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“The annual cotton harvesting season has just begun. Hoodies are made from cotton. In his book Empire of Cotton: A Global History, historian Sven Beckert describes how this natural fibre was able, thanks to its exceptional ability to absorb and retain colour as compared to other raw materials such as hemp, flax and wool, to become a driving force behind the global capitalist market. Now, activist groups and families in Indonesia, Bangladesh and India are filling pipes in factories with concrete in an attempt to protect their land and communities against the pollution and excessive consumption of water by the cotton industry.

What We Are Made Of tells interwoven stories about cotton and the people who work with this material. The work is set in the region of Uzbekistan around the Aral Sea. This collection of salt water basins once made up the third-largest lake in the world, but it is now an infamous byword for large-scale desertification; a natural disaster of global significance. Cotton production in this area is supported by forced labour (modern slavery). What We Are Made Of is an artistic, pedagogical project about the raw materials of our everyday lives.”

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This audio book follows Aida on a visit to her parents’ farm near Nukus in Uzbekistan, where her family is forced to work in the cotton fields on a seasonal basis. We also visit Mike, an LA-based musician, and the Vienna-based influencer Cassandra who is 80% pro-vegan and ‘trying to be against fast fashion, but she might be addicted,’ Falkeling explains.

Related projects

Het Nieuwe Instituut has previously engaged extensively in various projects examining the downsides of industries (including fashion) and the various time scales these manoeuvre through. For this, we have collaborated with a wide range of experts who address these same themes elsewhere in their academic, artistic or curatorial practice.

Fashion Data
Part of the Temporary Fashion Museum

As part of the Temporary Fashion Museum, curator and fashion theorist José Teunissen compiled the Fashion Data programme consisting of a section of the exhibition, a range of activities and online and offline publications highlighting the unethical and unsustainable functioning of the current fashion system, and providing a number of examples of (mainly Dutch) designers who are attempting to provide an alternative through ‘slow fashion’. 

Fashion Data
Essay by José Teunissen

José Teunissen’s essay ‘Fashion Data: on the failing fashion system and alternative solutions’ can be read in the web magazine of the Temporary Fashion Museum. The entire publication is available online from ISSUU (in Dutch).

Fashion Data
Thursday Night Live!

Within the context of Fashion Data, an evening was organised in cooperation with the festival and knowledge platform Stripped – A New Look at Fashion which carries out research into ‘the downside of fashion’. This included a screening of the revealing documentary film The True Cost, which like Falkeling looks into the clothes we wear, the people who make these and the influence the process of producing them has on the planet: “Who really determines the price we pay for the clothes we buy?” 

Fashion Machine
Installation in the Temporary Fashion Museum

For the Temporary Fashion Museum and Fashion Data, artist, materials researcher and fashion designer Conny Groenewegen developed the installation Fashion Machine, making the production mechanisms and scale of the fast fashion industry palpable, while in the alternative ‘sweatshop’ in the exhibition space in Het Nieuwe Instituut a new form – and an almost activist charge – was given to a banal material like fleece. 

Pandora's Box
Installation in Neuhaus

As a member of the NON+ collective, Groenewegen was also one of the driving forces behind the installation Pandora’s Box. With a large-scale, mirrored ‘hamster wheel’ and a tunnel made up from fleece sleeves, this occupied a prominent place in the philosophies section at the temporary transdisciplinary academy for more-than-human knowledge Neuhaus. This work responds to the imaginative capacities of designers, mythology, technology, philosophy and play. It is part of a series on the notion of ‘Synthetic Time’, which analyses, among other things, the linear concept of time that also determines how thought takes place within our industries and production systems.

A clear (artificial) thread runs from Fashion Machine to Pandora’s Box. In the latter work, after all, a story in two parts is woven about the efficient mass production of clothing and the long-lasting destruction of the living environment that accompanies this. Artificial fibres such as fleece simultaneously very fast and exceptionally slow: they are just about able to keep up with the desired speed of production in late capitalism, but break down so slowly they hang around on the surface of the earth for an eternity.