(Something Collective artist, Juliana Bedoya, exploring natural fibre spinning with Pauline Johnson students for the Vancouver Biennale Big Ideas project, “Through the Eye of a Needle”)
WEEK ONE: January 19th
Something Collective artist and Instruments of Change director, Laura Barron, returned from India and Nepal, last spring, jazzed, inspired and full of new ideas. Trash Talk Recycled was a music and puppetry project that she co-facilitated there, with youth from each country, and its resounding success convinced her to expand the global programming that her non-profit, Instruments of Change supports. Consequently, a new collaborative project, Through the Eye of a Needle was born, an initiative that is bringing together youth from West Vancouver’s Ecole Pauline Johnson, and students from Liceo Boston and Tuna Alta, in Bogota, Colombia. In partnership with the Vancouver Biennale Big Ideas program, and led by Laura and Something Collective visual artist, Juliana Bedoya, students will explore the impact of the “fast fashion” industry on students’s self-esteem, the economy, and their environment, through the creation of original theatre and music performances, using costumes and accessories that the students fabricate from natural and found (trash) materials.
Classroom engagements began at Pauline Johnson, in mid-January, with a movement activity that had students investigating the geographical origins of their clothing. Unpacking whatever information they could glean from their clothing tags, students then placed themselves on a huge floor world map.
(Students checking clothing tags to place themselves on a giant floor world map, according to their item’s origin. Continents, designated by clothing items manufactured in different regions, and brought in by the artists.)
An inquiry followed, allowing students to consider deeper questions about the origins of their clothing. These insightful students asked everything from “How many accidents were caused by the making of my shirt?”, and “Why are so many items made so far away from where I live?”, to “Did the person who made my shoes feel respected and happy?”
WEEK TWO: January 26th
Week Two brought all 90 students (from 4 Grade 6/7 Pauline Johnson classes, taught by Jennifer Bruemmer, Laura Delasalle, Pascale Powell, Mahtab Morvarid), with the artists and teachers, to Granville Island where they visited the Vancouver Biennale sculpture, (The Giants, by the Brazilian artist twins, Osgemeos), that inspired their project. Because this vibrant installation has truly “dressed up” the otherwise drab concrete silos that loomed over False Creek, radically altering the character of this landscape, it served as the perfect launching point for conversations about how students dress themselves to express their own self-images.(Pauline Johnson students at Vancouver Biennale sculpture, “The Giants”, by Osgemeos)
After observing the graffiti artists’ work, from relatively close up (though at a safe distance of about 100 feet, since the cement factory does not let visitors enter the industrial grounds in front of the sculpture), students discussed the Head/Heart/Hand (in this case Foot) qualities expressed by the colorfully imaginative patterns painted on the silo characters. Correspondingly, they were asked what the artistic characters’ clothing makes them Think and Feel, and what it says about the activities that the character might like to Do. Then, the students inverted these questions towards themselves, building vocabulary around how they want their wardrobe choices to make people Feel; what they want people to Think about them based on their clothing/accessories, and what their outfits say about what they love to Do. Using these descriptors, they were then invited to design their own personal Silo Avatars, (in the shape of The Giants), complete with patterned clothing, accessories and footwear, if they so chose. Some examples of their designs are below.(Pauline Johnson students displaying their personal ‘silo avatars’ inspired by “The Giants”)
Next, students visited 4 Granville Island shops that were connected to the project theme of natural fibres, locally made clothing, and upcycling: Maiwa Prints, Dream, Make Store, and Ten Thousand Villages. Then, engaging all of their senses, they proceeded to scavenge for clues related to our theme by feeling, seeing and hearing their way through the stores: (How many items can you find that are woven? Can you list up to ten items that have been made by repurposing other materials? List 4 animal and 4 plant fibres that you can find in this store? What is the name of a natural dye made from a bug, used in this store? Find 3 items made by a local designers.)
(Students on a scavenger hunt at Ten Thousand Villages on Granville Island)
WEEK THREE: February 2nd
The following week, in class, Juliana opened with an acknowledgement of traditional territory by recognizing the First Nations peoples of British Columbia as traditional stewards of the land. She then allowed students to interact with a variety of plant and animal fibers: flax, bamboo, silk, cotton, wool – sheep, mountain goat and even dog – stinging nettle, bull kelp, cedar bark, and Himalayan blackberry. This led well into an introduction of ancestral fabric-making technologies, as well as a discussion about the pace of the human body vs. industrial ways. Students then actually got to use handmade whorl spindles and drum carders to spin their own flax and wool into yarn, with which they will eventually produce their own fabric pieces.(Juliana’s opening acknowledgment of Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam territory, and students initial interaction with natural fibres)
Additionally, students were asked to consider the category of clothing that they use to most express themselves (choosing from Tops, Bottoms, Accessories, or Footwear). Their responses then determined which fabric name tag they would make and wear for the duration of our project. Three Pauline Johnson girls who choose accessories as their prioritized outfit item are portrayed, here, with their yellow zipper name tags:(Students with clothing preference name tags, and hand-drawn ballots from other classmates.)
Concurrently, Laura asked students to imagine the full global Journey of a T-Shirt (from seed to rack), graphically recording the students ideas (below). As a musician and writer, (without the drawing skills of Juliana), her renderings are, of course, in rough visual form. However, because these interdisciplinary projects ask students to “Just Say Yes” to each new artistic medium that they are invited to try, it is effective for the artists to model that same vulnerability.
(Graphic recording of the Global Travels of a T-Shirt)
Fortunately, the students were very well informed by the documentary The True Cost, which they viewed before the arts engagements began, so they were able to articulate the massive carbon footprint (16,000+ miles) of this many layered, labor intensive process quite accurately. The only detail that Laura added to their narrative was the final phase of many t-shirts’ lives, which often ends in a variety of underdeveloped countries, in Africa, South America, or ironically back in Asia. This is due to the common practice known as mitumba, where clothes intended for donation in wealthier countries are re-purchased, shipped abroad and then sold cheaply to people in poorer regions. The practice has received heavy criticism for its impact on local textile industries, and for its environmental cost.
Students then listened to a spectrum of soundscapes related to this journey (cotton mill, sewing factory, washing machine, pencil scribbling in a design studio, cash registers) and formed small groups to act out these imagined scenes along the journey, as collaborative Human Machines.
(Students forming Human Machines to represent a Cotton Mill and a Washing Machine)
Finally, these groups were each given 2 character portrait templates to brainstorm the Head/Heart/Hand qualities of the people who might work in each phase of the t-shirt journey (IE. cotton farmer, factory boss, American designer, etc.) They will ultimately weave these characters into an original fairy tale that they will co-create, in order to right the wrongs of whichever injustices of the fast fashion world they feel most moved to change.(Students learning to weave with plant materials)
WEEK FOUR: February 9th
Week Four had students getting their hands on a variety of plant materials used by the Coast Salish people to make their clothing from ancestral technologies.
(Woven materials, made by Juliana, to inspire the students own creations; & a stunning basket made by one particularly natural weaver student, not the first day that she learned these techniques).
(Several boys preparing ivy for weaving use)
Along with their own hands-on experiences related to clothing making, students continued to explore the Global Journey of the T-shirt. Examining this often problematic journey, students identified problems related to human rights, the environment, and the economy, in order to determine the “wrongs” they wanted to “right’ in their own original fairy tale about this important topic. Consumer greed, excessive transportation (IE. 16,000 global miles from seed to rack) and CO2 emissions, unfair labor laws, unequal and insufficient wages, unsafe work environments, and toxic chemicals used in the agricultural and manufacturing processes were some of the grave problems that they insightfully identified.
In order to weave their own fantasy that could magically resolve these rather massive global problems, the students engaged in story yarn activities, to get their narrative juices flowing.
(Students collectively weaving an original narrative, by passing a ball of yarn between them as their story unfolds)
WEEK FIVE: February 16th
Week Five expanded upon all of the visual and theatrical arts activities of the previous week. Juliana immersed students deeper into the process of sourcing natural materials for fibre by taking them into their own school yard to explore what was available in their backyard.
(Students harvesting cedar bark, for weaving, in the school yard of Pauline Johnson)
((Students exploring blackberry vine; & Juliana demonstrating how to interact with this plant material)
When they returned to their classroom, they learned how to strip the bark down to the most manageable and wearable fibres. They will eventually use these to create woven gifts for their Colombian peers, at Liceo Boston, which Juliana and Laura will personally deliver to these students when they work with them in May.
Concurrently, students delved further into their story weaving, by engaging in Character Development activities, in small groups. Laura also introduced a relevant traditional Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale called The Wild Swan, about a princess who could only save her 11 brothers from being eternally transformed into swans, by weaving them sweaters out of stinging nettle (a local BC plant also used for clothing making in ancient times).
(Erik Bulatov and Oleg Vassiliev‘s cover illustration for Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swan)
Examining the Anatomy of a Fairy Tale (complete with magical animals and helpers; good and evil characters; and transformative natural materials) students then brainstormed about their own solutions to the problems that they identified along the global journey of the t-shirt. Their unique creativity rendered some of the most brilliant and sophisticated ideas. Here is a sample of some of their imaginative solutions, many of which align directly with sound economic principals, adopted by many progressive global businesses:
1. They suggested a “profit sharing” model, accomplished by magic Phoenix birds flying half of the money made at the retail stores back to the people who manufactured the clothing in Bangladesh.
2. For a “sustainable currency”, they decided that the clothing corporations should plant apple farms and then harvest the seeds as an alternative currency to dollars. This way, everyone along the ‘fast fashion’ supply chain could re-plant their seeds to create more money as needed. Students also determined that the intention was not for everyone to get rich, but rather to simply harvest “just enough” seeds to cover their basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, and clean water.
3. They also developed a customer service model much like “business process integration” (a fancy term for an efficient manufacturing and distribution strategy, now implemented by companies worldwide). The idea was to limit each customer to a 4-outfit-per-year quota, which they would pre-order (in advance of fabric & clothing production, to avoid waste). Then, each person would have their own personal-order dragon to deliver their order to workers along the supply chain. And finally, this dragon would return their items to them directly (eliminating inefficiencies in the delivery system).
4. For an “alternative transit” solution, the students invented magical flying chopsticks that could transport all of the materials around the globe, as needed for the t-shirt journey, “emissions-free”.
5. They also created “fair labor legislation” by placing a secret playbook, hidden amongst the sewing machines, for a Bangladeshi factory worker to discover. This brave employee, then privy to all of the fair labor practices that their bosses should observe, spoke up for her colleagues and insisted that the book’s laws be enforced.
6. Devising an “organic farming” alternative, the students imagined fairies who could spread magical chemical-free crop dust on the cotton so that this essential plant would receive all of the water and nutrients that it needed to source the clothing industry in an environmentally friendly way.
(Student groups deep in conversations about their fairy tale characters, conflicts, and resolutions)
WEEK SIX: February 23rd
The artists, Juliana and Laura designed their project, Through the Eye of a Needle, to offer youth a glimpse of the vastly complex layers of the fast fashion industry, in order to help them unpack a broad spectrum of issues raised by this global industry. In their explorations with Juliana, students have gained a deepened appreciation for the sustainability of ancestral clothing making technologies, which used natural and plant-sourced materials. After a mulit-week introduction to these varied weaving materials (blackberry vine, ivy, cedar bark, & hand-spun wool), Juliana invited students to begin creating wearable accessories to gift to their Colombian peers. The wide array of mediums that they had to play with are depicted below. And this allowed students a chance to let their imaginations run wild, like the very plants they were handling.
(Wool for hand spindling;resources on native plants & examples of woven items: ivy and cedar bark; additional local plants for weaving)
Students demonstrated their new aptitude with these early weaving attempts.
With Laura, students dug deeper into personal questions related to their own fashion choices. First they listened to Macklemore’s very relevant rap song, Wings, which tells the horrific tale of a young boy who ends up murdered over a pair of sneakers. Students carefully analyzed the lyrics of this powerful song condemning brand dependency, and whose final verse conveys an important message that resonated with many of the students:
What I wore, this is the source of my youth
This dream that they sold to you
For a hundred dollars and some change
Consumption is in the veins
And now I see it’s just another pair of shoes
(Canadian artist, Brian Jorgen’s stunning Haida-style mask, fabricated from Nike Air Jordans, currently on exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery)
Following their discussion about this thought-provoking music, Laura led an inquiry intended to inform original rap songs that the students would create about these same concepts. First, they were asked to prioritize which elements most influenced their own clothing choices: Look? Self-Image? Peer Pressure? Ads? Price? Brand? Fit? Fabric? Social Responsibility of brand? And then, choosing from the same list, they answered the question: “It bothers me when people care too much about _________________?” The prevailing responses showed Peer Pressure, Price, Brand, & Self-Image to be the influential issues of greatest concern. So, this defined the themes that they would explore musically, in the following session.
WEEK SEVEN: March 8th
To warm-up students’ voices, rhyming and rhythmic skills, Laura introduced them to her original Moose Juice activity, which is an adaptation of a nursery rhyme, set to a hip hop backing track, over which students invented their own rapped verses about animals doing different rhyming activities (a bear washing his hair; a parrot eating a carrot, etc.). Then, they split into four groups, each aligned with one of the four selected topics: Peer Pressure, Price, Brand, & Self-Image, and began brainstorming theme words related to their topic. To build vocabulary for their raps, they then compiled Rhyme Banks of assonant words (IE. cost/lost/frost; cool/school/rule, etc.). Finally, they had a blast collaboratively writing 1-4 verses, each, about their topic, using the emphatic and expressive medium of rap to deliver strong messages about the issues that concerned them. Click below, to enjoy a fabulous example of one of these original student raps: Video
Juliana’s seventh session had the students involved in a hub of visually artistic activity. Following up from the previous week’s weaving activities, students brought to class completed fibre gifts for their Colombian peers, some of which are displayed below. Clearly, the range of mediums with which they had to play, inspired an array of colorful creations, including necklace charms, bracelets, and belts for their new friends.
Additionally, as an evolution of the first week’s clothing tag inquiry, students chose the questions that most resonated with them to render onto their own re-used t-shirts. Each statement was expressed in either English, French, Spanish, or Squamish – appropriately representing the official language of their French immersion school, that of their Colombian collaborators, and the mother tongue of the local First Nations people whose ancient fibre technologies they have been exploring. The simple iron-on decals produced beautiful results, and these will become unified “costumes” that all of the students can wear to perform their final fairy tales and raps.
Meanwhile, as students took turns ironing-on their decals, Juliana introduced several fashion design drawing techniques and templates, so that she could prepare the students to create designs for their own wearable art pieces.
She then asked students to reconnect to the descriptive personal adjectives that they identified on their Granville Island field trip, during Week Two, for their personal silo avatars, allowing these to inspire fashion creations that could reflect their individual identities. In this process, students also had to consider their potential available materials (natural fibres, used fabrics, and found or reclaimed “trash” materials such as newspaper, garbage bags, plastic bottles, straws, and more), as well as the practical “do ability” of their design, given only two remaining class periods to fabric their final pieces. And students used the remainder of the period, to sketch their concepts.
(skirts, tops and even wigs designed by Pauline Johnson students for their wearable art pieces)
WEEK EIGHT & NINE: March 29th & April 12th – From Sowing to Sewing
Since January, Pauline Johnson students have been immersed in a multi-layered exploration of the fast fashion industry. This project has challenged their critical thinking while developing their skills as designers, weavers, textile artists, playwrights, rappers, and performers. And now, months of seeding, sowing and cultivating have bloomed into a variety of creative products.
Throughout this project, these youth were asked to take a “YES, AND…” attitude towards many new or unfamiliar modes of expression. And while, understandably, there was occasional resistance, they ultimately rose to the challenge with a willing, cooperative spirit. Consequently, their work reflects a wide range of student interests, concerns and visions for a more sustainable and healthy fashion industry.
Their performative work has required a considerably rapid creation and preparation process. Therefore, as 90 students have refined 10 original raps and 9 unique skits, it has not been possible to properly document the rehearsal process. However, all of their music and theatre pieces will be video documented at their final performance, on April 19th, and uploaded to this blog in the weeks to come.
Adding to the usual 3 R’s, Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic, Through the Eye of Needle has emphasized the importance of Repurposing, Recycling and Reimagining. Consequently, one of the major take-aways from these artistic engagements has been the understanding that a myriad of resources, materials and gifts are available to us in our immediate environment and community with which great beauty can be created. With their heads, hearts and hands, these students have contributed their complimentary strengths to a rich body of performative work. They have also harvested native plants, scavenged for natural materials, and gathered fabric scraps, newspaper, garbage bags, ropes, bottles, ducktape and sand to invent a full runway of clothing items ranging from pret-a-porter to haute couture. So, watch out Ralph Lauren! Here come the next generation of designers.
Finally, the exciting global exchange component of this project was initiated on Tuesday, in a Skype chat held over recess, between 12 select Pauline Johnson students and all of the Grade 8 students at Liceo Boston with whom Juliana and Laura will work, this May. The West Vancouver students shared some of their insights and creative products with the Colombian students (displaying many of the fashion pieces photographed above). Then, they had an opportunity to ask some burring questions of their peers in Bogota. An interesting discussion ensued about the pros and cons of wearing school uniforms (as the Liceo Boston students do). And a good portion of the students’ curiosity revolved around James Rodriquez & Radamal Falcao, two Colombian soccer (futbol) superstars whom the PJ students follow on their Real Madrid and Manchester United teams. Perhaps overshadowing these students’ shared purpose in our fast fashion project was the thrilling fact that a particularly talented young soccer player from Liceo Boston happened to be connected to one these stars on What’s App? !! Maybe the Whitecaps will even luck out, one day, and score one of these South American sensations.
WEEK TEN: April 19th – The Show!
After many months of hard work and artistic inquiry related to the fast fashion industry, Pauline Johnson’s Grade 6/7 students had the opportunity to share a presentation of their learnings with many of their school peers. In this ambitious show, all 90 students performed original raps and theatrical skits, along side a fashion show of their creative wearable art pieces. The breadth and scope of creative products that were the result of this comprehensive inquiry are evident from the vibrant images below.
(Laura warming up and introducing students before their rap performance.)
Why do people care about the brand?
They need something better to demand.
Nike, Adidas, Puma, the logos.
People just gotta understand to let it go, yo!
And here’s a video recording of several student group’s rap performances: MVI_2618
(Juliana and Laura Desalle – PJ teacher – introducing and preparing students for the wearable art fashion show.)
As with many arts processes, little is known about the shape and form of the final product when the project begins. Therefore, all of these brave creators had to approach this experience with curiosity, an open mind, and a sense of trust that together they would create something meaningful and beautiful. So, while some doubts and confusion understandably arose along this sometimes messy journey, these young artists and their teachers all expressed a sense of great satisfaction and surprise with their creative work when the project was completed. Most importantly, students expressed true gratitude for the opportunity to participate in an artistic creation over which they felt complete authorship. And many of them also spoke of real changes that they intended to make in their behavior as consumers, which speaks to the lasting legacy of this immersive experience.
Though the Eye of a Needle travels to Colombia
With the advantage of three months of student engagements in Canada under their belt, Juliana and Laura had a host of artistic activities and inquiries prepared to share with their Colombian student exchange partners from Liceo Boston and Tuna Alta. However, the nature of these artistic explorations gives ample room to customize, modify and shape the process and the product to reflect the unique interests, passions and gifts of each student group. So, while numerous elements of the project in Vancouver resonated with Colombian students, such as the natural material weaving, the wearable art fabrication, and the original rap compositions, many exciting, new elements emerged in this iteration of the project. The students’ creative products included a much stronger emphasis on movement, as they all demonstrated rhythm virtually pulsing through their blood. Additionally, a group of Grade 11 students were able to serve a smaller but significant role in this mostly Grade 8 project by creating a large, rustic loom on the school grounds. This older group also thoughtfully reflected on the impact of the fast fashion industry and built a Word Bank of vocabulary, in Spanish and English, that articulated their responses to what they learned about the Global Journey of the T-shirt. Subsequently, they selected the two most poignant words and literally wove these into the school fence, creating a lasting message from this project.
(Juliana’s graphic illustration of Laura’s narrated Global Journey of the T-Shirt)
(English and Spanish Fabric graffiti pieces, created by bilingual Grade 11 Liceo Boston students, beautifully communicate the problems and potential solutions that these senior students identified in the Journey of the Global T-shirt. BLINDFOLD represents the ignorance that causes people to make consumerist choices that are have negative impacts on humanity and the earth. JUSTICIA represents the sentiment that is needed to create fairer wages, working conditions, and sustainable practices for manufacturing clothing.)
Finally, a special component was the unique collaboration fostered between students from Liceo Boston (a private school) and Tuna Alta (an underserved neighboring school). This pilot endeavor, which invited students from diverse socio-economic circumstances to work together, on the same campus, was a unique opportunity that Liceo Boston intends to duplicate for years to come.
(Visiting students from Tuna Alta, orienting to their host school, Liceo Boston, where they would work in a two-week creative exchange with Juliana, Laura and twenty-five Grade 8 LB students.)
A photo documentation, with captions from the entire Columbian immersion, follows:
(Visual and Text examples of Liceo Boston and Tuna Alta students’ Giants avatars.)
(On the first day they met each other, students from both schools develop collaborative skills through a fabric-related metaphoric movement activity, The Human Knot – untangling themselves using only non-verbal body language.)
(Juliana introduces students to natural weaving materials brought from Canada, as well as those harvested in their own school garden.)
(Colombian students peruse the colorful array of woven gifts that were made for them by their Canadian student exchange partners, and then choose the bracelet, pendant or headband that most speaks to their heart.)
(Then, students experiment with naturally dyed jute, and wool, to create woven gifts of their own.)
(Embodying the impact of the Global Journey of the T-Shirt, students weave their bodies together in a Greeting Dance by threading between each other in a circle; they also create a Human Sculpture that represents a giant industrial sewing machine.)
(Of their own accord, these natural movers add Latin choreography to the original rap that they wrote about how media influences their consumerist choices. Their insightful and poetic lyrics are below.)
ACTUALMENTE LA PUBLICIDAD
SOLO NOS QUIERE ESTAFAR.
VENDIÉNDONOS COSAS DE MALA CALIDAD.
ENTRANDO POR LOS OJOS, PRODUCIÉNDONOS ANTOJOS,
DAÑANDO LA MENTE DE FORMA EFICIENTE,
LOGRANDO UN CAMBIO EN NUESTRO PRESENTE.
Ads only want to cheat us
by selling poor quality stuff.
They enter our eyes and make us crave,
effectively damaging our mind,
and achieving a change in our present decisions.CHORUS:
DEMASIADO DE TODO
NECESSITAMOS MUCHO MENOS
Too Much of Everything
We Need Much Less
A fitting fusion for this cross-cultural project, the Chorus, above, was set to a Latin melody with a Reggaton beat, and repeated between original rapped verse. And the chorus lyrics identify “excess” as a summary the problems of the Global Journey of the T-Shirt as one of excess (Too Much Inequity of Wages, Too Much Danger in the Work Place, Too Much Transportation and CO2, Too Much Water to Grow Cotton and Wash Clothes, Too Many Chemicals in the Processing, Too Much Ignorance about the Truth of the Fast Fashion Industry’s Social and Environmental Impact).
(As a correlative side engagement, Juliana and Laura were joined by local Colombian artist facilitator/educator, Maria Camila Sanjines to lead 2-days of professional development workshops entitled “The Dance of Art and Education”. This rich exchange allowed 40 teachers and artists, from Liceo Boston, Tuna Alta and other Bogota schools, to consider questions such as “Curious Students + Non-Vertical Pedogogical Approaches = _____”. Participants also expressed their Dreams and Nightmares around the integration of arts and education, and they created Illustrated Haikus that served as exquisitely concise promotional pieces which advocate for the benefits of arts integration. These intent of these workshops is to encourage and sustain continued arts engagement curricular activities at the participating project schools and others.)
(A stunning piece woven by a Tuna Alta student; Laura helping students make miniature looms with which to create their woven pieces – a technique Juliana shared with them; Juliana facilitating the Grade 11 students in the creation of a rustic loom, made from natural materials found on the Liceo Boston school property, and gifted to the school by these senior students as a lasting legacy of the project.)
(Students collaborate to create wearable art fashion made from fabric scraps and old clothes.)
(Finally, our Colombian engagements were also beautifully documented by the Liceo Boston students, themselves, on their own school TV channel. And here is a link to the bilingual video piece that they created: CLICK HERE: Needle)
(The whole Tuna Alta and Liceo Boston crew, after presenting their show to all 550 peers at their school, with partnering LB teacher and translator extraordinaire, Adolfo Beltran, LB student exchange director, Camila Ramos Bravo, Juliana, and Laura.)