Georgia Taylor Aguilar, Environmentally Sustainable Curation

Utilising fashion and science, Helen Storey’s work addresses climate change, the environment and global displacement. Projects such as the Wonderland Project’s Dissolving Dresses, Catalyctic Clothing and Dress for Our Time demonstrate activism through her practice. Many artists’ responses to the Helen Storey Archive echo these themes, with the exhibition sites lending themselves to this collective objective, such as Manchester Metropolitan University being the most sustainable UK University. For this reason it seems disingenuous if the exhibition’s form and methods did not consider or act on these concerns. This approach of considering and curating the exhibition in an environmentally sustainable way, would not just acknowledge the work of Helen Storey and the artists, but proactively respond to their content and values.

This project has been heavily research-based in sourcing alternative materials and methods for various exhibition components such as hanging, modes of display, transportation, interpretation and the de-install. The challenge of this approach was the crossover with a necessary scientific understanding of materials and their properties, energy consumption and carbon emissions. A combination of factors were always at play; a certain item could not be considered in isolation because of other factors such as manufacturing efficiency or delivery emissions, even if appearing to be better for the environment. Therefore a purely sustainable exhibition remains arguably unattainable without external expertise and an elevated budget. However thoughtful exhibiting practices are nevertheless attainable, with reusing, borrowing, recycling and considering the lifecycle of items upon sourcing them.

From the outset, this project’s goal was to put the artists’ and the needs of individual works first, with environmentally sustainable curation coming second in responding to artistic practices. Furthermore, aiming for a fully eco-friendly and sustainable exhibition could cause a detriment to the work if there is a limited budget, e.g. poor packing or hanging and should never fall into a compromise. Artists and exhibition producers should have full confidence in chosen materials and methods used above all else. During this process of researching alternative sustainable materials, it has been satisfying to discover great alternatives, such as fully biodegradable monofilament fishing wire, PVC free labels or G.F Smith’s range of recycled papers. Regarding projectors, the more efficient the better, often better quality work is seen with laser projectors with a higher contrast ratio than more lumens. A minimal aesthetic of an exhibition space, with function as a priority goes a long way in terms of sustainability, such as reusing a trestle tabletop and legs or simple hanging of wall-based work.

I believe this project has barely scratched the surface, with plenty of mileage in considering environmentally sustainable ways exhibitions could be produced in the long-term. Galleries and museums have a unique responsibility; this can be extended to understanding and proactively bettering their local ecology through environmentally sustainable practices. This would engage and educate audiences on this importance, by using art, fashion and culture to do so.