#Dress4ourTime: a different form of learning

On Friday 27 November we held a special schools’ day interrogating and being inspired by ‘A Dress for our Time’ at St Pancras Station in London.

Building on the relationship with the Helen Storey Foundation and the body of work produced by Prof Helen Storey MBE RDI which RSA schools have explored through the Field of Jeans/Limb Bud Dress project Catalytic Teaching and Learning, here we were invited to participate on a new project called A Dress for our Time. ‘A Dress for our Time’ builds on the theme of climate change, participation and citizenship through art, fashion and science.

Students were invited to interview Helen and Dr Michael Saunby from the Met Office and carry out an investigation into the Dress and its meanings. The students were encouraged to describe the work through their own perspectives by creating some ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ that the Helen Storey Foundation can use to engage the public and other young people with the ideas ‘A Dress for our Time’ evokes.

We also visited the Wellcome Collection’s incredible Reading Room to see Helen’s ‘Red Fur Neurulation Dress’ – which is from the Primitive Streak collection that tells the story of the first 1000 hours of human life through dress; the same collection that the Limb Bud Dress which is visiting all the RSA schools is from. The Primitive Streak collection has been seen in 8 countries and by over 3 million people – it beautifully captures the wonder of how humans being are made.

Additionally, we heard from Josie Murray, Heritage Advisor for High Speed 1 at St Pancras who made the connections between the awesome St Pancras architecture, its origins to the East Midlands and John Tyndall who gave a speech in 1861, at the time of the building of St Pancras about his then theories about how fluctuations in water vapour and carbon dioxide are related to climatic changes.

Did you know that St Pancras is the patron saint of children and was also an Ice Saint?

What is A Dress for our Time?

A Dress for our Time harnesses the power of fashion to engage the public in a conversation about climate change. The Dress was conceived by Helen with the London College of Fashion and University of the Arts. It is made from a UN refugee tent from Jordan, with climate data from the Met Office projected within it and atop is a 7ft willow tree hat.

It is in the power of culture that spaces for exploration are opened up. As a result of the intelligent, thoughtful nature of the work it is hoped that deep and memorable learning experience for students are created. For example, these are some of the topics inspired by the work: –

  • Science and application of science in the 21st century
  • Climate change – engaging in a conversation and understanding this issue in a unique and excitingly provocative way
  • Citizenship – exploring responsibility, national and global identities and public participation
  • Questioning and communication skills, in what ways would you describe this work to a public audience – being a reporter
  • Fashion and art as a means for a different dialogue and engagement with social issues
  • Meteorology and maths – interrogating global climate data from the Met Office

The installation was at St Pancras station from end November to beginning December 2015. The Dress will tour the UK in 2016. The public were able to respond and engage with the installation by leaving graffiti comments on the boundary glass wall that divides the Eurostar platforms, technically French soil, from the UK – and by using the Twitter hashtag #adress4ourtime.

What did the Holyhead School students discover and what can we learn from them?

  • How would you describe a Dress for our Time?

Bizarre and out of the ordinary. This is a powerful concept, and unexpected.

  • What has fashion got to do with climate change?

Young people are interested in fashion – they want to look like their role model so it is a good idea to incorporate climate change issues into fashion. It is good to aim it at young people as they have to make changes with regards to climate change for their own future.

  • Why is the dress displayed in a train station?

It is busy, different and unexpected and will catch people’s eye as a result. It makes you think about the connection between transport and emissions. A train station symbolises life as everyone is in a rush – this makes it a realistic setting.

  • Where else would you put it?

In a shopping centre, as it would encourage thinking about sustainability. It could also be in schools as it should be aimed at younger people and those travelling by train may not be open to it if they are rushing by.

  • Is the dress a work of art?

The dress has meaning behind it, it is based on an idea or concept. It is symbolising something powerful – “conscience of an object”. Helen Storey is so passionate about climate change that the dress is classed as art as it is an expression of her passion in this object and allows us to understand more about her.

  • What did you think about the science data that was projected onto the dress?

A hologram could have been more effective. It could have been displayed in a different way as the digital/technological side is really important because it will appeal to more people. it is good to incorporate the digital side but it felt a bit separated from the dress. Did not like the red. Have to be careful not to be too abstract as people who pass by might not understand.

  • After today, what are you going to do/tell other students?

Write a blog and write an article for Pulse (Holyhead School’s magazine), add to the scrapbook of catalytic jeans, try to involve younger people who took part in the workshop for the jeans. Will try to reflect the different forms of understanding – both the dress itself and message behind it, we want other students to see it themselves and see their own stories in it as different students will take away different things about the meaning of the dress. Today was a different form of learning.

Related project: Catalytic Teaching and Learning with Prof Helen Storey RDI