As a child, interdisciplinary artist Johanna Tagada Hoffbeck spent days gathering produce on the small permaculture farm belonging to her grandparents in rural Alsace, France. When her grandfather passed away in 2014, Johanna began spending more time with her grandmother on the farm, travelling from her home in Germany for two-week spells every couple of months. “That’s when I really began appreciating eating much more food that was homegrown,” she says. “Each time we cooked, I began to make dyes, reusing the water from washing cabbage, onion peels, shallots.” The family was completely self-sufficient. “They never even bought a nut or herb. It’s a lifestyle my parents in France are carrying forward.”
Johanna’s grandmother’s grandfather was a tailor, so there were always plenty of fabrics in the house. “She had sewn a lot, and the house was full of beautiful linens and cottons – she had a pile of old fabrics.” Johanna began dyeing fabrics with little idea of what they could become. Then, around 2017 she began working on an installation and incorporated the pieces into larger structures. Over the years, she has gathered unwanted fabrics from friends and family, as well as placing donation boxes in the gallery spaces where she exhibits. “When I was in Japan, some people donated clothing that was barely marked,” she says, “whereas in the UK, I was getting very used textiles, like tea towels. It was interesting to think about what people consider to be “used”.”
Now based in rural Oxfordshire, Johanna grows plants on her allotment partly from seeds brought back from her family’s gardens. “The shallots and garlic I use to dye come from plants I grew on our allotment, using generations of bulbs from my father's garden,” she says. For a series of window installations for TOAST, she has been creating naturally dyed panels which are then sewn together piece-by-piece to create larger fabrics. The assembly of the panels is a slow process, with each piece added like a collage. “For these panels I’ve been using the peels of garlic, shallot, red onion, white onion – they look like pearls. They're really beautiful.” She has also used yellow onion, calendula flowers and fat hen – “people often see it as a weed, but it’s more of a wild spinach. I also love to use the stems of the various herbs I grow, like lavender, sage, oregano, basil, rosemary, lemon verbena, mint. Once I’ve used them in teas, I’ll keep the stems and use them to dye.”
The allotment is just a five minute walk from Johanna’s home and studio space. “For this work, it’s been very home-focused” she says. “I boil, dye and sew everything at home.” Her studio is a space for her painting and writing, and is shared with her husband, Jatinder Singh Durhailay, who is also a painter.
Alongside the patchwork fabrics appearing in TOAST Shop windows, her large, tent-like work Penser, Manger, Partager I, will also be displayed in TOAST London, Notting Hill. The installation forms a space that visitors can enter and be enveloped by. The title means “to think, to eat and to share,” Johanna explains. “The idea was around food and food waste, but also textile waste – thinking about why we create so much waste and what this waste could become. When the piece was exhibited in Tokyo in 2018, plant-based diets, veganism, cruelty, compassion, were not as widely talked about as they are now. That is why creating this piece was so important to me.”
On the interior of the installation, Johanna embroidered a phrase relating to the fact that the ocean could be virtually emptied of fish by 2048, based on a scientific paper published in Science by Boris Worm and colleagues in 2006. “I didn’t want to create an artwork that was necessarily aggressive, but just showing the reality in a soft way, inviting people to think, and I hope, act.” The work was followed by Penser, Manger, Partager II, created in collaboration with her husband Jatinder, and architect Takeshi Hayatsu. Takeshi designed the wooden structure supporting the fabric panels, and the idea is that the structure will be recreated in local woods when the piece travels, to avoid having to transport the timber. “It's always an installation and it’s always welcoming, but it's not always the same. The shape of it is always changing.”
Interview by Alice Simkins Vyce.
Photographs by Aloha Bonser-Shaw.
Johanna Tagada Hoffbeck's naturally dyed panels will be in a selection of our shop windows from Fri 1 - Sat 30 September. Her large, tent-like work Penser, Manger, Partager I, will be displayed in TOAST London, Notting Hill.