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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Visiting Thessalonik Experimental Art Centre

An environmental exhibition of dresses made entiely from recycled materials.

I have a terrible habit of rarely checking what exhibition is being displayed before showing up at an art gallery, similarly my process for finding literature for my research can farely accurately be described as random and happenstance. I guess on some level I believe serendipity will lead me to relevant/interesting content, but I also value openness and I am (usually) happy to see something unexpected or unrelated to my practice, in the hope that I will learn something from it and broaden my cultural horizons. The exception to this rule was when I visited the Centre for Urban Art in Munich and discovered that the exhibition was entirely dedicated to Damien Hirst - I have seen his work before and I don't like it; I find it lazy, unimaginative and sensationalist (an Edge Lord before the internet was a thing). Also, as a Vegan, I have massive ethical qualms about his barbarous use of animals in his work.


The Thessaloniki Experimental Art Centre was located in a very cool location, on a jetty which seemed to be a combination of hipster, cultural venues and a dock yard. Thessaloniki is an industrial city and the dockyard cranes dominate the view over the ocean. On the brick wall outside the venue, visitors are greeted by mirror lettering which reads ‘CURATE OUR TRAUMAS’ – which seemed apt for an Experimental Art centre.

Inside, the exhibition was an environmental design show of dresses made entirely from recycled materials. The exhibition was organised by an Association "Friends of Nea Paralia" who raise awareness of citizens on issues of public space, it was the 9th edition of this environmental project with the theme "monochromes". I’ve made a few (2D) artworks on environmental themes myself, but never really considered using recycled materials in my work, so I was interested to see how the artists and designers approached this brief. I was also hoping for some dress-making inspiration, since I have been teaching myself to use a sewing machine and i'm currently hyping myself up to make a dress (I've bought a dress pattern but haven't attempted it yet!). Equally, the use of art and design to engage citizens in conversations about sustainability is very relevant to my research topic, so I was excited to see the exhibition. I also wanted to take some photos to send to my little sister who is currently studying textiles in Birmingham.

My first observation about the works on display was the imaginative use of materials, which included; pill blister packs, copper coins, shower loofahs, tarpaulin, paper, tinsel, plastic bottles, synthetic hair and chip boards amongst other things. The only restriction placed on the designers was that their dress should stick to a single colour, otherwise they had complete freedom in their creations. Some opted for more modern style outfits, such as crop tops and short skirts, whereas others created regal dresses which looked like something from the 1800s.

Although I am not a massive fan of this style, I enjoyed this dress because I am pretty sure it was inspired by the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland (I couldn’t read the legends as they were all in Greek). The reason I thought this was because of the red, heart shaped cut outs which comprise the petals of the four “flowers” on the bodice of the dress – of course, I could be entirely wrong but that was how I interpreted the dress.

There were a few dresses which I would actually consider wearing myself. Although I am not a fan of the colour, I liked the orange dress because of the creative ways in which the material had been used; strips of ribbon-like material had been woven to create the body of the dress, flower like scrunched-up embellishments had been added on the bag and across the chest, as well as a fringe along the bottom and long free-flowing strips from the arm pits. The royal-blue dress, made from a mesh net material and plastic bottles, I liked because I could absolutely see myself wearing on a pro-EU march! I also liked the dresses which had been made from some kind of natural, straw-like material which had been woven – they looked like very trendy beach wear.

The head piece on the royal blue dress was rather spectacular. It consisted of blue, plastic bottles cut up to create spiralling forms, and a shower loofah.  Since I am guilty of frequently buying new items of clothing for protest marches and performances (including recently, a blue net and feather head piece), this work prompted me to reflect on whether I could make them myself from recycled materials. It would certainly be cheaper as well as environmentally friendly!

One of my favourite dresses was the green dress which was made from cellophane, cupcake cases and plastic plants – I think it appealed to the Tinkerbell in me. I would love to wear something like that to a fancy dress costume party. I loved the way the plastic foliage at the back sprung up over the shoulders like wings and the trawling ivy which drapes along the floor behind. The design felt dynamic and fun.

I think if I had to choose one dress to wear it would be the copper dress, which was made from a mesh net material and copper coins. I really liked the style and cut of this dress and I think the coins on the bodice were a really innovative centre piece and I loved the way they catch the light - sparkly but understated. Since I read about the historical use of coins in propaganda campaigns, I have become fascinated by the designs chosen for coinage and I like the idea of a dress which features the diversity of coins from all over the world.

I particularly enjoyed the video which was screened, showing the designs "in action" as part of a fashion show, open to the public. I think seeing the dresses animated in this way, and the audience reaction emphasised the impact of the project in raising citizen awareness of envronmental concerns.

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