It’s been roughly one week since Life in the Soil has come to an end, leaving a long lasting impression and, as it is the case for such complex and multifarious events, an inexhaustible number of questions.
As Amanda White and Alana Bartol, two artists collaborating at the intersection of art, science and ecology, explain, this event was inspired by a 2007 scientific paper about the ability of soil to improve the production of serotonin in human beings with physical contact.
This intensified the artists’ curiosity to experiment with different “ways of being with soil”, and to explore the many facets of soil as one of the most complicated compound existing on earth.
For sure, White and Bartol are not new to such explorations , as both their work lies at the intersection of art, science and ecology. Alana White’s work focuses on interspecies encounters between plants and humans. She has been investigating the mutual relationship that exists between mammals and their food by harvesting cherry tomato seeds form her waste and then re-growing them into plants; and by creating a radio for plants. Alana Bartol has performed wearing a military camouflage (Gillie) in green spaces and suburban neighborhoods; she has walked the entire perimeter of the city of Calgary to explore how “border of Calgary inscribed on the land and felt in space”; recently, she has started a series of performances that investigate remediation through the practice of dowsing at abandoned oil well sites in Alberta.
Life in the Soil not only was comprised of a range of events from formal workshop settings, improvised performances, and panels, but it also mixed conventional and conventional science, traditional wisdom and the arts.
The fact that this would not be your usual series was immediately noticeable upon entrance into the gallery where the first event would take place. The centre was fully occupied by a bed-shaped container filled with soil. Being soil the protagonist, this choice makes sense. But it made even more sense in the next few hours and the next two days, when it was shown how soil was collected (Maria Cioppa’s instruments for collecting soil), analyzed (Jeffrey Howard’s analysis of soil “horizons”), observed (workshop on soil microscopy), fed and manipulated (it acted as a composter, a receiver of scent, stones and crystals), tended to (Theresa Sims’ and Steve Green’s very different gardens, or Robert Lovelace and Ruth Lapp’s distinct approaches to farming); we laid on and sat on that soil (artist Alana Bartol slept on it and Amanda White buried herself in it, and Jennifer Willet, pictured above, buried her lab coat inside). In the next three days, this bed definitely became the protagonist and the centerpiece for an intense series of discussions and reflections.