Art as Climate Change Activism
This Old Thing is a project in which I’ll be wearing only charity shop-bought occasion dresses for two weeks. I’ll also be posting diary entries and a photo a day of me going about my normal life, doing mundane things. I want to use this to explore the various overlapping and contradictory ways we value our clothing, by being overdressed in garments which someone else threw away.
The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after oil, producing 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon a year – more than international aviation and shipping combined. It’s estimated that globally, one truck’s worth of clothing is thrown away every second, and that less than 1% of that discarded fabric will be recycled. And the problem is getting worse. The average number of times a garment is worn before it’s thrown away has decreased by 36% worldwide in the last 15 years. Meanwhile, some estimates show one in six people alive in the world today working within the global fashion industry, many for poverty wages in unsafe conditions. Most are women, many are children.
Having become aware of some of these issues several years ago through a documentary called The True Cost, I have been working on buying less and less first hand. I used to buy a new outfit for every night out. Now I shop less often, and nearly always second hand. In fact, the idea for this project came to me while browsing the racks at one of my local charity shops. I found a long, strapless gown which I really loved, and deliberated over buying it. I had no events coming up which would be nearly fancy enough to justify wearing it, but then it was less than ten pounds. The mismatch between these two facts struck me. The dress was simultaneously too special for everyday wear, and cheaper than my last pair of pyjamas. I began to be very interested in this seeming contradiction.
The idea for This Old Thing had been germinating for a while by the time I began my studies with OCA. I’m currently most of the way through my first course, Creative Arts 1: Creative Arts Today, which covers the history and theory of a range of artistic disciplines. The latest section on photography really helped solidify my plans. I had known that I wanted to spend two weeks wearing the dresses, going out in public, tracking the reactions I got. I also knew that I wanted to keep a photo diary and put all of this on social media. I hoped to reach a bunch of people and contribute to a wider conversation, or at the very least give some food for thought to my friends and family. I was nervous, though, as I’m not a photographer and haven’t really ever incorporated the medium into my work before.
The exercises on the course to do with artists who have used photos as evidence of their ephemeral works – Richard Long, Aleksandra Mir, Keith Arnatt – helped me realise that the photos don’t necessarily have to be “art objects” in their own right. I had been concerned about artistic lighting and composition, and the stress of learning to do this all myself. After consideration I realised that the act of wearing the dresses is the piece, and the photographs I take can just be documentation. They should be clear, and a vehicle for the theme, but they don’t need to be ground-breaking or beautiful. This built my confidence in the project, without which I may never have ever begun it.
This Old Thing is running for the first two weeks of May. You can follow along on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/thisoldthingchallenge) or instagram (https://www.instagram.com/this_old_thing_challenge/), or read my diary at my personal website (https://alexhindley.com)