Colors seem like a blessing from heaven. They stir emotions and bring forth collective or individual, conscious or unconscious memories, allowing us to choose the comfort of certain tones. As we introduce colors into our crafted world, our focus often centers on what colors provide but seldom on what they are made of.
Alchimia‘s project by Shahar Livne was inspired by the use of animal products such as urine, feces, and blood found in old recipes for fabric and leather dyeing. Most importantly, it delves into the intricate relationships between animals, plants, minerals, and their ecosystems, highlighting humanity’s inclination to divide and categorize them.
What captivates Shahar Livne?
Shahar Livne: I often liken myself to a sponge when it comes to seeking inspiration. Typically, my journey begins with an innate curiosity about the natural world—an interest instilled in me by my parents, who exposed me to some of the world’s most beautiful places and many natural history museums during my formative years. Additionally, I find myself deeply intrigued by historical and archaeological facts, material cultures, the eco-philosophy I’ve self-taught myself, and my active involvement in the realms of critical, speculative, discursive, and bio-design
And what is the main inspiration behind Alchimia?
Shahar Livne: Alchimia was inspired by the historical use of animal products such as urine, feces, and blood to ‘animalize’* fabrics and leather in old recipes (as seen in the complex recipe for turkey red and the recipe for oxblood-colored leather), as well as the 1950s invention of milk protein fibers as a response to material scarcity. The fibers I use are made from milk proteins, collagen, plant fibers, eco cotton, and wool, all dyed with natural pigments derived from minerals, blood, and plant parts such as roots and flowers.
*Animalizing is a term taken from alchemy and applied to creating new substances with ‘livingness’.
Could you share with us the process of collecting and processing these materials?
Shahar Livne: I collaborated with my talented friend and natural dyer, Roua AlHalabi, on developing dye pigments. Although I had no prior knowledge of textile dyeing, I did bring experience from my previous project, ‘The Meat Factory’, where I worked with blood as a pigment. This presented a unique challenge for me as a vegetarian since the age of 14, but it was essential to push my psychological boundaries and work with raw materials close to their source.
In 2014, during the creation of ‘The Meat Factory’, I grappled with using blood. In our collaborative effort, Roua introduced me to various natural dye materials that have been used for centuries. Her master class on these materials greatly inspired me, and I was captivated by their sources.
We applied these materials to collagen and milk yarns, resulting in a stunning palette of approximately 25 hues. Sourcing milk yarn proved a bit challenging, as it’s produced in limited quantities. I reached out to a small mill in the United States known for crafting yarn from natural materials like mint, pineapple, and banana fibers. They created a substantial batch for our project.
I also experimented with collagen yarn, a novel textile from Asia primarily used for t-shirts. Exploring how it behaved in heavier textiles was a fascinating aspect of our work.
Alchimia delves not only into the materials but also into the representation of the vital elements found within our bodies and our natural environment. Could you tell us more about this?
Shahar Livne: When I embarked on this project, my curiosity led me to question the role of tapestries in storytelling. One of the famous tapestries I drew inspiration from is the series called The Hunt of the Unicorn, which utilizes symbolism from mythologies and botany to convey religious narratives. On a more detailed level, the technique of interweaving diverse materials and colors to create imagery-laden jacquard weaves gave me the idea of the interconnectivity of ecological systems and the division of the natural world by modern science and technology.
The graphics I used are based on botanical, geological, and anatomical scientific illustrations that have historically served as tools for studying and making sense of the complex organisms around us, dating as far back as the 3rd century B.C.
In these three tapestries, there are a multitude of reddish and blood-colored elements. Is there a specific meaning behind this?
Shahar Livne: The utilization of blood, Rubia Tincturium, and hematite in the dyeing recipes results in a spectrum of colors, spanning from deep reds to rich browns, vibrant purples, and delicate pinks. Additionally, we obtain subtle shades of grey and yellow from the aluminum and flowers used in the process.
These colors are a result of my collaboration with dyer Roua AlHalabi in refining our recipes. They also pay homage to the historical colors of Ox Blood and Turkey Red, which served as a foundation for our research. For me, these hues refer to the parallelism between the earth, blood, and roots as life-givers.
This project reflects extensive research into historical dyeing recipes. What were your primary sources and references, such as books or authors, that informed your work during the creation of this series?
Shahar Livne: One book that particularly influenced me is called The Juice of Life – The Symbolic and Magic Significance of Blood By Piero Camporsi with a foreword by Umberto Eco.
Another two books that I was recommended by the Textile Museum in the Netherlands librarian are A History of Luxury and Trade: Plastic Dyes and Pigments in World Commerce and Art by Robert Chenciner and The Story of Color in Textiles By Susan Kay-Williams.
Interview with Shahar Livne by Rita Trindade | Images by Barbara Medo. Copyrights Shahar Livne Design Studio.
The project was made possible by the Creative Industries of The Netherlands (Stimulering Fonds) and in collaboration with the Textile Museum Tilburg and Dyer Roua AlHalabi.