It was not clear at all. An important thing to say is that when we started, the most difficult thing was people’s association with crafts, especially the crafts of weaving and natural fibres. That’s also why recently we developed a basket that is not really a basket. It has all the components and elements of a typical basket, but has no defined use. It’s also in the name this is playing with “que é isto” and “cesto”. It’s a basket, but it’s actually not, and it can by way more and what it is is actually defined by the user.

"We developed a basket that is not really a basket. ... It’s a basket, but it’s actually not, and it can by way more and what it is is actually defined by the user."

Lucrezia Papillo

How would you describe the relationship between research and production in your work?

I: We feel that we need to get involved with the technique itself so we can design on top of it. If you don’t understand how a basket is made, then how can you add or tweak or do something to it. It’s important to us to understand the processes so that we could design on top. The research is basically to understand what to say, what has been said, and what we can add to the conversation.

L: The research influences the final outcome of your design. There is a shortage of the material, and we realised that it doesn’t make sense to think of huge structures and big quantities if the material is not there. So you think rather than seeing it as something negative, you take it into account and work around it. Research takes you back to the origin. In the case of the loom, we work with the most basic structure of the loom that has ever been made because it’s so simple, and knowing that the technique that Manuel, the artist, is working with, was already used by the Aztecs thousands of years ago. It’s beautiful and also empowering and gives a lot of value to the craft and to who makes it, which is very important especially nowadays to see this interconnection, the story behind the craft. That the craft is not only aesthetic but that it holds a lot of history and is like a document where you can dig into history and heritage. Knowing how things were made in the past is a perfect opportunity to reinterpret it into the present.

You’ve mentioned how working with this natural material can reconnect us with our natural environment. How would you say that happens?

I: What crafts can actually teach us in a holistic sense, and also how we see the future of it, is: Look at your environment, look at what’s around you, look at what the Earth has to offer, look at what your ancestors have been doing that has worked for them and apply it in the best way you can. It’s with the intention of being aware of where you are.

"Look at your environment, look at what’s around you, look at what the Earth has to offer, look at what your ancestors have been doing that has worked for them and apply it in the best way you can. It’s with the intention of being aware of where you are."

Iany Gayo

L: And also have the capacity of engaging with your environment. We tend to disconnect; it’s maybe the main problem of our inability to be connected and sustainable – even if this word nowadays is often more of a greenwashing word than a really effective, positive word. At least for me and I think for us it was a big click when we started to use those resources as a material and then you go around, and you can name the plants and you know they have specific characteristics thanks to which you can create specific structures. It has a lot to do with being aware. Your awareness rises. Being connected.

I: And understand that nature has its timings. We can’t harvest the material right now because now is the growing period so then only in summer you can harvest it. You get connected with that. It’s just a means to be more part of this.

"We tend to disconnect; it’s maybe the main problem of our inability to be connected and sustainable ... It has a lot to do with being aware. Your awareness rises."

Lucrezia Papillo

It sounds like you have changed your own relationship to the environment and to the history of the craft. What are the ways in which you want to share this with others?

I: That’s a good question, and I think we’re not completely clear on it yet. I think we’re not super clear yet on how to package that experience. We’ve been trying things here and there, and they’re nice and valuable, and the craft is being spread, and conversations are starting. But we would like it to be with a different approach.

L: There are lots of different topics that need to be covered. One is understanding nature and our connection with it, another is the gap between the younger generation and the older artisans, and also the role of the artisan that is shifting and transforming, and who is going to fill the role of the artisan in the near future, so I think that’s not totally clear how to cover all of those at the same time. But we’re already working with it. On the one hand we’re doing it – whether it’s through new designs or through workshops or by talking to people and visiting artisans. From my side, what is very interesting is to collaborate with younger people, like university students. I would have loved, while I was studying, to meet an artisan who would have given me a whole different introduction.

"There are lots of different topics that need to be covered. One is understanding nature and our connection with it, another is the gap between the younger generation and the older artisans"

Lucrezia Papillo

I: When talking about how we want to further the conversation, two words come to mind: the educational aspect but also collaboration in the sense of combining what we do with other fields like psychology for example – what if we did an experience where we have a psychologist with us and we brought in some of our know-how – how would these two things connect? With something like this, we could have nice conversations and open more the concept of crafts.

"What if we did an experience where we have a psychologist with us and we brought in some of our know-how – how would these two things connect?"

Iany Gayo

Are you planning to explore different crafts in the future?

L: Yes, definitely. We’re already collecting samples in our studio of different materials and that’s for sure something that will happen soon, even if there is the big wish to not close because we’ll never close with bunho, but materialise and concretise and wrap up the work with bunho through a collection. If we win a good application it might be that we also get some financial support to make a good collection. And then we would also move to other natural fibres and techniques.

I: We got to work a bit with another fibre in the residency in the Azores, which was good, but we also have some already in the lookout that we want to start harvesting in May so we can have a bit for ourselves and start exploring.

L: It’s junça. It’s very thin, fine, if you have a bunch of it it’s much more flowy, it feels like a brush. It’s very elegant. And same thing here, we asked the artisan who is close to Braga, and she was saying the same as every artisan: I can send you very little because the harvest of this year was so low.

Why is that? Is it because people don't plant much for the craft anymore?

L: It’s the weather, it’s too hot.

I: The last month was too dry. So all fibres had a crisis in terms of harvesting. But also, if you’re an artisan, you will harvest whatever you need, you’re not really counting on selling or giving it to other people because it’s work and labour that you’re wasting during the harvesting month and you don’t know if you’ll sell or not because nobody is looking for fibres. It’s a bit of those two things.

A PRACTISE PROPOSITION

by Iany and Lucrezia of MACHEIA

– Basketry Bottle Holder –

I: Visit an artisan. Go into an atelier and ask: What do you do? What got you started? What is the material that you’re using? That’s nice, and it’s good that people appreciate the time and work that artisans put in. And also to demystify a bit this romanticisation that we have of the artisan that he loves his job and he works extra hours because he’s so passionate about it. No, it’s hard work, it’s a tough business, they don’t get paid nearly as much as they deserve, and people need to understand that.

L: Second practice: Buy our kit!

I: It’s an excuse for you to learn a technique, an ancestral bottle covering technique that we tweaked a bit. We send you the fibre, an instruction sheet and some strings so you can personalise it. In the instruction sheet you have a bit of the history and the background of the technique and of the artisan, and there’s also a video.

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