9 June 2017
by Debbie Leane
From Loom to Loom is a film by Royal College of Art student Sandra Sordini, one of the six researchers featured in On the Line: New Perspectives on craft in Southeast Asia. The exhibition runs until 17 June 2017 at The Aram Gallery. We caught up with Sandra to find out more about her experience researching local craft in Myanmar.
What attracted you to apply for the craft research residencies in Southeast Asia?
What attracted me to the residency was first of all genuine curiosity. I had never been to Asia before, and didn't really know much about textile craft, but I was very intrigued by the possibility to leave my comfort zone and find out about another culture, while also trying to document and reflect on our experiences using my skills as a visual storyteller.
Was the residency experience what you expected or were there any surprises?
I didn't know what to expect before arriving in Myanmar, and while our first days were a bit of a culture shock, the residency turned out to be a very well organized trip, bringing us from city to city, and from workshop to workshop. Maybe differently to our fellow researchers in Thailand and Vietnam, we got to visit a huge number of weaving workshops in different contexts, which enabled us to see general patterns and challenges in the industry. However the encounters I enjoyed the most were those with families and small business owners who would introduce us to natural dyeing, innovative textile designs and specific crafts like the Lotus weaving on lake Inle. From my Western perspective, I was amazed to see what a big role craft plays in the life of many Burmese people, while at the same time the struggles this country faces are still quite evident.
Tell us about your film, did you set out to capture and edit a film in advance or was it more of an organic response?
The film was really more of an organic response. Because of the language barrier, I found myself quite often in the role of a quiet observer, trying to capture the everyday lives of the craftswomen we met, focusing on their gestures, their faces and their work, which is often extremely labour-intense and dominates their whole life over generations. Another member of our research team, the anthropologist Ja Htoi Pan, helped me to interview some of the women and later translate their words, which adds some glimpses into their realities, but overall the film aims to present a general atmosphere rather than providing in-depth insight into Myanmar's textile sector.
Do you think that the residencies will have an influence on your own practice going forward?
For my own practice, the residency has been one of the most formative experiences during my first year at the Royal College of Art. I enjoyed the time there so much precisely because it was somehow removed from my usual work, but I still got to use my skills as a visual communicator to create the documentary. I have since worked on other, more experimental films, but I hope to go back to this more ethnographic mode in future projects.