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Research Reflections: Life on the Outskirts: Making Sense and Use of a Creative Life
Helen Storey is a celebrated social artist and designer whose career began at Kingston Polytechnic as a student in the Fashion department. After working for major Italian fashion houses and establishing a highly successful fashion business in her name, she now works on public projects that exist in the spaces between design, science, technology, art and the sustainability of creative human practice in contemporary life.
The exhibition at Dorich House Museum showcases material from the Life on the Ouskirts digital archiving project with Kingston University, and its capacity for future development in Helen Storey’s work. It is part of a wider programme of exhibitions and events marking the 140th anniversary of Kingston School of Art.
The project began life as a Researcher-in-Residence Creativeworks London award between Helen Storey Foundation (HSF) and Robert Knifton at Kingston University. In this article, Robert reflects on the project.
Like many Creativeworks London projects, I can highlight a serendipitous moment of meeting that sparked an idea. In Autumn 2013 I attended a Creativeworks London workshop at the National Archives Kew, where I was first introduced to Caroline Coates from HSF. I knew of Helen’s work as a fashion designer and artist, and was aware she had studied at Kingston, where I was working on a history of our art school. I wanted my work on the art school’s past to be a living, breathing thing that responded flexibly to current students’ needs, and was looking for a way to make that happen. In that first meeting, we found that our thinking on the archive, on education, and on the learning potential of creative industry artefacts aligned tremendously. We continued to talk, and developed a plan to collaborate, with the Creativeworks London scheme offering an ideal platform to bring it to reality.
The bid initially went in to the ‘Archives’ phase of the Creative Voucher scheme. The round was massively popular, so it wasn’t so much of a surprise that it didn’t get through, but as an Early Career Researcher Creativeworks London encouraged me to reshape the project for the next Researcher-in-Residence round instead. This meant refining our ideas, crystallising what we really wanted to focus on. What emerged was a stronger, clearer digitisation project that aimed to tap into the vast potential of Helen Storey Foundation’s archive, create a record of the work it contained, and develop strategies for students to access and engage with the material within it. Across a series of meetings with Caroline Coates and Helen Storey, an ambitious plan to reframe the potential of archival collections themselves was discussed.
There were a few moments during the residency when the spirit of what we were doing really came to the fore. One was during the Summer of 2014, when we arranged for a whole van of Helen’s collection to be transported to Kingston to be photographed. Collaborating with Helen, with our photographer, and with students producing images for the archive turned something static back into a dynamic thing, it really brought it to life. We also had the chance to be at the start of Helen’s next project around climate change, road-testing a film projection directly onto the fabric surface.
Another key moment was presenting our initial research findings to a group of students from Kingston University. The affinities between their practices and those experienced by Helen over a career in fashion and art were brought out in these conversations, with focuses on the minutiae of the creative process: materials, mistakes, memories…
The exhibition and symposium at Dorich House Museum are an opportunity to showcase our hard work: the sifting and sorting of the archive by HSF, and the digitisation process that followed were immense tasks. It’s also a chance to canvas views on the future direction of the archive, to connect it to education here at Kingston and elsewhere, and to consider where both Helen Storey Foundation and art school education might be heading. My sense is that a notion of where we have come from, encapsulated in creative archival holdings, will be vital to that next step.
Life on the Outskirts: Making Sense and Use of a Creative Life
Author: Robert Knifton, Kingston University London
Date: February 2015
Image credits:Life on the Outskirts. Helen Storey Foundation/Kingston University. Photography: Ezzidin Alwan.
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