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MA students collaborate on a project brief for the Wellcome Trust

Wellcome Trust Collaborative Unit project
Wellcome Trust Collaborative Unit project
By Maryssa Cook-Obregón
Written by
Rosie Higham-stainton
Published date
26 September 2017

Maryssa Cook-Obregòn and Laure Fernandez are MA Fashion Futures students, who worked on a brief for the Wellcome Trust as part of the Collaborative Unit. They developed a series of biomaterials from readily available food ingredients to exhibit and show the potential of  ‘growing your own fabric’. Of Marissa and Laure’s work, the Wellcome Trust said:

It fitted really well with Wellcome Collection’s broad aim to ‘encourage new ways of thinking by connecting science, medicine, life and art.’ For this weekend specifically, we wanted to challenge ideas about what nature is so their research was a great way to encourage people to think about at what stage a material is ‘natural’ and at what point it is ‘manmade’ or whether you can really draw such a distinction. It also raised important questions of sustainability, chains of production and the cultural values and emotional attachments we assign to certain materials. exercise or mouthpiece for contributors’ work.

By Maryssa Cook-Obregón

We spoke to the pair about their experiences.

Briefly describe the Collaborative Unit project.

We developed a series of biomaterials from readily available food ingredients so that we could exhibit these materials in the form of swatches and fashion objects with the aim of seeing how the public would react to the prospect of ‘growing your own fabric’. We grew the biomaterials in our kitchen and then exhibited our work publicly at the Wellcome Collection and the Create Place.

How did you find each other?

We both are MA Fashion Futures students and throughout the course, we noticed we both share a passion for materials. We each wanted to use the Collaborative Unit as an opportunity to further our respective Master’s Project research as well as use it as a chance to have tactile experience with materials. Since our visions aligned so well and we are in the same course, we’d say our team came to fruition in a really holistic and mutually-beneficial way.

What have been the key benefits of collaborating during your MA?

We were able to share and exchange our skills/talents with each other as both of us brought distinctly unique areas of expertise to this project.

What have you learnt from your collaborators, and what have you taught them?

We learnt from our collaborators (who are not part of the traditional fashion industry) that there is a growing interest from other disciplines to see how fashion can help solve some of the world’s most pressing issues today (i.e. climate change, unfair labour practices, environmental degradation). We feel we taught our collaborators that fashion is certainly not a superfluous industry and that as a field, it should be engaged with intellectually, culturally, scientifically, and economically. I think, through us, they saw that fashion can be a powerful tool for change and that serious research can be conducted within this field.

By Maryssa Cook-Obregón

What were the challenges?

Learning to find a rhythm that will work for each member of the group and that will allow you to work productively on an individual and group basis can be challenging at first since each person has their own preferences, habits, and abilities. It can be a challenge to find this ideal balance but communication is necessary. Communication, itself, can be difficult but laying out the issues and concerns that you each have in an honest and respectful way is key to coming together collaboratively and getting the work done well.

What were the successes?

We were successful at showing our work and ideas to the public, which for both of us was key in achieving our aim. It was very gratifying to hear people’s reactions and suggestions for how we could proceed. Seeing the biomaterials being interacted with was our ultimate goal.

How will you use your experience? 

We hope to further develop the biomaterials we’ve made so far and make improvements to them based off of the reactions we had throughout our exhibitions.

What advice would you give to new students about Collaborative Unit?

Use this unit as chance to explore your academic interests through new and different media than what you are used to. Consider that your MA project itself may not grant you this chance; seeing your research in a different form could enhance your perspective and knowledge.