After food and shelter, clothing is probably the essential feature of human civilization, creating and representing economic, state, and societal identities. Grippingly and convincingly, Zoe Svendsen’s “World Factory” project exposes the complexities of globalized economics and life through the theme of garment manufacture. The project unfolds both the historical depth and modern impact of how politics translate into the everyday world of clothes and how clothes make politics. Artistic production, public engagement, and thorough research are thoughtfully interlaced. This latter aspect is central because so often in the world of art, these fields are simply juxtaposed or attempts end up with art representing research or research being expressed by arts. World factory, in contrast, presents a most intriguing set-up of reciprocally effective activities, research, and events. Each element is valid on its own, reaching out to divergent audiences. As a whole, the project makes the complexity of global connectivity and relationships in manufacture comprehensible.
“World Factory” explores consumer capitalism as seen through the lens of the history and politics of the global textile industry, particularly in relation to China. Members of the METIS art group are immersing themselves in the system by having a shirt manufactured in a Chinese factory. The project questions the relationship between politics and forms of performance. It investigates how public engagement can work in research-led performance projects, as embedded throughout the process of production. To this end, the project is developing a digital quilt, and holds many of its consultations on the topic in public through a series of café conversations. The project also explores a type of creative process that is resistant to dominant modes of product-focused “design”; instead, it researches the potential ingredients for expressing the topic, allowing the form of the performance work to emerge from a deep engagement with the nature of the subject matter. In this there are close analogies with the idea of “planning”—World Factory is exploring the idea of planning as a dynamic process.