Eight Million Lives in Data: Dress For Our Time at the Science Museum

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Helen Storey talking at the launch of Dress For Our Time at the Science Museum

Professor Helen Storey and the Dress For Our Time have had something of a whirlwind summer- it started in June, when the dress appeared on the pyramid stage at Glastonbury, worn by singer Rokia Traore, a bold symbol of solidarity for refugees. Then, less than a month later, Helen went to Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, where the dress began its life as a tent, to learn more about the people living in the camps.

And now, the dress is on display at London’s Science Museum, bringing together data and fashion to examine the issue of human displacement in an endeavor to change the social narrative of the topic. Working with creative agency Holition, information from the UNHCR is used to visualize the human side of the refugee crisis. An animation is formed of points of light, each one representing one hundred human lives, which move across the globe illustrating the continents the refugees have moved from and to, thus creating a map of global human migration.

Last week, the dress made its Science Museum debut with a launch in what felt like the early hours of the morning, before the Museum opened its doors to the public. The dress is located at the farthest end of the museum, in an exhibition entitled ‘Our Lives in Data’ which examines the way big data is changing our lives. It is dimly lit, and vein like streams of light flood up the dress from the bottom, concentrating in certain areas and bursting out of others. Gradually, these tiny pixels of light start to reveal the shape of countries: the UK’s recognizable outline takes shape in the corner, the lines growing thicker and stronger as more light-lines flock to the space.

Each point of light represents one hundred lives- real human lives- and the journey they have taken as a refugee. Sometimes the points collect in one spot, the place they first reached perhaps, before bursting out, a firework of exploding light, as they start their onward journey. The lights flow from six points, representing the places they have left from, before populating the countries in which they found shelter. What emerges is not a map of the world, but rather one of human migration. And it isn’t finished yet. More people are moving, fleeing, running, all the time, and therefore the hypothetical migration map will never be static or complete.

The power of the piece lies in taking an abstract concept- the mass migration of millions (eight million, to be exact) of individuals- and giving it a visual form. The data, collected by the UNHCR, made physical by Holition, and given a home on the dress, shows the sheer scale of the problem, and raises questions around how we can solve it.

At the press launch, Helen Storey introduced the dress and the global refugee crisis, stating that this and climate change are the two serious problems facing us right now, and that we need to use the combined powers of art and science together to solve them. This display is the perfect representation of art and science working together to visually represent a problem that would otherwise be unrepresentable. Returning the human emotion and empathy to these staggering numbers is vital in the development of a solution to mass human migration and the refugee crisis, and Helen Storey and Holition have come together to do just that.

 

The dress is on display now and will be until the 4th of September in the ground floor Antenna Gallery at the Science Museum.