Q&A with Paula Camiña about Co-Obradoiro Galego

How is it that Galician basketry, a prehistoric art practiced for thousands of years, is now disappearing?
The decline of the Galician basketry has intensified because of the lack of vegetable fibers in our Galician forest due to the reforestation of non-autochthonous species whose wood can not be used for basketry and the disappearance of rural life.

“Co-Obradoiro Galego” is a collaborative project by three basketmakers and designer Paula Camiña, looking at biotechniques to help regenerate and revive Galician craft heritage. Their objective was to produce a flexible and biodegradable biomaterial that could be shaped by local basketmakers and applied together with vegetable fibers, using traditional hand-weaving techniques – a biomaterial made from a flexible biopolymer found in the seafood exoskeletons (usually an unused waste source), chitosan. The final pieces combine traditional basketry shapes and materials with elements from the sea. They serve as a reinterpretation of Galician identity, a link between culture and community, the seafood industry, and the basketry tradition.

Studies about Galician scallop shell and hat re-interpretation by Paula Camiña

Through Objects: How did “Co-Obradoiro Galego” begin? and why investigate Galician basketry? Paula Camiña: It is a project that started during the lockdown in a pandemic year in Galicia, Spain. Galicia is a region northwest located in Spain bathed by the Atlantic Ocean. First of all, I began understanding the socio-environmental context. Looking at the numbers, the Atlantic Ocean has supplied the Galician and Spanish population its whole history, resulting in 602 tonnes of Galician seafood shells wasted per year, implying a significant danger to the environment. Moreover, this amount of waste has increased in the past years due to a higher seafood demand, production systems, and the implementation of no more traditional fishing methods, which puts at risk the local crafts, such as basketry. Using the seafood shells-based material as a link to re-connect the basketry and the shellfish industry again.

Basket weaving using biodegradable biomaterial

Through Objects: How was this experience of working with traditional Galician basketweavers? Paula Camiña: In the words of one of the basketmakers, Rubén, “it was harmonious. Together we add light, life, and happiness to basketry, and with the combination of these ingredients, the result was wonderful.”
From my own experience as a biodesigner with a background in product design, the first approach was to learn, feel and see all the traditional techniques, materials, and processes of the Galician basketry, and then select the most appropriate method to combine the biomaterial with the vegetable fibers. My work as a designer was to create a collection of baskets with a morphology inspired by elements present in the Galician culture.

‘Co-Obradoiro Galego’ final objects by Paula Camiña

Through Objects: Which challenges did you face during this project? Paula Camiña: I would start by saying that every challenge is an opportunity to learn. Our first challenge, related to the material innovation side of the project, was working with waste during a pandemic year. Secondly, finding a professional extruder. Thirdly, managing the logistics between the local and the global, Galicia as the ‘making’ location and London as the site for the biomaterial innovation and development. 

‘Co-Obradoiro Galego’ final objects by Paula Camiña
‘Co-Obradoiro Galego’ final objects by Paula Camiña

Through Objects: How do you see the future of basketry in the region? Paula Camiña: The future of basketry should not move far away from its sustainable principles, keeping the balance between the basketmaker’s activity and the resources taken from our forests. How can we keep the traditional basketry techniques at the same time that we restore and protect our environment and work together shaping regenerative systems? Co-Obradoiro Galego is just one example of what it is possible to achieve in the future of basketry. 

‘Co-Obradoiro Galego’ final objects by Paula Camiña

Through Objects: Do you have any conclusions and thoughts on this project that you want to share with us? Paula Camiña: “Co-Obradoiro Galego” is the beginning of a bio-collaborative experience between artisans and a biodesigner. And to conclude, I would like to add this project as an example of a bio circular waste economy system. It allows us not to lose a craft that is almost disappearing and explore new ways of continuing a specific practice through materiality. I believe that in the future biodesign will be a collaborative practice capable of empowering and preserving local knowledge traditions and communities that use local resources.

Interview with Paula Camiña | Photography by Sabela Andrés.