As part of the Fashion and Style exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland, Kate and Helen Storey’s Dark Lung Dress is exhibited. Unlike much of the exhibition – which is similar to the collection at the V&A which some of you may be more familiar with – this dress is not an example of period fashion. This mesmerising piece is inspired by the feel and function of the lung.
Designer Helen Storey became interested in the work her sister, Dr Kate Storey was conducting in her biology lab at the University of Dundee in cellular biology. Looking at a cell through a microscope is like looking into another world, a world not so different from the one we see around us without the aid of microscopes and lenses. The healthy lung has a branched structure similar to a tree. The similarities between the world within us and the world around us are an incredible source of inspiration for Storey who aims to appreciate the parallels such as interior and exterior, biological and natural structure and most notably, science and fashion.
The dress is made of polyurethane sponge, viscose, Perspex and nylon and is sheer from the rib cage down to the ankle. Upon closer inspection, one can see the many tiny holes in the fabric, almost like mesh. The motif of inspection and ways of perceiving is clear here as the dress looks completely different from each angle. If one views the dress head on, the incredible winged train is entirely hidden from view. A mixture of black and emerald green, the train is lustrous and completely opaque. The green print which covers around a third of the train is a print of an x-ray of two healthy lungs.
Storey is one of six artists to receive a grant from the Wellcome Trust in 1997 for their Sciart project. The centre remains one of the most innovative galleries for medical humanities exhibitions, before producing this piece in 2010, Storey had commissioned an exhibition for the Wellcome Centre based on the first 1000 hours of human life. Storey refers to the project as ‘by far the most electric project she’s ever touched’. It is clear to see why, when most Sci-art collaborations tend to provide an opinion on the scientific content, Storey’s work appreciates the ability of biology to be beautiful for its geometric and textural properties, irrespective of content. She was not trying to produce a biological dialogue in an artistic way, but instead produced an exhibition which captivates our sensory experience of our bodies.