The 1000 Mile Dress
The Thousand Mile Dress
Here are a few thoughts on one of my projects that has escalated into a huge charity challenge. I've written about the reasons for creating the dress originally, and why it has become a fundraiser. I hope that you find it an interesting read!
The idea of the Thousand Mile Dress was to challenge myself to walk a thousand miles in a dress. Not in one go, but accumulatively over a year or two. The original reason for this was to examine and measure what happens to long trailing clothes that are well travelled. This idea developed whilst working on costume for a Victorian play. I became interested in the ageing of clothes- how many miles to cause real damage, as opposed to the artificial ageing of our theatrical garments. Not only that, but also how it feels to wear these type of clothes- how restrictive are they, how does the weight and shape affect the wearer?
I enjoy seeing the unexpected, and this too plays a part in my work, usually whilst out photographing my costumes in outdoor locations as opposed to in a studio. People don't expect to see a fully costumed person wandering around, but usually it is met with interest, or a slightly embarrassed 'I'll pretend not to have noticed' smile. Rarely is there any hostility or disapproval. The unexpected in it's widest sense provides something different to talk about instead of recounting a day filled with 'just the usual'.
Setting my work outdoors is important to me for another reason. Nature is my inspiration so often, whether it be it's colours, shapes and textures, that it would be wrong to photograph it inside a sterile studio. It has been commented that it's a shame to damage a carefully crafted item out in the rain and mud. Whilst I agree that it can be sad to loose the freshness of recent completion, I think it would be worse for a pristine garment to be locked away in a wardrobe until the seams rot and it falls apart anyway.
This made me think a bit about my own wardrobe. How many of it's contents do I actually wear? I have some things that I wear until they fall apart, and others that are completely surplus to requirements- but I like them. I'm certainly in a very priviledged position to own a varied and largely impractical wardrobe. Many of these garments didn't cost a lot, and may not be perceived as wealth in my immediate circles- but when compared with people of other countries, and even sometimes our own- or other periods of time- it can begin to look like an extremely decadent collection. But is it always wrong to own things for their aesthetic quality alone? it's a good question to think about it as I walk.
Sometimes the things in our wardrobes are things we'd like to wear, but aren't brave enough to, or don't have the right opportunity. On one level the Thousand Mile Dress is taking a stand against this supression of expression, getting something out of the secret wardrobe of pointless possession and wearing it anyway- whether or not it is practical, or socially acceptable.
But the journeying of the Thousand Mile Dress has put me in mind of other journeys- ones made by people who have little choice of their attire, carrying all their possessions on their person. Refugees. They are crossing thousands of miles, and not for pleasure, or art, but for safety. It feels wrong to talk about journeys at the moment without acknowledging how fortunate I am to freely choose where and how I travel.
I recently travelled across the world to New Zealand, and how strange to think that with my British passport I can conveniently hop from country to country- flying right over these scenes of devastation, all in search of adventure and fun. I was free to complain about the suffering of my long flight, with no sleep, and little opportunity to stretch my legs- but we had food, and movies, and whole seat each (even if they were smaller than business class), access to toilets and water. Even so, I admit- it was uncomfortable, it was boring. How much worse, then, for people who flee from home, possibly to never return. For whom merely surviving the journey to unwelcoming borders is a lot to hope for, in the shadow of the multiple ways they could perish along the way.
And so my Thousand Mile Dress is evolving. I don't intend to abandon the original experiment to age the dress through miles of travel. I still believe in the importance of art and adventure. But now it is becoming about more journeys than just its own.
One of the most frequently asked questions about the dress is 'what are the scales for?'. I suppose initially they came about because I enjoy making them- they are a bit of a trademark that feature on most of my creations. I like using up leftover materials that are too small to be useful elsewhere. I thought about using the scales as a counter for the number of miles I have walked in the dress, but now I have settled upon a new idea- for every pound donated to my appeal, I shall add a new scale to the dress. I have made a donation myself to cover the number of scales already made, and so from now on, every pound donated shall begin the transformation, and show that lots of small contributions can effect a massive change.
I'm sure I'm not the only person who has looked on these news broadcasts of flying refugees in horror again and again, and yet until now done nothing about it. It's hard to know what we can do that will make a difference in the face of such a huge crisis- but for me this has been a reason not to act for too long. I have chosen to support the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) 'we provide emergence assistance for refugees worldwide', to help provide food and shelter for people in need. I hope that if the tables were turned, someone would do the same for me!
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