My visit to this exhibition – Soil Culture at the Peninsula Art Gallery on the Plymouth University Campus, was an opportunist visit when I took my son back to University after the Easter break.
Earth – mud – dirt – grit – are all descriptions of a substance that is essential to life on earth. From agriculture to architecture through to economics and ecology, soil provides the very foundations for continued human development.
Grappling with this vital material and as part of the UN International Year of Soils 2015 the exhibition Soil Culture brings together many different perspectives to examine how this fundamental material is utilised within our everyday lives.
Peninsula Arts Gallery has been transformed into a soil-laboratory, operating as a bridge between knowledge, understanding and discovery. The parallel spheres of the science lab and artist studio are made visible alongside the display of scientific instruments of measurement and analysis.
Similar to a studio/lab the gallery is an active space with the making and testing out of new ideas that cross over art/science disciplines, and where the audience can either observe or contribute to a series of on site experiments, workshops, discussions and debates.
It was the idea of the ‘soil lab’, and the parallels drawn between the artist and scientist that interested me in relation to my own work with willow and charcoal, as it becomes more experimental. As I move closer to the end of the course I have been thinking more about how to present my work, and how it might sit, and have already talked a bit about the idea of ‘the lab’- John Newling did a project called ‘The Noah Laboratory- constructing soil’, and in research relating to Eva Hesse I came across references of influence through J Alber relating to the Bauhaus and the experimental approach to materials in an environment described to be like an ‘creative lab’. This link with the sciences does interest me, so it was interesting to see how the exhibition was set up.
- areas relating to the science of soils- maps, samples, microscopes for viewing live soil micro-organisms ( attended to by biology students).
- work by artist, Emma Saffy Wilson, who works with mud
- artist in residence, Lisa Harmer, whose practice Dodolab is an experimental ever evolving and often collaborative creative practice that is focused on working with the public, in public, and exploring contemporary ideas in relation to the public’s understanding and beliefs about those ideas. She presented a piece called Peak Peat.
- 2 working studio spaces of undergraduates, Esme Stewart and Jamie Morrison who are each using soil in their work in different ways.
- an ongoing programme of workshops relating to various aspects of soil, including cob building and painting with earth pigments.
I found it a very rich visit in terms of both the work created, but also the exhibition environment. There was an energy to the space that I think came from the activity of the artists working, which also gave rise to opportunities for conversation, which added to the overall experience.
Last Thursday (30/4/15) I went to the exhibition talk which gave further insights, in particular that this was the first collaborative exhibition of this nature for the gallery which was causing great excitement. There seemed to be a genuine feeling that it created an opportunity for a cross discipline dialogue. It is part of a project co-ordinated by CCANW from 2013 – 2016. I was also able to talk with Daro Montag, Associate Professor of Art and Environment, Falmouth University. This highlighted to me my own need to be able to articulate my work better- afterwards I felt as though I’d had a lost opportunity to talk about my work with someone who might understand what I have been trying to do. He did reveal that he had done some work with charcoal and bio-char, which I have subsequently followed up. It has led me to sites that may be fruitful for further research.