The brief for this experimental workshop seemed quite innocent at first glance: Exploring the topic of medical outfits in collaboration with Fogo Island Health Centre and a local sewing studio on Change Islands. Our research would soon prove us wrong, revealing that the histories of both the Health Centre on Fogo Island and the sewing studio on Change Islands were tied to rather dramatic incidents.
We found that the new hospital on Fogo Island has its background in the efforts made to establish a "neutral zone" on the island. Started with the building of the Fogo Island Motel in the 1960's, there has been several attempts of creating shared meeting places for the Island’s 10 different communities. Until the opening of the motel, exchange between the communities was very limited, due to a limited shared infrastructure and road network, in addition to internal cultural and religious differences. When the new hospital was opened 40 years later, relocated from the Town of Fogo to the site of the former motel in Fogo Island Central, the disagreements over its location had contributed to splitting communities, friends and families over the entire island.
Still from "Memo from Fogo Island", DVD
The local company Seebreeze Sewing Solutions on Change Islands, has its background in one of the biggest disappointments in the islands’ recent history, the rise and fall of Mediwear Inc.
Created on the initiative of the Town of Change Islands, Mediwear was a clothing factory originally established for making medical uniforms. Training and employing up to 17 local workers, using high end sewing equipment, the company was hoped to be the beginning of a new, sustainable industry to complement the fisheries. Through its two turbulent years of operation, the company unfortunately met challenges with both management and marketing. The end result was disappointment, unemployment and disagreements between the former employees, a local church group, the town council and external consultants.
Despite their rather burdensome pasts, we found that both of these sites and institutions contain a fair amount of optimism and hope. The hospital today employs individuals from almost all communities, and the former feud is said to be over. Being a cornerstone in the neutral zone of Fogo Island Central, with its shared educational, sports and medical institutions, the hospital contains the source of future communion between the communities. Seabreeze Sewing Solutions, on the other hand, aims to reestablish medical clothing production, based on the equipment and expertise from the former Mediwear company. With a realistic business plan and locally based management, it has the potential to become a prospering business in the coming years.
Taking inspiration from these stories, our workshop has developed into several different project parts:
Based on a very inspiring meeting with more than a dozen of the hospital’s employees, where we talked about their clothing in relationship to their specific work place, ergonomics and symbolism, Egle will develop a set of new uniforms with the assistance of Heather White of Seebreeze Sewing Solutions. Nancy will be exploring the new uniforms through photoshoots in several distinct sites, chosen through her local knowledge of the islands’ most characteristic spots. Martin is researching the history of Mediwear and the establishment of the hospital, to write an essay connecting the workshop’s topic to its two sites. Bjørn will develop a series of patterns for uniforms and t-shirts, based on the islands’ history and stories, culture and rich tradition of signage.