Wunderkammer of Color: April 2011 Edition
Happy Holi! Imprint blows you a floating dust-choked kiss as the Hindu Festival of Colors draws to a close.
This spring festival commemorates the fiercely loyal Prahlada, who defied his father, the demon-king Hiranyakashipu, who demanded exclusive fealty and worship from all, including his son. Refusing to renounce the god Vishnu, Prahlada was condemned by his father to burn while nestled the lap of his supposedly indestructible demon-sister, Holika. While Holika burnt surprisingly to a crisp, the unshakeable Prahlada survived.
And so a bonfire ushers in Holika Dahan, the evening before Holi’s festivities begin. The long spring days after are filled with pungent colors of water and powders (traditionally, medicinal herbs; now synthetic), happy shouted songs, and rainbow-streaked men taking playful beatings from brightly stained women swatting them away with sticks. The streets and sidewalks are left slicked in a gorgeous smear of color.
Spring has sprung on other fronts, inducing us into various forms of hanky panky. In China’s interior, silkworm eggs hatch in springtime, affording the subversively color-minded a chance to feed the worms fluorescent dyes, yielding in due course naturally brilliant silk like that pictured below. A Singapore-based team of scientists lead by Dr. Natalia Tansil provide the scoop in their recently published paper, Intrinsically Colored and Luminescent Silk. Yes, indeedy – those are the colors your innards would likely spin after a Peeps glut.
Of course, feeding synthetic food dyes to any organism can yield darker troubles. Parents and natural-food advocates have long pushed for tighter regulation of synthetic food dyes, which has been anecdotally linked to complaints ranging from hyperactivity, allergic sensitivities, even – and maybe inevitably – cancer. The latest salvo is perfectly timed for Easter: The Washington Post reports the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has finally cracked, paving the way for more scientific studies of adverse health effects of synthetic food dyes.
The European Union and Stateside foodies alike are already switching to naturally-derived food dyes, citing both health concerns and the inarguable fact that petroleum-based synthetic color is hardly sustainable long-term. (Chalk up another worry of Peak Oil: the sudden dimming of our world of artificial hues. Consider it Threat Alert Gray.)
Here’s another project for more springtime horsing around: coloring Easter eggs with natural dyes. For the record, it’s unclear if synthetic dyes penetrate to the edible bits of the egg to any deleterious effect, but it’s wholly sensible to assume they might. Who hasn’t wondered while biting into the hard-boiled flesh of albumen, faintly tinged with rose, orange or leaf-green?
The eggs above were dyed (from back to front) with beets and blueberries, red cabbage, red onion skin, and turmeric. (This schematic labels each egg with its coloring agent.) This Turbly.com video shows you how to dye eggs naturally – their method happens to use red cabbage, but you can also dye eggs with spinach, red wine, Yellow Delicious apple peels, celery or dill seeds, black walnut shells, pomegranates and a whole smoky galaxy of coffees and teas. Get a full list of natural dye recipes here.
Another art project that’s somehow gloriously spring-like: 366 (Emily’s Miraculous Year) by artist Spencer Finch. Finch explained the project thusly:
This work is based on the year 1862, Emily Dickinson’s annus mirabilis, when she wrote an amazing 366 poems in 365 days. It is a real-time memorial to that year, which burns for exactly one year. The sculpture is comprised of 366 individual candles arranged in linear sequence, each of which burns for 24 hours. The color of each candle matches a color mentioned in the corresponding poem; poems in which no color is mentioned are made out of natural paraffin.
Images of 366 (Emily’s Miraculous Year) via Jeannie Jeannie
Knock yourself between the eyes this spring with a daily poem by Emily – color-coded, if you prefer, by Bartleby’s searchable index of Dickinson. While Emily’s words blaze out on the page, her self-description takes on more subtle hues: “My hair is bold like the chestnut burr,” she writes, “and my eyes, like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves.”
A toast to your spring, with brimming champagne flutes all around!