INDIGO CASCADE, streaming manipulation / collective blue

Installation installed at Arboretum Belmonte, Wageningen for the art manifestation (Re)source - regarding authenticity and manipulation, 10th edition of Beelden op de Berg.
when June 14th until September 15th 2013  where Arboretum Belmonte, Wageningen  with Curated by Koos Flinterman and Krijn Christiaansen. Research: Kirsten Algera and Ernst van der Hoeven. Production: Hop Tien Cooperative Lung Tam, North Vietnam. Bamboo installation: Eric Roelen  link Beelden op de Berg, Press Release,  

‘Comme une eau, le monde vous traverse et pour un temps vous prête ses couleurs.
(Nicolas Bouvier, L’Usage du Monde)

Indigo is more than a colour. It is like a flowing river that borrows its colour from the light. Figuratively, but also literally: Indigo acquires its colour not just from the pigment of the Assam Indigo (Stobilanthes flaccidifolius Nees), but also from the sunlight to which the pigment is exposed after the dye bath. Green, turquoise, blue, sometimes nearly black, and just as unrepeatable as the paintings of Mark Rothko; Indigo leads a life of its own.

For (Re)Source, Ernst van der Hoeven conducted research into the authenticity of natural colours. In a North-Vietnamese river valley, he came across the chromatic opposite of traditional Dutch colour processes; no bleaching fields where the sunlight is supposed to lighten the linen, as in the Netherlands, but a field where women of the Hmong ethnic minority ‘darken’ their woven Indigo-dyed hemp cloth in the sun.

The search for authentic colour in Vietnam, which Van der Hoeven undertook with researcher Kirsten Algera, ended in Lung Tam, a traditional Hmong village on the Miên River, on the border with China. Here, the women cultivate, weave and dye hemp according to the strict regimen of the seasons and traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. During dyeing season the river acquires a visual rhyme in the long swathes of Indigo cloth hanging over bamboo drying racks like waves.

Van der Hoeven commissioned the local women’s co-operative Hop Tien to make a monumental work with 616 stretching metres of Indigo-dyed hemp cloth. In Wageningen he shows the long strips of fabric with a gradation in the colour blue, as a ‘flowing landscape’ on a bamboo frame. With the title CASCADE – a classical trope in landscape architecture – the work refers not only to the rapids of the Miên River, but also to the cyclical, Buddhist life of the Hmong.

With this installation, Van der Hoeven examines notions that are seldom focused upon in Western thinking: authenticity and manipulability. The irregularity of the hemp cloth in CASCADE reflects the labour-intensive process and the ‘handwriting’ of the women that produced it. After twining by hand, they treat the hemp yarn with ash and beeswax many times. The warp of the cloth is introduced on hand looms, which are ingeniously attached around the waist. Thus, each cloth acquires its own compactness and character. This uniqueness plays no role whatsoever for the Hmong, whose life motto is collectivity and who have no concept of ‘autonomy’ or ‘art’.

The Indigo dye bath also has a unique recipe. This is determined by local rituals, community spirit and superstition, and prepared with ingredients that vary per village and per maker: the local grown Assam Indigo, ash, corn wine and urine. Indigo’s most important trait, however, is its unpredictable tint. Its shade is determined not only by the dye bath, but also by time and weather conditions. The eventual colour develops after drying, when the chemicals come into contact with sunlight and oxygen. Manipulability is a relative notion here; Indigo has a life of its own.