A new perspective and materiality for ancient colors, in Naama Agassi's 'Artificial Regality'
by Purva Chawla
We accept the colors we see around us as a given today. As artists and designers, we employ an ever-evolving spectrum of colors and their shades in our work, but rarely stop to comprehend their origins and materiality, and appreciate the broader impact they have both created and borne in our cultural lives.
One designer, though, is looking at color or pigment rather, very differently.
Through her eclectic body of work ‘Artificial Regality,' Tel Aviv-based Naama Agassi brings new life and perspective to two rich and ancient colors–Turquoise and Purple. Agassi traces the journey of these two colors–from being sought after, regal substances in ancient times owed to their limited availability in nature and arduous production; to their slipping into insignificance today, associated mostly with inexpensive mass-produced consumer products.
This journey is conveyed and projected forward into the future through Agassi’s object making–A series of decorative and functional objects that showcases and elevates these two colors, all through diverse material compositions. These compositions are essentially assemblages of new and found objects, spanning materials such as porcelain, glass, PET plastic, rubber polymers, copper wire and pieces, and even Nylon brush hair.
Through the making of these objects, Agassi uniquely researches color through the medium of materials. On the one hand, she pursues the natural production of the two formerly precious pigments, for example in the case of turquoise, by oxidizing copper and generating a Patina. At the same time, she pulls inexpensive materials from her surroundings and collects found objects in these very colors. A combination of outcomes from both these processes then becomes the raw material for the creation of two installments of objects by Agassi- ‘Artificial Regality: Royal Green-Blue’ and ‘Artificial Regality: Imperial Purple.'
By virtue of the superior design and thoughtful compositions in both installments, the all too familiar colors of Turquoise and Purple seemed to become valuable and sought after again, and the status of the pigments can begin to shift again in our daily lives and culture. Her intent? Through what she calls ‘Contemporary Archaeological Artifacts,' Agassi seeks to reclaim the colors’ archaic status in new objects.
Recently we spoke with Naama about her two collections from this project, her methods and motivations, and her presence at design collective Form&Seek’s exhibition ‘Age of Man’ at Milan Design Week, 2017. Here is that conversation:
MD: How does this collection of objects, and this project relate to your practice as a whole?
Naama: In my design projects, I explore classical design elements–such as color, material or shape–and how they are both influenced by wider contemporary design concepts and in turn have an influence on them. Similarly, in 'Artificial Regality,' I explore color through material research and context. In ancient times, the prestigious status of certain colors was determined by their scarcity, and their arduous production–a fact that of course changed in the age of mass production.
In this project, as in the majority of my projects, I began from a theoretical starting point. The outcomes of my design research are always different from each other, some are materialized as installations and others as objects, but my work process is quite similar.
MD: The theme ‘Age of Man’ captures our relationship with the environment and our age. How are you responding to it through your work?
Naama: Throughout history, the colors turquoise and purple were very scarce and associated with royalty and nobility. This is because it was hard to find them in their natural form, making them expensive and unattainable. As human beings gradually learned to manipulate nature and manufacture pigments through artificial means, the age-old status of turquoise and purple was lost. Today, it is easier to produce these colors, and they are widely available, even in cheap or disposable products. Once the original context of these colors was lost, their status was also transformed.
'Artificial Regality' comprises two series of objects, one that has already been exhibited and a new one that continues this research and was developed especially for the “Age of Man” exhibition. In the first series, I explored the preciousness of colors through the color turquoise. I combined its natural form (using oxidized scrap copper objects) with its synthetic form (using inferior found objects). In this manner, I sought to reclaim the color’s archaic status in new objects, now precious for their “designed” status rather than their arduous production. The second series explores the same cultural/design process while focusing on the color purple. In this manner, my project explores the interaction between human impact and natural occurrence. The result could be described as contemporary archaeological artifacts – playfully combining the cheap with the luxurious, and using new contexts and opportunities to restore ancient notions.
MD: What are the primary materials, techniques, and experimentation behind Artificial Regality?
Naama: I worked in two parallel processes. One process was learning how to produce the color pigment myself; For example in the case of turquoise, by oxidizing copper. At the same time, I also explored my surroundings and collected found objects in the same color. For example, turquoise was mainly found in cleaning products, such as dusters and sanitary gloves, whereas purple was mostly in products intended for girls and women, such as makeup brushes and princess toys. I also conducted a parallel research into the ancient and contemporary status of these colors and their modes of production.
In 'Artificial Regality,' my primary material experimentation was creating the color's pigment out of different metals, through a process of oxidization. This is a long and complicated process that I am gradually learning how to control. I like the fact that there is a power play in the design process: I try to control the material completely and determine what it will look in the end, and it sometimes shows me that I cannot fully control its natural behavior and characteristics. Some of the surprises in this production process are beautiful, some less so.
MD: What reaction to this collection of objects did you anticipate (and hope for) from viewers in Milan?
Naama: The objects that I created look high-end, but their production process combines inferior found objects, so I hope to create a surprise reaction through them.
MD: Does this project impact the earth, and have a bearing on the ‘Age of Man’?
Naama: My project combines found objects and gives new life to trash, but I don’t think that making vases from a few plastic bottles will save the earth. However, I do believe that it contributes to ecological thinking, because it explores the place of cheap, mass-produced objects in contemporary culture, and the way we think or feel about them.
MD: Tell us about your involvement with Form&Seek.
Naama: This is my first exhibition with Form&Seek, and I am very excited to be part of this fascinating group of people. I am also grateful for the opportunities that are available to me by being part of a collaborative team of designers, such as exhibiting at Milan Design Week.