Candle soot


Made in

Pigment 49 Air pollution 3 Textile 4

Candle soot

Photos: Bianca Streich

Chasing the Invisible

Chasing the Invisible: is a material research project that reveals the intricate effects of our mundane actions. What if you could wear your own toxicity?

The burning of paraffin candles releases air pollutants known to increase mortality rates. Yet, we are rarely conscious of it. By giving visibility to these toxins through the capturing and imprinting techniques explained in the manual, accompanied by a toolkit for making your own imprints, and a journal of experimental exploration as references, Chasing the Invisible aims to raise awareness and inspire change.

And if it doesn’t succeed, you can still wear it on your sleeve.

The most commonly used material for candles is paraffin wax, a hydrocarbon derived from fossil crude oil. Burning these candles releases pollutants that are potentially harmful, especially in poorly ventilated indoor environments. These pollutants include particulate matter, carbon monoxide and dioxide, nitrogen oxides as well as nitrous acid, formaldehyde, benzene and volatile organic carbon.

The black residue of smoke, the soot of a candle, consists predominantly of fine carbon particles. It is known to pose adverse health risks such as cancer, influenza and asthma. According to the World Health Organisation, fine particulate air pollution is estimated to cause an estimate of about 9% mortality of cancer, cardiopulmonary disease and severe respiratory infections.

A material is a story and can likewise convey its own narrative. Smoke in itself is a paradox. It is heavier than air but rises upwards transported with the gust of hot air, dissolving into nothingness. Bianca Streich investigates with this research project, how materials can be used as a means of communication through the matter itself, to conjure awareness, evoke empathy, relate importance and ignite positive change.

Chasing the Invisible comes in three parts: Firstly the journal of capturing smoke that is giving visibility to the invisible, making something intangible tangible and documenting the smoke experiments chronologically and by applied technique. Secondly, the toolkit, including the manual, on how to capture smoke that is providing all the information, tools and techniques to reproduce the smoke experiments and making them experienceable and providing background knowledge of the issue. Finally, the smoke scarves, with the permanent pollution patterns fixed upon pose as a constant reminder of awareness. The three parts of this project work together to invoke a permanence.

The experimentation with candle soot led to the development of several methods to capture smoke on various mediums, such as paper, textile or glass, leaving fascinating patterns behind. The development is recorded, documented and categorised. But for all those who do not wish to experiment with this process and reveal their own pollution, the smoke scarf is your luxurious must-have, making one’s toxicity wearable. The scarves are presented in an editorial shoot along with rhetorical remarks such as: “Do not wonder anymore, visualise how toxic your behavioural patterns are.” or “How toxic are you?” An information sheet about indoor air pollution caused by the burning of paraffin candles provides the wearer with additional information. The scarf is intended as a conversation starter and to pass on knowledge from one person to the next.

Information submitted by the maker and edited by the Future Materials Bank.


Candle soot, indoor air pollution, textile

Physical samples

Accessible to visitors of the Future Materials Lab