In his performative project Going back/Staying North (2021), textile designer Tim van der Loo explores the useful plant woad (Isatis tinctoria), which has been forgotten in Europe. The cruciferous plant, which originates from South Asia and from which the dye indigo can be obtained, has demonstrably been cultivated and used in Europe since ancient times, but was then almost completely displaced from the textile industry in the Global North by the development of synthetic dye production processes.
Starting in spring 2021, van der Loo cultivated thirty plants of woad in his Berlin allotment garden. He sowed them, tended them and finally harvested their leaves. Van der Loo processed this with water and washing soda to make a dark green dye tincture, which he used to dye a self-designed overall made of upcycled denim and overdyed the garment light blue. The ‘greenwashed’ garment, which as a work suit represents hard, physical work, is only the provisional result of van der Loos' preoccupation with the plant, which mostly only grows wild in Germany.
The project Going back/Staying North attempts to rehabilitate and thus reevaluate woad as a local resource. It is a consciousness-raising experiment that makes visible the travails of a regenerative (land) economy and reflects on the production relations between Europe and the Global South: How can we stand in opposition to the European textile industry, which imports synthetic fabrics from low-wage countries cheaply and markets them expensively in decontextualized form? How can we produce circular textiles that are not exported to the Global South as worthless waste after one-time consumption? Going back/Staying North makes woad the subject of remeasuring ecological and human conditions in the Global Trade. With its own migratory history, the plant seems predestined for this in double respects.
Group exhibition 'KOLLABORIEREN! Ökologische Strategies in Kunst und Design' curated by Luise von Nobbe at the Neues Kunsthaus in Ahrenshoop, Germany
Text: Luise von Nobbe (Translated & Edited: Tim Van der Loo)
Photos: Tim van der Loo/René Kafka