This exhibition was the culmination of the MA in Fine Art that I completed in August 2019. I achieved a distinction and was awarded the Steele Art Prize for the exhibition.
The artwork represents a snapshot of the love and dedication that urban gardeners have for their soil. Preston growers buried a square of 100% cotton in their top soil and left it there for 6 to 8 weeks. This tests for biological activity; the less cotton there is at the end of the test, the healthier the soil.
The ‘geography’ of these pieces of cotton, laid out on the table of soil, sketch out some of Preston’s valuable dirt, and give information about the soil and the health of its ecosystem.
The recorded interviews reflect the gardeners’ relationships to their plots of earth.
Soil is one of the most diverse habitats on Earth, a teaspoon of it can contain more organisms than people on earth.
In a single gram there may be millions of individuals and several thousand species of bacteria, several yards of invisible fungal hyphae, a few thousand protozoa, and dozens of nematodes. There will be worms and many other creatures within the thriving and complex ecosystem beneath our feet. This ecosystem is essential to the health of the soil, and therefore to human life.
Healthy soil acts as a massive carbon sink, storing three times as much carbon as the atmosphere. Degradation of the soil leads to increased carbon emissions and speeds up climate change.
It is easy to assume that the soil is abundant and until recently its complex living structure has not been fully investigated nor understood. The fact is that, although 90% of food is grown in the earth, very little soil is available, and globally it has been largely devastated by human efforts. Urban soil especially is being obliterated by our efforts. Over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and this figure is fast growing. So as urban dwellers, these Preston gardeners are exceptional.
Sharing the results of the cotton burying tests serve as a means to consider the question of care and the overlooked; how the foundations of human life can be overlooked in plain sight, and then neglected.
The degeneration of the soil globally is one of the two main areas I have observed, the other being the obscurity of the role of artists in March of the Artists (2018).
Both the soil and the work of artists are used to sustain human beings, but they themselves are not being sustained adequately. There is a lack of care taken in relation to both.
Long live urban soil heroes.
I’d like to thanks growers
Also Let’s Grow Preston, Jenny and Annie
And a big thank you to Elaine for her support and guidance and to Magda Stawarska-Beavan for helping me with editing the interviews.