Amelia’s Magazine | Dirty White Gold: new documentary-in-the-making unpicks cotton

Life Is Precious sign from Dirty White Gold
Roadside sign in India, from the film’s trailer

Dirty White Gold is Leah Borromeo‘s film about cotton. It exposes a whole crop of problems with our clothes by unspooling high street supply chains right back to cotton seeds. Even what you think is a sweatshop-free t-shirt unravels to reveal a thread supplier using child labour, or a farmer in such heavy debt he’s killed himself. These cotton-to-coffin suicides are destroying Indian farming families.

Dirty White Gold
Blood on the maps: film poster design by Peter Kennard @at_earth

Dirty White Gold “goes right the way back to seeds,” says Leah. “It’s a Saturday night date film.” Ha ha.

We’re here on a sunny Sunday afternoon as part of the Stoke Newington Literary Festival, and Leah‘s been invited by new magazine Stir to talk about her film. It’s not unusual now to promote and campaign around a film while you’re still making it, and after a successful round of crowdfunding, filming in India is complete and Dirty White Gold is now on its London leg.

Until a few years ago, Leah was deputy foreign editor at Sky News. That job ended when she made the news herself while protesting in her bra at the G20 summit. She was arrested for impersonating a police officer (there was also a truncheon and a tank involved).

Leah Borromeo, Dirty White Gold
Leah Borromeo filming Dirty White Gold

Leah comes across as both fun and formidable. On second hand clothing, she says. “No, it doesn’t smell of death. New clothes smell of death. You know that ‘new clothes’ smell you get when you walk into a shopping centre? That’s formaldehyde. On clothes marked 100% cotton, often they’re only 73% cotton. The rest is chemicals.”

I knew that ‘new clothes’ smell was too good to be true.

Who's Behind The Rotten Cotton - Dirty White Gold
Dot questions where her cardigan was made: poster by Dr.D

It all comes back down to our old friend, capitalism. As the trailer says, “what you are witnessing is the death throes of smallholder agriculture, under the onslaught of corporations”. Farmers are tempted away from subsistence farming by cash crops, produced for their commercial value rather than for use by the farmer. So the farmer buys a box of cotton seeds, plus licenses, pesticides and insecticides (the Indian government has a 15% holding in one of the largest insecticide companies). He pays for labour to spray all those chemicals, and the money he gets back isn’t enough to make up what was spent. Plus, he’s competing on unlevel fields against US and EU farmers who get subsidies.

Trailer: watch the cotton industry unravel

So what can be done about rotten cotton?

“You can’t wander in with a colonial attitude,” says Leah. “It has to be organic. There are resistances in India, there needs to be education. There are collectives which support farmers switching to organic, and then make sure they get a fair price. But the market has to be there. At the moment farmers aren’t going for it because they’re scared.”

There are stats and facts, and then we’re onto actions we can take when we’re shopping.

“Ask yourself: do I need to buy it?” says Leah. “It’s not so much what you buy, as whether you should be buying in the first place.”

Secondly, “pick up a needle. There are lots of people who can repair clothes for you. The Denim Doctor is a guy in Salford who repairs jeans like new.”

Lastly, “think about where you buy.” Leah recommends shopping second hand or from Traid, and Claire from Traid who is in the audience explains that Traid supports the Pesticide Action Network and other projects to help improve the global textile supply chain. This makes me like their TRAIDremade label (available online) even more.

The clothing supply chain was an issue I thought I had all sewn up, especially with articles after the Savar building collapse about which high street stores are supposedly okay to shop from. But this film looks set to unpick the way we shop, and hopefully the way our clothes are made. Right back to the seed.

Follow the progress of the film: @dirtywhitegold and Dirty White Gold on Facebook

Categories ,cotton, ,Denim Doctor, ,Dirty White Gold, ,Dr. D, ,g20, ,India, ,Leah Borromeo, ,Pesticide Action Network, ,peter kennard, ,Savar, ,Sky News, ,STIR, ,Stir Magazine, ,Stoke Newington Literary Festival, ,traid, ,Traid Remade

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Amelia’s Magazine | Exhibition: El Ray

Ally Rosenberg: Agnosin

Earlier this week Amelia’s Magazine visited El Ray, information pills the exhibition curated by Oliver Cronk and Ben Westley Clark. Where we came across the incredible soft sculptures of Ally Rosenberg, viagra 60mg a lovely chap who took the time to talk us through the making of these pieces.

Titled Agnosin, the work developed from Ally’s experience of visiting a neurology ward and the sad comedy of loosing the ability to connect what your seeing to its prescribed function. Perhaps it is part of our coping mechanicism that we laugh at moments of sadness and discomfort, it is this moment of confusion these sculptures visulise.

The sculptures’ form bends the viewers understanding of what we accept as recognisable human form; parts of anatomy are drapped across clothes hangers whilst others lie slumped on the floor. The sculptures are adorned with an every day object not usually associated with bodily functions, their presence drawing attention to the delicate existence of humanity and its understanding of our environment. The viewer is forced to consider the narrow understanding we have of an object’s functionality, and how when it is removed from the context in which we understand it we laugh…. Yet sadly, this loss of understanding can happen all too easily.

Ally Rosenberg: Agnosin

A fantastic use of what previously was a sadly abandoned space – nothing shows the recession clearer than the rapid expansion of hollowed out buildings – the exhibition El Ray reinvigorates an old Colourama Factory. One of the exhibition organisers; Oliver Cronk, took some time to answer a few of my questions…

What was the idea behind El Ray?

El Ray was an idea I had to showcase work that I really like which is going on in art schools. It’s Degree Season, but the shows are so much to take in and I thought a simpler, ‘edited’ version might be a way to put people’s points across away from the clamour of institutions filled with people.

Declan Corbett: “Machine for A Creative Man”

Did you, yourself find the disused printing factory?

I live in Colorama, which was opened by some old friends… I am the first to use the gallery space and hope to keep it running as long as people are interested in putting work there.

How did you approach the artists featuring in the exhibition?

Most of the artists I have known for some time and we’ve been in discussions about collaborations. Others I found online and some were recommended by friends… Due to the showcase nature of the show, more were in the running than there was space, but luckily some people became suddenly unavailable at the eleventh hour. The final stream-lining process was comparatively easy, although there were, of course, one or two conflicts regarding curation…

Bruno Osolio: History of the World

You were previously involved in Artport; does this exhibition have any connection or has the focus of work presented changed?

I founded Artport with Caitlin Sheperd, Holly Gregson and some other friends, to work some play and performance into protests which were being organised at the time by Tamsin Omond… The current work is not directly connected with Artport, although there are certain points of relation in the general ethos of both projects.

Oliver Cronk: Bruises

What have you been up to between Airport and El Ray?

I’ve been studying on a vocational art course at Byam Shaw called Fine Art: Skills and Practices, which is largely skills based and involves placements with practicing artists, gallery work and community. Sadly the course has been slammed into premature closure by the hulking and at times thoughtless behemoth which is Central St. Martins and it’s leader, Elle Reynolds, made all but redundant. At the same time Byam Shaw sadly becomes CSM Archway (at least in official documents).

Thanks to the nature of this course I was able to go to a residency of sorts in Cairo, where I worked as part of an outreach project called Sawa at the Townhouse Gallery . I was trying to work out a book exchange between the Townhouse and INIVA, although sadly this fell through as did a performance event which I was hoping to throw in collaboration with Adham Hafez and his Trans:Dance project. This event did fall through but I was able to perform with Adham at the Italian Cultural Institute.

Declan Corbett: “Machine for A Creative Man”

What’s your background?

I studied Oriental Studies: Spanish and Arabic at Cambridge with the intention of moving into Fine Art after having graduated. Prior to this I was in Barcelona for a little over a year making art and writing in some of the many occupied houses there. Cambridge was quite distracting although I did manage to exhibit some work at cafes and also help found a project called The Shop with Paloma Gormley and Lewis Jones, which now seems to have become quite successful.

I was lucky inasmuch as my degree included a year abroad, during which I was able to study printmaking, collage and other applied art forms in Madrid and Cairo.

“Public spaces will be accessed and reclaimed in order to find a voice which is often stifled by political and corporate collusion.” Has the following statement (from Airport listing) influenced your decision to use an empty building, where the business has perhaps disappeared due to the economic climate of the last few years?

I am fascinated by this economic, political and environmental climate and am both scared and thrilled to watch some of the big bad boys going down (bye bye BP! Good riddance.) The decline of Colorama as a company is saddening, as is stumbling through the assorted debris which they left behind, however, to have an opportunity to use such an incredible space is exciting. So yes, the previous statement and the current project influence each other mutually, and although Colorama is essentially private I do hope to open it as much as is feasible to find this voice which is so often stifled – i.e. when the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is held off to page 17 of the press, or when Israel guns down innocent people and gets it written up as “potential public relations disaster” (the BBC, courtesy of John Pilger in the Daily Mirror 02/06/10)

Allie Furlotti

Where the artists invited to respond to a singular theme?

No, my feeling was that people should exhibit their own practices, perhaps even old work which they have been unable to exhibit as yet. The next Colorama show will hopefully be entitled ‘Beginning of the End of the Age of Oil’, include work by fantastic artists such as Jenea Okuefuna and Peter Kennard and will work to a more specific submissions process – contact me for further detail.

El Ray, whilst slightly off the beaten track is an excellent insight in the depth of artistic practice happening both inside and out of the Art Institutes.
Take some time out from the never ending Degree Show season (or scrum as I like to fondly call it) and spend a quiet minute with the strong selection of work on display. It is a triumph of a show as you barely notice the curation, (a positive) as teach work has enough space to breathe whilst being part of a collective whole.

Four pieces to watch out for: Ben Westley Clarke’s The Politics of Youth, Kitty Zinovieff’s Ya Shishan, Declan Corbett, Machine for A Creative Man, in which beautiful tiny scribblings are created from the vibrations of a speaker as a CD softely plays. Finally take a moment with Oliver Cronk’s Bruises a meditation through cross stitch of a moment of pain.

The exhibition runs until 17th June, do not miss!

Categories ,’Beginning of the End of the Age of Oil’, ,Ben Westley Clark, ,Byam Shaw, ,Central Saint Martins, ,Colourama, ,El Ray, ,Oliver Cronk, ,peter kennard, ,Ruskin, ,Southwark, ,University of the Arts

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