— June 15, 2011 —
Sustainable Culture is a column by super/collider, exploring the intersection between science, culture and ecology. Please do not print
Still from Catalytic Clothing Courtesy of Catalytic ClothingImagine walking down a bustling city street, wearing a chic but very normal-looking white dress. As cars, buses and delivery trucks rush past and the exhaust fumes swirl around you, tiny particles on the dress fabric slowly filter the air around you, effortlessly breaking down airborne pollution. Now, imagine that everyone on that street is wearing something similar – in their jeans, on their shirt or stamped onto a patterned skirt. The sidewalk has become an active catwalk; an ever-moving filter that purifies the city’s air.
This is the vision behind Catalytic Clothing, a slick new concept from artist/designer Helen Storey and chemist Tony Ryan – you may remember their previous collaboration, a 2008 film for SHOWstudio in which a writhing Alice Dellal demonstrated biodegradable polymers in an water-filled tank. Combining science and fashion in a stylish way, their new project explores the potential effect of mass catalytic reactions on the air around us.
Catalysts themselves are nothing new – modern cars have them built in to their tailpipes to trap pollution before it emerges – but the possibility of wearing them is. When sunlight strikes the new clothing, it initiates a chemical reaction that traps pollution and breaks it down into non-harmful chemicals. The reaction is completely harmless, and the fabric itself doesn’t attract pollution. In theory, this type of nanoscale technology could be applied to anything you can wash in a machine, but so far it’s very limited edition.
‘Herself’ was the team’s first take on the concept – a highly experimental couture textile sculpture first shown in October 2010 that “intended to illustrate in artistic form the idea that textiles can eliminate certain pollutants from the air so that we can breathe more beautifully.” This was followed by the world’s first air purifying jeans and now, as part of the project’s central tenet of engaging with the fashion world and the wider public, a new film which debuts today. Featuring Erin O’Connor, soundtracked by Radiohead and shot by Adam Mufti, it introduces the concept amid softly glowing-screens, inviting us to imagine a future in which our clothes become an active part of our environment.
Watch the full film or visit the website for more on the project.