RSC collaboration unites science and art at the Venice Biennale

03 June 2013

A new art work by artist and designer Helen Storey MBE that explores the chemistry of glass and flame has gone on display at the world-renowned biennial art and culture exhibition, the Venice Biennale.

The Dress of Glass and Flame is a joint collaboration between the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Helen Storey Foundation, University of Sheffield, Berengo Studio (Venice/Italy) and the London College of Fashion. Produced by Berengo Studio, the work seeks to perpetuate how it was made by keeping this process 'alive' in the finished dress.


Dress of Glass and Flame


Dress of Glass and Flame

courtesy Berengo studio

photo by Francesco Allegretto


Helen Storey is Professor of Fashion Science in the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion. She first trained as a fashion designer and worked at Valentino and Lancettie in Rome, returning to London in 1983 to set up her own award-winning Helen Storey fashion label. In 1997, she collaborated with her biologist sister to produce Primitive Streak - the first 1,000 hours of human life chronicled through 27 dresses, which used bespoke textiles to elucidate the embryonic story. Her fascination with science deepened and she has gone on to produce a number of art works inspired by its beauty.

Explaining the inspiration behind this piece, Professor Storey said:  " As soon as I entered this historic work space where the furnaces burned, and men, who had been making glass this way for centuries toiled with abject skill, I fell in love with the place and the art - that we can't settle on whether glass is a liquid, or a solid, makes the mystery of the material unendingly mesmerising for the creative mind - working in the space, on a cold winters day, moving past the sequence of open and roaring fires, is like having your soul repeatedly kissed."

Professor Tony Ryan of the University of Sheffield, who has worked with Helen Storey on a number of creative art/science projects, including Wonderland, the Disappearing Dresses and Catalytic Clothing, explained the chemistry that inspired the art work: "The thing we know as glass is in itself a mystery. At the atomic and molecular level it looks like a liquid, the atoms are close together but arranged at random, but in our hands we know it is a brittle solid. The answer to this paradox is that the atoms are moving very slowly, so slow that we break the bonds before the material can flow. When a glass gets hot it acts like a rubber or a viscous liquid, depending on the internal bonds, and we can permanently change its shape. It is this property that allows us to make intricate shapes from glass.

"A flame is a magical dancing chemical reaction. It is the visible, gaseous part of a fire. It is caused by a highly exothermic reaction, taking place in a thin zone and the heat is so intense it excites the molecules enough to produce light. Colour and temperature of a flame depend on the fuel involved in the combustion."

RSC President, Professor Lesley Yellowlees said:  "In supporting this project, we feel that the beauty and uniqueness of the Dress of Glass and Flame will reach new levels of the public's understanding of chemistry at the Venice Biennale and we hope it will stimulate the curiosity of young people to learn more about science and its fundamental importance to the future of our world."

The Dress of Glass and Flame will be returned to London in November, where it will go on display before taking part in the RSC's programme of outreach activities in 2014. 

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Related Links

Link icon Dress of Glass and Flame
A new art work exploring the chemistry of glass and flame by Helen Storey

Link icon Helen Storey Foundation
Helen Storey Foundation is a London based, project funded not for profit arts organisation, inspiring new ways of thinking across art, science, design and technology.

Link icon The Venice Biennale
A major contemporary art exhibition that takes place every two years in Venice, Italy.

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Contact and Further Information

Victoria Steven
Media Relations Executive
Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BA
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7440 3322