As part of my research I have been looking at topsoil. It was interesting to investigate how to acquire topsoil, I was amazed at how much was available.
The Installation is called; ‘The Ground beneath our Feet’. The title is taken from a guardian article written by Bibi van der Zee less than a year ago titled: ‘UK is 30-40 years away from ‘eradication of soil fertility’, warns Gove’. It describes a speech by Michael Gove to the Sustainable Soils Alliance (SSA):
“If you have heavy machines churning the soil and impacting it, if you drench it in chemicals that improve yields but in the long term undercut the future fertility of that soil, you can increase yields year on year but ultimately you really are cutting the ground away from beneath your own feet. Farmers know that.”
In researching about topsoil I have become quite concerned about the urgency of this issue. George Monbiot also talks about soil fertility and the urgency of it, as well as the government’s environment agency and the lack of action taking place.
In deciding how to present the work and what aspects to emphasise, I have had to be careful about overloading with information so I havn’t mentioned much about soil, other than an indication towards the potential it holds and crucial key role it plays in our lives, simply with a title:
‘SOIL (It’s not dirt!)’
“SOIL is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases,
liquids and organisms that together support life”
The title and quote are for a video I have put together from the installation footage, showing the team of volunteers moving the 4.5 tonnes of soil around. Raking, shovelling, barrowing, tipping, sowing.
I have wanted to express some of the ideas and broader research by drawing and writing on the walls or drawing onto paper and pinning to the walls. It has been difficult to have time to let the meadow grow and establish and also interact and respond to the space with such a short amount of time.
I have had conversations that have suggested the piece kind of speaks for itself, is poetic and needs little addition in terms of information.
My response has been to draw one line, a path across the wall from one side of the room to the other, mimicking the pathway through the land. I have also written words relating to ‘pathway’ along the line, a nod to ‘the old ways’. The line and words are drawn and written with charcoal that was made in the forest of dean in a camp fire in the woods during one of the ‘Fire Earth Art’ sessions.
With the MA show looming, I have needed to consider how I present the work. Do I allow visitors to walk across the meadow? So far only myself has walked into the space and that has been bare foot and tentatively. The meadow is viewable from two sides with double doors at either end of the room, until now entry onto the soil has not been permitted with hazard tape across the access points.
I want people to explore the space and interact with the land. It is quite a different feel from the middle of the room and there is so much to see that is not possible from a distance. If I invite people to walk anywhere they please it may be interesting to see if they create a desire line, a common route that most people follow, but it is likely they will tread down and damage the young and delicate plants before that can happen.
So I have decided to create a path. I wanted a seat in the middle so people can rest and absorb the space but it was pointed out to me that it would be turning the space into a park with a bench, which is not the right thing for this.
The path I have created is made from local timber rounds, pine wood, rough cut, sunk into the ground by removing the soil from underneath. It felt daunting excavating parts of the land and removing the little plants that I have nurtured, but it feels really good to be able to freely access the space and move through it.
The path takes a meandering route, following my own desire line, mostly based on which direction made the least damage but still allowing people to move through much of the room. There happened to be a fairly natural line where plants hadn’t grown so much that I followed. I am pleased to make the path this way instead of installing it to begin with and building the meadow around it. This felt much more natural.
I have been thinking a lot about access to land, commoners rights, access to wild spaces, rights of way and pathways.
Robert MacFarlane talks about words for path in his book ‘the old ways’, I very much like the words and the feelings they evoke; nostalgia, intrigue, something lost.
The Forest of Dean has an interesting history in relation to commoners rights and the enclosures. Commoners rights are still used in the Forest and access to the common land is very important to local people. I have been looking at maps of the forest and rivers surrounding it, looking at rights of way and drawing.
There have been all sorts of creatures and fungus appearing, a few moths, daddy long legs, spiders. The room can feel quite still but whenever I water there are things that fly up into the air, and usually the next day mushrooms appear, then disappear a few days later.
It is quite humid in the room despite having reasonable airflow, and certain areas retain moisture better than others. It certainly smells alive in the space, I have wondered how the walls at the base are doing, whether they are getting damp or not. I cannot see any signs of damp but I think there would be issues if this was left long term. People keep saying they wish it could just stay in the building, that they enjoy going to see it, and word is spreading around campus as most people I mention it to seem have heard about it. I am pleased it is making an impression.