The ‘Water – Colour’ project by artist Katherine May was an impressive and beautiful textile installation that aimed to raise awareness of water consumption in the production and use of textiles. A sensory environment was designed around the dye process to reconnect the spectator physically to water through a direct experience of handling water in a dye vat. Every year the textile industry uses in excess of 370 billion litres of water. Fibre crops like cotton require significant artificial irrigation after which the water isn’t fit for consumption or agricultural use anymore. Furthermore, the coloring of textile diverts water into mills, expelling toxic waste into local water supplies. These are the macro issues of a global industry, however the micro habits of laundering textiles is now known to use more water than growing fibre, processing yarn, and all other phases of a textile’s life-cycle, which was beautifully condensed by May into this aesthetic project making one actively reflect on society’s harmful habits.
The installation took place in an old laundry building, now an atrium space for residents and traders. One hundred meters of cloth were dyed in situ, aimed at unraveling the dye process from plant seed to color, combining traditions of traditional natural indigo dyeing with an unconventional exhaust dye technique that recycles the dye water until the color runs out, reducing water pollution. Subsequently the cloth was suspended on enormous washing lines hung throughout the five story building. Once the dye vats were exhausted, the final stage of the installation saw the dye station replaced by a sewing workspace and the making of the dyed cloth into amazing quilts.
Katherine May runs a textile studio, designing, executing and navigating: textile objects, spaces and research. Through these three outcomes, what is consistent is the capture and presentation of material life-cycles and acts of making; an approach that reveals lines linking raw materials to producers and objects with consumers. The studio is driven to work physically with a vast range of materials used in textile production, and much time is given to the gathering of materials; from growing plants to process into dye, to sorting through a textile recycling center to find cloth. These actions and material life-cycles are shared in the physical space, such as the Water – Colour installation.
Each project is research into how we extract from, and interact with the material world, with the aim to make positive change for a sustainable future.
For more information on this and other projects by Katherine May see here.