Athens

Rachy McEwan, Painting and Printmaking

υφάσματα – Fabrics

There were many ways in which the Greeks dyed the cloth. Saffron and boiling lichens and for yellow, Madder (rubia tinctorum L.) and Cochineal for red, indigo plant for greens and blues, and many others such as the shells of fresh walnuts, broom, and the pomegranate-flower.

I happened to come across the cacti that are home to the cochineal (Dactylopius coccus), a scale insect that lives on a prickly pear cactus often found in Mexico and Central America on a walk to the Holy Church of Saint Isidore.

The cochinilla, the red pigment extracted from cochineal, was first used by Aztec Indians as a medicine, a textile dye and body paint, it was then discovered by Spanish conquistadors under the command of Hernardo Cortez (1519). The pigment was highly valued for the intensity and permanence of its colour and became a staple of trade with Europe during the 17th century. Cochinilla was very expensive because of its scarcity, it was used on only the finest fabrics. British soldiers known as ‘red coats’, wore uniforms dyed with cochinilla. Today, the textile industry has largely replaced cochinilla with less expensive aniline dyes, but it is used as a colouring agent in foods, beverages, cosmetics and art products.

I collected the Cochinilla and other plant matter and used it to create a pattern on the linen fabric I had sourced in Athens. This exploration of traditional skills is something that I explore within my practice often. Making work that alludes to climate collapse and our role in it is the idea that I try to convey within the work that I do. After hosting an online art talk in Athens called ‘Art and Sustainability’ – can art be sustainable? Made me rethink my inner conflict whilst creating work and the subject I try to address. I think that my work should highlight the destruction of the planet and call for action from the viewer, altering their actions towards consumerism.

The use of the delicate brightly dyed fabric aesthetically working with the flowering buds from the cacti creates an immersive installation of sculpture that heightens a sense of ecological awareness, whilst also encouraging recognition of natural resources that we are so distant and disengaged within today’s capitalist structure.

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