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Chromatic Geography: Natural Dyes in the 21st Century

June 8 – August 26, 2017
Opening Reception, Thursday, June 8, 6 - 9 pm
Panel Discussion, Friday, June 9, 6 - 7 pm
Craft Ontario Gallery
1106 Queen St. W., Toronto

For the majority of human history, all colour used by designers, artists and craftsmen has been obtained from natural sources. After a glory period for natural dyes during the early industrial revolution, which produced beautifully coloured and patterned textiles, the advent of synthetic dyes in the mid-19th century caused natural dyes to fall into disuse.

Today, interest in natural dyes is undergoing a global revival, fueled by a growing awareness of the harmful by-products of the industrial dye process, and a greater understanding of the environmental issues relating to textile production. Bioregionalism as an expression of a sense of place and cultural origin is a dominant theme, and is exemplified by the use of local dyes and traditional techniques. The rise of the local is also motivated by a desire to revive post-industrial economies and local, small-scale industries such as dyestuff and fibre cultivation.

Chromatic Geography examines these new trends, and presents a diversity of approaches to the use of natural dyes, from scientific research and raw material development, to innovative, contemporary applications in craft, fashion, design and art, with personal approaches to materials and aesthetics.

Laura Sansone will join us for the opening reception from New York with her Mobile Textile Lab, demonstrating how to extract natural dye colour from plants, and a member of Upper Canada Fibreshed will be on site demonstrating hand spinning by using naturally dyed Ontario-grown fleece.

Chromatic Geography is curated by Rachel MacHenry and Thea Haines, with the work of:

BioDye is a natural dye facility located in central India. Bringing together contemporary environmental thinking, scientific methodology and research into the historic record, BioDye has developed a fully integrated closed-loop natural dye system.

Liam Blackburn uses natural dyeing to investigate location, season and biodiversity. Foraged materials from weekly journeys are used as dyestuff, and create a changing palette of colours that represent both the progression through the seasons and the diversity of flora surviving in an environment often conceived of as being entirely urban.

Studio Blond & Beiber is a Berlin-based design studio run by Essi Johanna Glomb and Rasa Weber. Textile is used as the embodiment of a versatile material that can be seen as a key to their story telling. Color and the use of unusual, often natural, pigments play a central role in the studio’s work.

Abigail Booth - Forest + Found. Referencing familiar architectural motifs such as bars, grids and columns, Booth uses patchwork to construct broken compositions that illustrate the failed, or fractured, in both our built and natural surroundings. She works solely with wood tannins to produce a restrained palette of muted greys and browns.

Caroline Forde references Canadian climate, topography, local flora, fauna and the idea of the ‘mystic north’. Her prints celebrate vibrant colour combinations and expressive motifs, with the aim to bring the view of the landscape into a domestic space, and offer an effortless solution for interior decoration.

Gitte Hansen’s current design practice involves working with old textile technologies. Using natural dyes, felting, stitching and hand sewing provides a forum for her to explore and understand colour, create new ideas for leftover fabric scraps, and experience the joy of working in harmony with the natural world.

Mackenzie Kelly-Frere’s weaving practice is rooted in a contemplative approach to cloth construction using natural materials and plant-sourced colour. She favours compositional strategies where both the duration of and intervals between pattern elements are based on random numerical sequences.

Hiroko Karuno is a spinner who works with the colours that natural materials themselves possess. Since moving to Ontario from Japan 35 years ago, she has explored the dye potential of many plant species growing in and around Toronto.

Jason Logan – Toronto Ink Co. is a collaborative, citizen-science experiment to harvest and distill colour from built, wild, and hybrid landscapes. The Toronto Ink Company works on all scales from bottled pigments and ink tests to collaborative projects with poets, artists, designers, filmmakers, and architects.

Maiwa supports traditional craft through an ethical business model. Working mainly with India, Maiwa is involved in the trade of embroidered, block-printed, handwoven, and naturally dyed textiles. A large portion of Maiwa’s success is due to educational commitment; ensuring that the purchasing public knows how textiles are made - and who makes them.

Matson + Palmer has been working with natural dyes, especially indigo farmed in India, for fifteen years. A current project involves developing a new dye from plant waste for the apparel industry that is capable of reducing water use by 93% at the mill. This biodegradable, non-toxic dye has the potential to save billions of liters of fresh water from being irrevocably polluted.

Rowland Ricketts’ studio practice has a long-standing interest in the physicality of plants and the material content that they bring to colour. His Drawings started as experimental studies in how he might capture the materiality of his indigo vat – a dye vat made of Persicaria tinctoria leaves that he grows and composts, wood-ash lye, limestone, and wheat bran.

Meghan Spielman is a contemporary textile artist focusing on the craft of weaving, and her work is rooted in traditional techniques and methods. She finds that examining traditional cultural textile techniques and materials allows her to reconcile her own displacement, and to discover a connection to a specific geography or region.

Gabriela Farias Zurita, an eco fashion designer, embraces the important traditional background of Andean textiles, which she translates into modern wearable objects. She works with weavers who carry forward the knowledge given by their ancestors to create textiles that are simple in shape and use, and yet have a mission to connect cultures.

Chromatic Geography is generously supported by the Ontario Arts Council


Image: Jason Logan, Ink Test (detail).

T: 416-925-4222






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