First in a series of reflections and artist’s responses during the COVID-19 crisis.

So some time back, just before the tornado hit and lifted us all up into the air and off to the Land-of-Never-Never-things, at ReMode we were heading for our end of year share event 2020 Vision – an exhibition and live performance.

The focus and theme of that sharing event was to be The Machine. From the machines we have invented and utilised to mass manufacture to meet out needs and desires, to the systems we have created, and a re-evaluation of what it means to be productive. Over the coming weeks we will be publishing a series of blogs which we hope will give you some insight into this work-in-progress as well as some of the garments and films we have been making. With each blog we will link you to one of these films.

To launch the series we’re sharing two animations made by pupils of Heriot Primary School to illustrate the speech made by Greta Thunberg to the UN Climate Change COP24 Conference 2018.

FILMS Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UN illustrated with animation by children of Heriot Primary School, Foxbar, Renfrewshire.

So lots of people are talking about an opportunity in this crisis for renaissance – a new way of life which addresses and reconstructs an approach to and appreciation of both our external natural and man-made resources, as well as those internalised personal ones of skill, imagination and creativity. We would like this blog and our concerns around clothing to be a part of that conversation.

Funnily enough, this new landscape in which we find ourselves is not so strange or bewildering for our organisation – imagining better and adapting to a world in crisis is our shtick. All be it the parameters of that crisis have swung from one scary virus to another.

It seems obvious that the two are connected. We rarely doubt ourselves as a species for our intellectual prowess. Unfortunately we are also shackled by our own stupidity. You know that story of how the monkey gets its hand into the jar and in an attempt to get as much out in one fist full, but gets it stuck in the neck of the jar. The solution might be obvious but the psychology involved is much more intractable!

Our primary concern at the moment is not how we look but how we protect ourselves and each other. We’ve been here before. The Black Death of 1347 – 1353 had large scale effects both socially and economically.

“People abandoned their friends and family, fled cities, and shut themselves off from the world. Funeral rites became perfunctory or stopped altogether and work ceased being done. The economy underwent abrupt and extreme inflation. Since it was so difficult (and dangerous) to procure goods through trade and to produce them, the prices of both goods produced locally and those imported from afar skyrocketed.” *

*(Ed: D.S) Courie, Leonard W. The Black Death and Peasant’s Revolt. New York: Wayland Publishers, 1972; Strayer, Joseph R., ed. Dictionary of the Middle Ages. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. Vol. 2. pp. 257-267. Decameron Web. Feb.1/2017. https://

Interestingly another consequence was a softening of social and economic distinctions alongside a radical and irrevocable change in the social and economic structure within Europe. The high rates of mortality reduced the number of people available to work the land and so workers enjoyed greater choice in who they worked for and increased mobility from one master to another. If one didn’t pay well enough you could drop it and move on. Even the peasant population experienced a new empowerment, a slight rise in wages and standard of living. I’m wondering if that kind of fall out is one that we are yet to see…?

Anyway, this was also reflected in the garments people wore at that time with the nobility moving towards more extravagant fabrics and colours in order to emphasise their social standing ie to distinguish themselves from the peasant class.

circa 14th century

17th century

present day

Talking of cool duds, the plague doctors ‘get-up’ so commonly associated with the Black Death was in fact not invented until the 17th century and so not worn during the pestilence of the middle ages. There is in fact no evidence to suggest that the standard beaked costume, now so popularly presented as an example of medieval superstition and ignorance, was ever worn during this period. It was first developed by the French physicial Charles de Lorme (chief physicial to King Henri IV, King Louis XIII and King Louis XIV) in 1619. The suit was basically designed with the same idea behind a modern hazmat suit; to cover the whole body leaving no skin exposed. The beak was meant to filter the air the doctor breathed – pre-germ theory – the eye holes covered with glass. In fact it was probably effective in providing a level of protection. The long sticks also used at the time would not be unappreciated as a gentle prod in our current situation when obliged to insist on the required social distancing which some are finding hard to come to terms with!

Not unlike now, the folks of that time had access only to the scientific ideas and innovations of that period – some of which were not insignificant. While we know the actual size of the corona virus (approximately 0.125 micron or 125 nanometers in diameter) there are still many unknowns, ie: the potential for mutation in Covid-19. What we do know is that protective clothing makes a difference. According to research by Public Health England in 2013 – surgical masks were three times more effective than varieties homemade from materials like vacuum cleaner bags, dish towels, cotton blend and 100% cotton t-shirts. In short, homemade ones are more effective than none at all, useful for low risk scenarios only, additional to but not as a substitute for social distancing and frequent hand-washing. If you would like to make yourself one or helping out as part of a make group see the link below. Also some further reading and listening.


Ms Print.

Further Reading


Keep moving!