‘Black Land’:- Potent materials from the past

Performances in the Egyptian galleries in the Neues Museum (Berlin) feature the latest in a series of ‘deep recycled’ sludge materials

‘Black Land’ is a series of performances and installations referencing the texts and images found on plant based Papyri ‘papers’ from Elephantine (an island on the Nile). With a direct connection to this context, innovative jet black sludge panels developed by Zelfo and Aleknaviciute were used as a modern metaphor in reference to the alluvium rich sludge found on the banks of the river Nile. This approach has a special relevance in that the ancient Egyptians their alluvial sludge was as key to their survival as are sustainable materials to the survival of the planet today.

Black Land instalation © Zelfo Technology

Scenographer Aleknaviciute was selected for the project based on her sensitivity to the various values that the material offers; firstly, as a means to an end product, secondly for their social and cultural significance and most importantly, given the current climate crisis, for their potential to redress the imbalance between man and our environment. Her jet black stone like panels impart a significant integrity to the concept behind Black Lands. In a profound parallel to the silt found on the banks of the Nile, they derive mainly from paper industry rejects loaded like alluvial sludge with minerals and fibre. Indeed their significant weight adds a further bond to the elemental means upon which Ancient Egypt was built, stone upon stone towards the sky.

Paper industry residual ‘sludge’ is an ‘end of the line’ by-product consisting of minerals, paper fibre, minor amounts of pigments and polymers. As indicated Zelfo and Aleknaviciute have already produced a first range of thin panels which has the current further development program in motion. These panels where shown at the BIORAMA- Projekt in 2021 and generated significant interest from architectural and design professionals who visited the ‘Matter to Matter’ exhibition. Much was learnt by the first phase and this has led to developments in density, colour and structural improvements of the material.

Innovation played a significant role in the delivery of the latest ‘Black Land’ project materials, as up til now it would appear that never before have such structurally solid objects been constructed from engineered sludge. Phoenix like they have emerged from a sludge provided by Leipa Paper GmbH which lies at the very bottom of the material food chain, into profoundly beautiful artisanal construction elements.

Black Land instalation © Zelfo Technology

A symbiosis of technology development and strong concept development drove Zelfo together with Leipa and Aleknaviciute towards advancements in fibre manipulation, material forming, curing and end product finishing. The density, structure and deep ‘alchemistic’ impression of the final results have left most who have encountered the pieces in a state of wonder. This aura of mysticism was reinforced by the ‘Black Land’ performance the Greek Courtyard (Neues Museum). During this performance a ritual takes place involving reverence to the material thereby enriching their already visually charged presence.

Looking to the future, Aleknaviciute has been provided with a laboratory space in the newly established ‘Reallabor’ a bio-based innovations hub located adjacent to the Leipa Paper production site in Schwedt/Oder (Germany). Knowledge of the source material properties is key to the success and market viability of the end products, therefore Leipa Paper as both supplier and experts in the composition of de-inking residuals is set to play a significant role in the upcoming projects. Zelfo itself has a constant relationship with Leipa since 2010 and was the catalyst which brought all parties together.

Regarding interest in material, there are already several partners and potential clients lined up which will keep the team busy for the foreseeable future. Immediate development projects include further panel products for interior use plus 3D printing projects at various scales. Arrangements are being made for the first materials from phase 3 to be tested with the first tangible results expected towards the end of 2022/beginning of 2023.

Project Partners


Zelfo Technology GmbH – Ligno-cellulose Fibre Engineers: www.zelfo-technology.com 
Inga Aleknaviciute – Scenographer, Material Developer: www.ingaaleknaviciute.com
Leipa Paper GmbH – Graphic and Packaging Paper Manufacturers: www.leipa.com


BLACK LAND is a project by Elena Sinanina, Attila Csihar and ensemble, funded by the Capital Cultural Fund Berlin, in cooperation with Verena Lepper / Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, National Museums in Berlin (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation), CTM Festival and silent green. With the kind support of Collegium Hungaricum Berlin, and Inga Aleknaviciute with Zelfo Technology GmbH and LEIPA Group.


Zelfo Technology, press release, 2022-08-03.


Capital Cultural Fund Berlin
Collegium Hungaricum Berlin
Egyptian Museum
Inga Aleknaviciute
Leipa Paper GmbH
National Museum Berlin
Zelfo Technology GmbH


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