Falmouth University, 2-5 July 2014
The first major event of the Soil Culture[i] programme organized by CCANW[ii] and RANE[iii] at Falmouth University took place over the last week. The event brought together talks, workshops, social gatherings and exhibitions of artwork and posters from local and international artists, soil scientists and agriculturalists to celebrate and investigate how the arts may contribute to shifts in attitudes and understanding of a matter we take very much for granted – soil.
My own contribution included the forum logo, a small display of soil inspired work with Francesca Owen in the Woodlane Campus Library, a poster commissioned and printed for the 20th World Congress of Soil Science in South Korea by Alex Toland[iv], a Painting with Earth workshop and a number of art works in a pop-up exhibition on site. It was good to meet, hear and see the rich and varied work of those of like minds and inspirations, and especially to hear the no-nonsense common sense of Graham Harvey, author of one of my favourite books, The Carbon Fields[v]…
“Why, she wondered, were Indian peasants being pushed into debt and penury by a system of agriculture that was supposed to bring prosperity to rural communities? And why did monocultures, which were intrinsically of low productivity, come to be accepted as highly productive though they required huge inputs of chemicals and fossil fuels, and then produced less food than traditional, diverse farming systems?” from The Carbon Fields by Graham Harvey, p.100
“Organic milk, for example, is a blend of the good and not so good. Organic standards require that at least 60 per cent of the ratio must be in the form of grass and forage. In terms of its nutrient content, milk produced to this minimum standard won’t compare in quality with milk of cows getting 80 per cent of their feed in the form of grazed pasture, organic or not. And, as on conventional farms, milk produced to higher standards will be diluted with milk produced to the bare minimum standard.” from The Carbon Fields by Graham Harvey, p.136
It is always exciting how participation in such events can provide the space to create new work and to make and renew contacts. Let’s hope that the forum will lead to increased future awareness, projects and collaborations towards our need for changes in attitude and policy around issues of our care and relationship with soil, a living substance upon which our and all life depends. Also thank you to Daro Montag for all his hard work organizing and raising funds[vi] for this event.
© P Ward 2014
[v]THE CARBON FIELDS – GRAHAM HARVEY (Bridgewater UK; GRASSROOTS; 2008)
[vi] Funding for the Forum was provided by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
I watch my baby boy
As he sits upon my lap
Playing with his own shadow
Experiencing the whole of himself,
As Mr. Abrams would have us believe.[i]
I chase my own shadow
On an evening bicycle ride
The sun setting over the ocean behind me
Seeing a distortion of my ageing self
A youthful form cast upon the tarmac.
MAMIL[ii], Ilfracombe (p ward 2014)
© P Ward 2014
[i]”The actual shadow does not reside primarily on the ground; it is a voluminous being of thickness and depth, a mostly unseen presence that dwells in the air between my body and that ground. …an umbral depth that extends from the pavement right on up to my knees, torso, and head-a shadow touching me not just at my feet, but at every point of my person.” – David Abram (Philosopher, Ecologist, Performance Artist) from THE SPELL OF THE SENSUOUS – DAVID ABRAM (New York; VINTAGE; 1997)
[ii] ‘Middle-aged man in lycra’!!??
for me, the making and appreciation of objects and acts within an environment describes the intrinsic quality and value of art. it is a process that may celebrate and affirm the miracle and wonder that is existence, our dexterity to observe, interact, learn and communicate (with) such awe and innate ability. as we continue to learn, to place our aptitudes and ourselves in relation to this world, its abundance, so our artwork may evolve and reflect any newly found position. art by its very nature observes and reflects how things act by bringing them together in relation to others[i].
“Even though it is the same quarter acre, the farmer must grow his crops differently each year in accordance with variations in weather, insect population, the conditions of the soil, and many other natural factors. Nature is everywhere in perpetual motion; conditions are never exactly the same in two years.
Modern research divides nature into tiny pieces and conducts tests that conform neither with natural law nor with practical experiences. The results are arranged for the convenience of research, not according to the needs of the farmer. To think that these conclusions can be put to use with invariable success in the farmer’s field is a big mistake.” from the One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka[ii]
“The fact of the matter is that whatever we do, the situation gets worse. The more elaborate the countermeasures, the more complicated the problems become.” from the One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka[iii]
more recently, my past obsession with making (and often attempting to tamper with the way things have become) has been replaced by a simple sense of wonder at being in and of this world, of the dynamic physicality of everyday acts of living wherever and whenever i am. an attitude fostered greatly by my experience of the creative process, both artistic and otherwise. i express myself in this world and enjoy the interactions with other, in this sense of being alive with no other purpose than just that – to be. my work has changed from a process in my mind, expressed predominantly in isolation through the traditional media of art, to the more physical, bodily and experiential process of exchange called life.
(but how i’m going to pay the bills is another matter!?)
P Ward 2014
[i] …whereas science may be seen to divide and dissect in its efforts to understand.
[ii] Masanobu Fukuoka,One-Straw Revolution (New York; New York Review Books; 1978)
[iii] Masanobu Fukuoka,One-Straw Revolution (New York; New York Review Books; 1978)
Many apologies for my recent lack of posts – I have been rather busy and somewhat otherwise engaged of late. Here are a few pictures and words to fill the gap. Many thanks for your continuing audience and support…
after the storms
after the spring has sprung
we may begin our gathering
of old and new
to make way for,
in preparation for
how different is this world
from one place to the next
from one day to another
holding hands with you…
with love to Francesca, Noah and all my family
P Ward 2014
a simple film about connecting with the earth – just walking barefoot along a muddy track in west somerset. the film was made with francesca owen as part of our ongoing collaboration and research towards the SOIL CULTURE project 2013-17 led by CCANW and RANE (http://artsandecology.info/pdf/Soil_culture_info_Oct2013.pdf). the images were captured on continuous shooting mode and edited using i-movie.
© Francesca Owen & Peter Ward 2014
(to be continued)
Soil, like oceans, rivers and skies, creates the foundation of our lives. It is through their devoted dynamic interchange of energy and matter that our lives and all life emerge. Small changes in composition may alter the innate ability of such primal elements to support certain life forms in favour of others, or even none at all. The relative proportions of water, air and minerals evident in these environments lead to specific conditions that may in turn determine an infinite variety of new dynamic conditions and life forms. These changes are caused by the constantly evolving ebb and flow of nature, of which we are an integral part.
In previous posts I have commented on the shortcomings of scientific data to communicate the importance of soil (or any ecologically sensible and intelligent thinking) within our lives and the necessity to love, respect and care for it. On second thoughts I have recognized a lack of fundamental understanding regarding such issues and realize how I may have taken for granted the knowledge I have acquired throughout my life and especially more recently through my present research. So here is a simple list of some of the information about soil that I have accumulated and hopefully assimilated so far…
- Soil is the largest carbon sink on the planet. Its ability to absorb and hold carbon is conditional to specific local conditions, land use and management.
- Soil may also be managed as part of environmental policy, if needs be, to absorb and hold water during times of excessive precipitation. The soil of woodland and rough pasture and in well-hedged land may hold more water than cleared, intensively farmed arable or grazing land.
- There are 3 basic types of Soil – Sand, Clay and Silt.
- Loam is a name given to a soil made up of roughly equal proportions of each.
- Soil may be acid or alkali depending on its underlying geology and to a lesser degree any resulting vegetation.
- The amounts of water and air held within, as well as the proportions of sand, clay and silt, affect the quality and character of a soil.
- Each soil has a unique and specific mineralogical and biological structure – this may change from one side of a field to another.
- The quality of a soil may be influenced by weather, bedrock, vegetation and land use. For example, walking on or grazing livestock intensively on soil with compress, or compact, it leading to less air and space for life to thrive.
- There is no single formula to manage soil – each is unique and requires specific understanding to reveal and maintain it’s evolving potential for all, and management, if any, is dependant on chosen land use.
- Basic organic farming methods – the non-use of chemical fertilizers in favour of more complementary methods of propagation – are not enough to create and maintain healthy productive soils. Rigorous and ongoing monitoring of water, air and mineral levels and neighbouring environments, along with sensitive indigenous knowledge may all contribute to intelligent soil maintenance. More holistic management is often known as biodynamic farming.
- Similarly there is no definitive tillage (ploughing) strategy applicable to all soil types and habitats. The decision to plough land and to what depth can only be correctly made when factors such a drainage, air content and compaction rates have been taken into account.
- There are 17 minerals that make up a healthy soil (to produce healthy, mineral rich vegetables). The most important of all these is molybdenum, which acts as a catalyst towards the absorption and utilization of all others[i].
- The mineral content and biological nature of a soil directly affect the nutritional value of any food produced and consumed from that soil, as well as its flavour, size and ability to thrive.
- Fundamentally, the biological organisms that live within it maintain the soil. Worms, moles, bacteria and fungus, endless varieties of insects and microbes are constantly processing and restructuring the elements – air and water ways, minerals and vegetation – that constitute and compose it.
- The quality/character of a soil, determined predominantly by its underlying geology, but also by the vegetation that it may support influences its subsequent habitat and/or land use, and hence the cultural identity of the entire region.
- Soil is an essential, constantly evolving and site-specific entity upon which all life depends. While it is easy to evaluate its worth in purely human terms, it is equally, if not more, necessary to consider its intrinsic place and function within the universal web of life.
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
― Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
This post has been written as part of my continuing research with the CCANW/RANE Soil Culture Project 2013-17[ii]. The project hopes to raise awareness about the importance of soil in light of its continuing degradation by past and present industrial, agricultural and behavioural practices and tendencies. The project aims to employ various contemporary art practices, events and strategies to engage policy makers, farmers and industrialists along with members of the public in the hope of catalyzing a change in attitude and behaviour in favour of soil and a healthier global ecology on the whole. The project is one of numerous similar projects worldwide in line with the UN Year of Soil 2015[iii].
© P Ward 2014
[i] From a presentation at the Soil Association’s National Soil Symposium @ Bristol 2013 by Charlie Bannister (Headland Agrochemicals) http://www.soilassociation.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=KZwmjuWsC7g%3d&tabid=2143
as we make way
accumulating and assimilating
it is often hard to fully appreciate
what and who and where we have become
so as we grow
it is in everyone’s interest
to allow some space to grow apart
like the water and air around us
a breathing space
some elbow room
to stretch and flex
to test our boundaries
to assess our newly found wisdom
our freedoms and limitations
our sensory shell
like a root in the earth
following the worm’s way
or a branch reaching for the sun
we must each find our own path to grow and share and heal
The photographs above were taken on a midwinter visit to some youthful haunts on the South Downs in southern England. It was brilliant to see and feel the difference of light and rolling ambience of chalk bedrock and sandy Surrey soils in contrast to my local wet culm grassland and beaches of northern Devon. Harting Hill, on the newly attributed South Downs National Park, exhibits a rueful example of soils degraded by overgrazing despite the obvious rural beauty of the area, while Kingley Vale, nestled in the dip slopes of the Downs near Chichester, has some of the oldest living yew trees in the United Kingdom estimated at about 2000 years old. It is utterly awe inspiring to share space and time with such incredibly ancient beings.
© P Ward 2014