ana torfs

[...] STAIN [...], 2012

installation view, Centro de Arte Moderna, Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, 2016

In English the noun STAIN and the verb TO STAIN have various meanings. It is a reference to colour, but also to “spots” or “dirt,” and figuratively to a “blemish,” as in: “a stained reputation”.

The title of a work can act as an “indicator” for the visitor of an exhibition. The [...] is a familiar punctuation mark, the so-called ellipsis. It means something was left out. In that sense it also refers to the “gaps” between the sentences in the sound recording, which is part of the installation. Finally it is an indirect reference to the quotes, or the existing texts and/or images, which Torfs often works with.

[...] STAIN [...] is meticulously assembled from found images and texts, a collage or montage. Similarly to earlier work by Torfs, she leaves a lot to the imagination of the beholder, to fill the empty spaces between the images and the text, to fill the blanks between the time of looking and listening.

From a distance a strolling visitor will see monochrome coloured surfaces on white tables. As the visitor approaches the work, his perception will change. He will clearly distinguish black wooden frames with coloured acrylic glass. Standing in front of the tables, a second layer behind the transparent glass becomes apparent: a print with the name of a colour in huge letters in the upper left-hand corner, with goose feathers glued underneath and a series of numbered images —engravings, paintings and various reproductions—in a column on the right (similarly to an old encyclopaedia).

The starting-point for this installation are synthetic dyes. The explosion of colours we have known since 1856 was only possible through the commercial use of the waste products of coke manufacture, such as coal tar. It is almost as if the ancient dream of the alchemist is realized: in stead of creating gold out of lead, all the colours of a rainbow were produced from the darkest black of coal tar.

In 1856 the 18-year-old English chemistry student William Henry Perkin patented a purple dye, mauve, which he distilled from coal tar. Perkin discovered the dye by coincidence, when he was looking for a synthetic variant of quinine, in the fight against malaria. Mauve was the first mass-produced synthetic dye. The creation of mauve resulted in the emergence of big chemical companies. Bayer, BASF, as well as AGFA, all set out as dye manufacturers, during the second half of the 19th century. The research on synthetic dyes from coal tar induced many other discoveries and was crucial for the development of explosives, medicines and pesticides.

At the end of World War I a number of German chemical concerns, such as BASF, Bayer, Agfa and Hoechst, united themselves as IG Farben (in German “Farben” means both “colour” and “paint”), which was to become the core of Hitler's war industry...

Torfs selected 20 representative synthetic dyes, with such evocative names as Congo Red, Bismarck Brown, Paris Violet and Uranin, and searched for connected images, each image bearing a number. The "captions" referring to those numbered images appear to be missing, but the artist integrated them into the sound recording, which is part of the installation. A female voice reads out the names of the 20 selected colours and the 182 numbered captions in an artificial tone, played in random order by a computer programme, with long silences between each “caption”. Some colours—“Rose Bengal,” for instance, first produced in 1882—are still in use today, whereas historic “mauve,” from 1856, is no longer produced.

For the design of her 20 prints, Torfs drew inspiration from an amazing colour sample catalogue from Friedrich Bayer’s dye factory, dating from 1910, in which goose feathers, in all the colours of the rainbow, provided an overview of the colours Bayer was producing at the time.

installation, 20 framed inkjet prints with feathers and coloured acrylic glass, 4 display tables, 2 loudspeakers on tripods, media player, English voice, loop
commissioned by Manifesta 9, Genk, Belgium
produced with the suppport of the Flemish authorities