BTMM1514 (Turkish Red) by Formafantasma


6 March 2013

A centuries-old dye produced from the roots of the madder plant is the focus of the latest project from Formafantasma's Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin. "Looking at this colour's history, it's obvious how it has obsessed generations of dyers and politicians," says Farresin.

Turkish red is a brilliant crimson dye developed in antiquity in India. Derived from the dried roots of the madder plant, the dye has been used throughout human history in events such as the American War of Independence and by cultures including the Holy Roman Empire and the Napoleonic French.

Displayed as part of the Turkish red & more exhibition at Tilburg's Textiel Museum, Formafantasma's project - BTMM1514 (Turkish Red) is a collection of dyed and printed silk screens and joins work from BCXSY, Minale-Maeda, Merel Boers and Lenneke Langenhuijsen, all of which draw on the museum's historical collection of textiles.

"We were invited to look into the museum's collection and be inspired by it," says Farresin. Of particular focus was the museum's historical Driessen Collection, a set of books from the Netherlandish Driessen family's historical LKM cotton printing company. These books documents textile samples and literature about the printing of textiles.

"One of the members of the Driessen family, Felix, concentrated on Turkish red," says Farresin. "So we leafed through Felix's notes and started to get interested in this colour's cultural and historical impact. Red as a colour is iconic, but in terms of textiles and printing, historically it was a super difficult colour to obtain. Turkish red was a particularly vivid. It was one of the brightest hues that could be created."

The outcome of Formafantasma's research is BTMM1514 (Turkish Red), a set of 17 silk textiles dyed with the titular colour. Printed onto each sheet are patterns taken from the Driessen Collection and images associated with the dye's history.

Among the images represented in the collection are portraits of Princess Theopanu - a Holy Roman Empire princess whose marriage contract was printed using madder - and Napoleon, who dyed the uniforms of his armies Turkish red. The screens also celebrate the discovery of madder-dyed fabrics in Pompeii and the 1869 synthesis of alizarin, the pigment within madder.

The project continues the research-based approach of Formafantasma, evidenced in previous projects such as their Craftica exploration of leatherwork and Botanica, a project investigating how industry might have developed in the absence of oil-based plastics.

BTMM1514 (Turkish Red) however brought particular practical challenges. "It isn’t easy to find people who know how to dye well with madder," says Farresin. "It’s difficult to get a really vivid colour and much easier to obtain a more pinkish red." After initially hoping to produce the textiles itself, the studio turned to David Seidlitz, a dyer and historical costume recreator who works in Quedlinburg, Germany.

The resulting silk textiles are suspended behind one another in the Textiel Museum, and are intended to be book-like. Even the project's title - BTMM1514 - is named according to the museum's library cataloguing system.

"These 17 textiles are designed to be read like a book on the history and effect of madder," says Farresin. "They’re our addition to the museum's collection. The project is the last book in the Driessen Collection."