The Clothes That Wear Us

Dance Films | 14 December 2023

The Clothes That Wear Us, a film by Roswitha Chesher

How does clothing impact how we see ourselves and others see us? How do the clothes wear us? And what biases and presumptions are attached to them? How do we express our identity through what we wear?

As one of Greenwich Dance’s last activities, Artist in Residence for Young People Elena Alava Hilgert, delivered The Clothes That Wear Us, an innovative project designed for young minds to explore the dynamic intersections of clothing, movement, and identity. During workshop sessions involving dance, crafts, and open dialogue, the students worked on creative ideas and engaged in discussions broadening their perspectives and nurturing individual growth. The project culminated in a captivating installation where students shared what they had created and their reflections around identity, gender, and clothing. 

The Clothes That Wear Us. Cutting and sticking with scissors, paper and magazine images

The Clothes That Wear Us. Photo: Melanie Precious

“It was a real pleasure to welcome the team and the project into the college. After a hectic term, it was wonderful to see the students being able to take a breath and explore the themes of ‘The Clothes That Wear Us’ in a calm and supportive atmosphere. The project felt relatable and accessible but also inspired deeper discussion; broadening perspectives and nurturing their individual growth”
Gary Watson
Ambassador & Artistic Associate
London College of Performing Arts

Each person goes through many items of clothing in a lifetime, each representing a different part of themselves or a moment in their life. This project collected some of these items and asked a group of young people to investigate them. All items were purchased in charity shops and the students were asked to think about the story of the item and its owner. 

The Clothes That Wear Us. A suit jacket on a hanger is draped over a bench. Next to it as a lap top on its side and a series of polaroids

The Clothes That Wear Us. Photo: Melanie Precious

An interdisciplinary approach allowed students to choose different ways of exploring their characters; some crafted collages, others captured the character’s essence through movement in videos, while another group conducted insightful interviews. 

The Clothes That Wear Us. A collage of imagery

The Clothes That Wear Us. Photo: Melanie Precious

As the project evolved, the room buzzed with diverse thoughts. During reflections and discussions, the young people investigated their decision-making process behind the characters and the young people’s wider ideas about clothing and identity. While everyone agreed that you should be able to wear what you want without being judged, some frustration emerged. Students voiced their anger at being judged or sexualized based on clothing choices, unraveling the complexities of generational expectations and societal norms.  

The students voices and their creative work were accumulated in a final installation that was shared with their peers, the college’s staff and the Greenwich Dance team and captured by a Roswitha Chesher. Facilitators Elena Alava Hilgert, Marleigh Layne, and Sjaan van de Langenberg, alongside mentor Tom Hobden, turned the school’s theatre into an installation space which took the students by surprise. The event provided a unique opportunity for the students to witness their work come together and share insights with their peers as more conversations emerged.  

“I started my role as Artist in Residence for Young People with Greenwich Dance in April of this year. Being based in South East London and having worked on Greenwich Dance’s NRg Dance youth programme before, I started my role with some insight of the lives and ideas of young people in Greenwich and Bexley and was curious to get to know them more.

Through conversations with schools, community organisations, and young people during our Summer in the Park events, I learned more and some ideas about possible youth activity started accumulating. While I conducted a survey, it was the direct conversations with young people that were the most fruitful. Facilitating at schools and community events allowed me to engage with young people directly, and the perspectives of two work placement students significantly influenced our understanding of the interests and dynamics within the local youth community.

It became clear that there is a general desire for more creative activities in the area and for spaces for young people to just be. I was surprised by the variety of young people’s wishes for activity as they mentioned many different art forms and sports.

Connecting to my own practice as a queer community dance artist who delivers dance workshops in the LGBTQIA+ community, I was particularly interested in thinking about how we could provide a creative platform for young people to reflect on and discuss themes of gender and sexuality. Clothing felt like a good conversation starter that is present in many of their lives and I included different art forms to make the project exciting and accessible to different ways of working.

I was really excited to work with the London College of Performing Arts and their immediate support and curiosity for the project as I believe artistic spaces like these really support the young people in expressing themselves and it would be interesting to see how the project connects to their practice.

The creativity and maturity of the students was beautiful to experience. I am truly thankful for their trust in the project process, which was unfamiliar for them in some ways. Seeing them take pride in their work during the final installation and share it with each other and their peers felt very meaningful. I believe that the conversations we had and creative ideas we shared are a fruitful starting point for further reflections and projects to come.

I am incredibly sad that this development won’t happen as part of Greenwich Dance due to the closure. Delivering a project in the last month of the organisation’s closure was a challenge, but I am so proud that this project gets to be part of the legacy.

I look forward to working on ways in which this project can live on in different ways and am truly grateful to the support the team has provided in this.

The Clothes That Wear Us has shown the importance of creative platforms like these and the need to further amplify young people’s voices as they have so much knowledge, wisdom, and creativity to share.”

Elena Alava Hilgert
Artist in Residence – Young People
Greenwich Dance

The Clothes That Wear Us. The full installation

The Clothes That Wear Us. Photo: Melanie Precious

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