From the category archives:


Cosmic Latte

by Claudia Dias on July 22, 2009

In 2001 Karl Glazebrook and Ivan Baldry, astronomers from John Hopkins University determined that the average color of all the light in the universe was calculated to be pale turquoise, but they soon corrected their findings from turquoise to beige, due to a computer bug. “It’s our fault for not taking the color science seriously enough,” admitted Karl Glazebrook. He added that the discovery was actually just meant to be an amusing footnote to a large-scale survey of the spectrum of light emitted by 200,000 galaxies. The newly calculated color, described more formally as III E Gamma, looks like off-white wall paint (in Photoshop the RGB value is #FFF8E7). Glazebrook, however preferred to tag it as “cosmic latte.”



In that sense the Daoist classic text, the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) warns that dividing the world into the five colors (black, white, yellow, red and blue) would “blind the eye” to true perception saying, that we would all think so much more clearly if we didn’t divide the world at all.
Confused? If cosmic latte is now a natural or synthetic color, I remembered that mixing all colors would lead eventually to black, but that black also represented the monochrome (or color-blind) philosophy of the Daoists. 
Tracing the history of natural pigments and dyes, Victoria Finlay describes in her travel book “Color” that conceptually, for Daoist artists 1000 years ago, black ink did contain all the colors, just as in Zen philosophy a grain of rice contains the whole world.
So in terms of colors, the greatest artist should be able to make a peacock seem iridescent, or a peach seem pink without using any colored pigments at all. Black was the color for the gentlemen artist, who combined the skills of poetry and painting, and who wanted to portray the landscape of the mind, not of the eye. Su Dongpo, a Chinese scholar from the 11th century, was criticized for painting a picture of a leaf bamboo using red ink. “Not realistic”, his critics said gleefully. “Then what color should I have used?” he asked. “Black, of course”.


There are no true black dyes. There are black pigments – charcoal is one, soot another – but pigments do not tend to be soluble in water, so it is hard to fix them onto fabric.
Puritans emerged in Europe in the 17th century and for true Protestant symbolism true protestant Black was needed. At that time many people dyed clothes in several vats – blue, red and yellow – until blackness was achieved. However, that was expensive. Just in time ‘Campeachy‘ logwood from the New World was marketed as good ingredient for both red and black dyes. Sooner rather than later this led to a logwood war fought between the British and the Spanish for logwood shipment rights, meanwhile pirates kept the shipments going, being paid with rum and whorehouses in the Caribbean. At the end (now called) Belize went to the British and many Belizeans today are descended from slaves who were forced to cut down this heavy dye wood … for no other reason than to help Europe be more black and pure.

I assumed the cosmic color would be if not black then at least yellow, as it is the color of light, or more accurately according to a Bihar yogi in Monghyr, India: “Yellow is the light in nature. It invites the soul, as black protects the soul; … the thing about yellow is that it has to be purified“. Victoria Finley was on the search for the yellow paint of the gown of the blue-skinned Hindu god Krishna, the playboy incarnation of the Supreme God Vishnu; personally I was on the quest for the natural yellow dye of my last year’s summer dress.


Monghyr piuri is an Indian yellow animal dye or pigment, but probably only a legend, according to which the dye was collected in a town called Monghyr, where the cows were fed mango-tree leaves and then their urine was supposedly used as color. There was never a confirmation nor any local recollection of that tale according to Victoria Finley.
Another pigment in use was Orpiment that means ‘Gold pigment‘, and contained arsenic, was thus quite poisonous, but this didn’t stop Javanese and Chinese from using it as medicine in small quantities.
Gamboge yellow, still comes mostly from Cambodia and Krishna’s yellow gowns were probably painted with this pigment instead of the more whiffy version from Monghyr. It comes from garcinia hanburyi – a tall tree related to the mangosteen. The paint is the resin, extracted similar to rubber. A gamboge collector makes a deep cut in the trunk, places a bamboo beneath the gash… and returns the next year. Gamboge is also one of the most effective diuretics in nature.
Saffron, the most colorful spice in the world grows as purple crocus fields all over the world. However saffron is not used as  a dye, a false assumption contributed by the fact that Buddhist monks wear ‘saffron’ colored gowns. Saffron has been grown since 500 BC in Kashmir, which now  produces less then a tonne a year. It has been grown all over the planet even in North Wales (Saffron Walden). Iran is probably now the largest producer; 170,000 flowers make one kilo of saffron, which means Iran’s annual production involves 28 billion flowers, 1/2 million people help to pick the flowers. Each kilo can be sold for $700, by the kilogram it is the most expensive spice, but a gram should last most cooks several months.different-yellows-w
After reading all this I can’t help to somewhat feel relieved that we now have synthetic pigments and dyes.

But Glazebrook‘s study revealed something more: because the stars (which formed 5 billion years ago) would have been “brighter” in the past, the color of the universe changes over time shifting from blue to red as more blue stars change to yellow and eventually to red giants. These too will eventually change into black holes. 
So does that mean cosmic latte will turn into cosmic espresso?


Tale of Pandora’s Tears

by Claudia Dias on July 14, 2009

Karl Fritsch and his jewelry is layered of tales, tales which are intertwined with history and sagas:robusta2-w

Pandora’s Tears:  A sealed copy of the Diamond Sutra was found around 1906 by Sir Aurel Stein in the Magao Cave along the Silk Road near Dunhuang, China. It was a large block-printed roll dated from AD 868 and proved to be the oldest known example of a printed book.  This copy of the popular Buddhist work The Diamond Sutra  is now in possession of the British Library.

From the Diamond Sutra came the prophecy that was called “Diamond of transcendental wisdom”, since its teaching, as sharp-witted as a diamond sword, would cut through all worldly  illusions, and as such could enlighten beholders on what was real and  everlasting …
As an example of spiritual perfection the Korean Seon monk Gihwa  (1376-1433AD) layered a handful of precious stones on a silver ring, held together by his pure force of meditation, mental power and prayers; just as the Diamond Sutra instructed. When he passed away the monks of his cloister glued the stones together with the power of rice dumplings (extracted from lotus roots, cooked with honey and turned into a caramelized pastry). They then kept it in a special wood shrine.’

pandoras-tears Since then this ring, called Pandora’s Tears has had a spell and caused a chain of bad-luck for all its owners. It cast its spell on Karl when he got his hands on the stones and again made a ring out of it, till he too passed it on as a gift to his book publisher. He too was not spared the curse and had to eventually auction it off in Mumbai to pay his medical bills.  No one  knows who owns it now…. But soon after, Karl won the long awaited, prestigious Françoise van den Bosch Award!

Fritsch manages to give a new and original twist to materials, techniques, conventions and ultimately to his own profession. His rings are made of gold, but it is dull; they are studded variously with gemstones or with glitzy pieces of glass; even finger marks serve as a form of decoration, as do what appear to be loose heaps of minuscule clay balls. Fritsch’s trademark is the way he plays with clichés and breaks down stereotypes. The results can be truly spectacular.

rebusta-wThe King’s Ring: Once upon a time there was a powerful king, who owned everything his heart could desire. But this King was unsatisfied with his power and all his wealth. He was afflicted with a strange restlessness and unexplainably longed for something which would fulfill following conditions: It should sadden him, when he would be happy – and should placate him when he would be sad. (..) One day the wise men had found the answer, when they stepped in front of the king, he asked them for their efforts’ outcome. They handed him a ring. And this magic ring had following engraving: “This too, will pass”.
13th century Chinese saying
Not so old Chinese saying:
who wants to be happy for one day, should drink.
who wants to be happy for a week, should slaughter a pig.
who wants to be happy for a year, should get married.
who wants to be happy for ever, should become a gardener.
who wants to be happy once in a while, should wear a ring by Karl Fritsch.

I am one of those latter described but I wear my ring on a daily basis.


Glass Wear @ Museum of Arts & Design, New York  (July 15 – Sept. 20, 2009)
Karl Fritsch and Lisa Walker @ Gallery Inform Jewellery in New Zealand (July 14- August 9, 2009); 
Karl Fritsch @ Salon 94, New York  (April 2010)
Please refer to the galleries for inquiries and prices. Pictures are courtesy of artist and several galleries.


Kelly McCallum‘s works play with that macabre moment we culturally choose to avoid, when the stillness of death is turning into movement, when decay turns into new life.
McCullum is a goldsmith, who creates wearable jewelry and sculptural pieces, which will be on exhibit in “Telling Tales” at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London from July 14 to October 18, 2009.


Kelly McCallum finds Victorian taxidermised animals and combines them with insects made of precious metals or group of pearls to tell her life-size stories of aging, decaying, and its counterpart, of preserving .

Different to what taxidermy (a slow process of skinning, tanning, casting, “mounting”, adding glass eyes and displaying the animals in a most natural position) can offer to extend the life-time of beauty, in her case of a colorful bird or a fox’s fur, she chooses to cast grubs and maggots in gold, placing them onto the preserved animal bodies, and states her idea of the cycle of permanence.


Taxidermy ‘seeks to preserve life by celebrating death: it is a strange half-life, a suspension, an illusion. Insects on the other hand, through their lives, destroy this illusion: they feed on death, breaking down, demolishing, creating movement from a silent tableau, forcing change and action.’

Preservation and disintegration: ‘They become the character in melodramatic scenes of mortal stillness and ever-present decay.’

Quoted from Kelly McCallum‘s website.


Kelly McCallum @ Victoria & Albert Museum (July 14 – October 18, 2009)
Photographs courtesy of the artist and R Gallery.

Please refer to the Gallery for inquiries and prices.

R Gallery
82 Franklin Street, New York, NY 10003, Tel +1 212 343 7979


Isabel Toledo’s Effortless Appeal

by Claudia Dias on June 24, 2009

Is it seamless or all about the seam? In any case Isabel Toledo’s dresses do impress at her current solo show “Fashion from the Inside Out” at FIT. I could see and feel how the concept of a garment is actually the result of an hands-on process, starting from the material, not from a design or a sketch. The nature of the fiber used in the textiles, their weight, the structure and the technique of sewing them  lead Toledo to her clear but complex gowns. 


Simple diagrams accompany each displayed dress, which give insight to her ‘constructions’, where seams turn into lines, volumes, and patterns, or disappear under a fold. The obvious absence of computer-design makes the work come from an intuitive, direct dialog between object and artist, an unknown for many designers. Ruben Toledo’s aquarelle illustrations replenish his wife’s collections with vibrant life and pleasure, a happy world, where the word ‘design’ rings stiff.


The show is organized around several themes which are overly curated, since the most outstanding feature of the clothes is how uncontrived and playful they are. Tectonic references aside, it is the vivid and natural flow of the garments that create to me their implicit appeal.

Suspension (Scarf Dress) refers to jersey and taffeta dresses that hang effortlessly from thin cords of fabric.
Shape (Packing Dresses) highlights the soft sculptural quality so prevalent in Toledo’s work.
Liquid Architecture (Kangaroo Gown) features jersey dresses that fall in sensual folds.
Origami (Zigzag dress) includes garments that began as simple shapes and were then folded to form 3-dimensional “sculptural” garments. The zigzag dress, a single piece of fluid georgette is folded and suspended in a continuous wave-like pattern. As folds progressively cover one another, transparency evolves to opacity.
Manipulated Surfaces examines how Toledo treats fabric to enhance structure or solve a technical construction challenge.
Organic Geometry refers to Toledo’s combination of the intuitive and geometric forms.


Cuban-born Isabel Toledo grew up in New Jersey and is widely regarded as one of America’s finest designers. After attending the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design, in New York, Toledo developed an aptitude for architectonic design. Since presenting her first collection in 1985, Toledo hasn’t been constricted by fashion seasons or trends, evolving her collections at an organic rate. 

Fashion from the Inside Out (June 17th – September 26th, 2009)

Fashion Institute of Technology

Seventh Avenue @ 27th Street, New York 10001, Tel. +1 212 217 4558


Josiah McElheny: Venini’s New Look, 2000

by Claudia Dias on May 23, 2009

An anecdote right on time for this year’s Venice Biennial …
This Historical Anecdote about Fashion is a vintage story told and frozen into glass about Christian Dior’s first collection from 1947. At the time his ‘decadent abundant use of cloth and regressive vision of femininity’ was protested in Europe and the U.S. McElheny recreated these glass objects, once blown by the famous Venini glass company, and brings them alive in their own time and space environment with historic photographs, drawings and an accompanying note.

‘In the 1952 Venice Biennial, Venini, the famous glass design company, entered a display of vases designed not by the factory’s artists and architects, but by the glassblowers themselves. The unusual shapes and cloth-like pattering were based on the haute couture fashions which the owner’s French wife wore when she visited the factory.
Ginette Gignous Venini was intimately involved in running the company with her husband Paolo Venini, and could often be seen by the male workers in the furnace room as she ascended and descended the stairs to the office.
In the late 1940s, as Europe and the firm returned to life after the war, Ginette began wearing designs by Christian Dior. When his first collection debuted in 1947, it was heralded as the New Look. (…) … the New Look soon became highly influential in art and design. The glass masters at Venini adopted its hourglass silhouettes and exaggerated forms. A few of these glass pieces were put into limited production and presented as designs of Paolo or Ginette Gignous Venini.’

Text by Josiah McElheny



Source: Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea