Madder & Madder

Madder & Madder

 I'm a huge admirer of William Morris - so much so that each year I undertake what I call Morris-anuary. A three month vigil from the 1st of January to the 24th March (Morris’s birthday) where my outputs are inspired by Morris’s extraordinary breadth of practice, culminating in a public work.

This year I'm working with Leyton Boundary Gardens, a thriving community garden in Leyton, East London. Throughout William Morris’s 20’s his mother lived in Leyton having moved from nearby Walthamstow and Woodford where William grew up.

At the Boundary Gardens they have a mature Madder plant - which is ready to harvest. Morris was fascinated by the use of natural dyes both as a romantic obsession with the mediaeval but also as a rallying cry against the chemical and industrial processes that were taking hold of the global textile trade. This drive for natural manufacture is fast gaining contemporary relevance and application as we look for resistance and meaning from an overwhelmingly digital landscape.

William Morris often used Madder root to create the deep reds of his designs that he is best known for today. But his contemporary influence is far greater than textile design, he was a social reformer. Many believe Morris was a forerunner of the modern green movement, often giving open air talks with a small red flag (undoubtedly dyed with Madder) by his side. Today ‘red flags’ are used in many forms to draw attention to a problem. They are used to warn of poor water quality, to stop car races and for union strikes. They are used to flag inappropriate behaviour online or language that hints at unfolding problems. A red flag is a general warning that things are not OK.

So this year I'm making a large red flag working with two communities; one a group of community gardeners in Leyton, East London and the other researchers from from the Environment and Society Center at Chatham House.

Through the process while talking, digging, grinding and dying - I will create a record of what both sets of participants feel are their personal ‘red flags’.The final flag, naturally dyed with madder root grown and harvested at Leyton Boundary garden, will hold a record of these conversations and the multi-faceted warning that it symbolises.

The large Red flag will then ‘tour’ to willing institutions where it will be hung from their flag pole or building as a warning from the people to power holders - asking them to act. In the longer term the project will aim to shift the conversation on climate and environment . Moving from a discourse of personal responsibility and guilt, towards accountability for power holders.

Back to blog