multisensorial approaches to soil

A few days before the events, participants were asked to collect one handful of “dry soil in a plastic zip-lock bag.” The sample could be from your garden or backyard, but could also come from a contested site, such as a contaminated site, a remediated land, or a site of political significance. Samples had to be labelled with the name of the participant and the soil location. The sample was to be used in a variety of activities. First, it was used in the workshop on soil analysis and soil microscopy. During this workshop in the Incubator Lab at the University of Windsor, we measured the sample’s Ph using a gardener’s kit. We then observed its microscopic components using a variety of microscopes, from the professional compound microscope to the simple portable microscope, from the kids’ microscope (a remarkably complex and fun instrument!) to the cell phone microscope. A single spec of soil diluted with a drop of water on a slide would reveal a whole world of minerals, plants and sometimes animate little critters.

This activity is the most simple way to observe the incredibly diverse and lively world contained in soil and also a way to compare different varieties of soil.

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Observing and discovering the minuscule content of a spec of soil is an activity with a long portrayal, history dear to the natural science enthusiasts in the XVIII and XIX century, when microscopes became very popular. Scientists and amateurs created portraits, drawing and even offered spectacles showing the “marvellous world” that hides from the naked eye. Generally speaking, this “marvel” has always evoked a bit of mix of disgust and curiosity, partially because of the invisibility of the items contained in soil and their potential danger, but also because soil is dark, looks dirty, it insinuates everywhere…and it grows! but this later

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a microscopic picture taken with a cell-phone

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Drop of water under a microscope, in Le Magasin pittoresque, no. 19, 1833, p. 145 (source “Mapping the Marvellous“) 

Amanda White and Alana Bartol, The Soil Is Teeming With Life, 2015 Animation, 5min, Drawings (Ink and Watercolour on Paper) A series of drawings and animations of nematodes, bacteria, arthropods and other living organisms that make soil their home.

The outcomes from today’s workshops were reflected in the evening’s movement workshop with choreographer Anh Nguyen, artistic director at the HNM Dance Centre. Nguyen created a series of choreographic moves with his company members inspired by the variety that one grain of soil can pack and by the very act of observing, poking around, analyzing and applying different perspectives to the study of soil.

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