In the 1840s, the German chemist, Justus von Liebig, warned that for the soil to remain fertile, we must return to it everything that has been taken from it. However, instead of heeding Liebig’s caution, humanity has stood by, watching as our soil has been and continues to be eroded.
A hundred years later, H J Massingham, organicist and poet, talked of soil as being a vital component of humanity’s spiritual wellbeing. He saw man as occupying a middle ground between ‘God and the living dust of the earth’. Massingham laments the interwar decline of the relationship between people and the soil arguing that in ‘losing touch with the organic processes of the earth, man is fouling the sources of his own being.’ As we distance ourselves from the earth that supports us, we are in danger of losing touch with the place from which we have emerged.
The impoverishment of the soil that both Leibig and Massingham fear has occurred. We have lost an understanding of not only the physical presence of soil, but also of the stories that provide a cultural appreciation of what soil means to us. The Soil Culture Forum aims to bring together the creative and literary arts to help raise awareness about the importance of soil and foster an appreciation of its vital importance to humanity and the biosphere.
The first section of the Forum will focus on the many different ways that the visual arts engage with soil. From the large installations of Walter de Maria and Mel Chin to the more personal works of Ana Mendieta, soil has been both the subject and media of significant art practice. The two days dedicated to the visual arts (3rd & 4th July) will provide a series of creative workshops, talks and presentations that promote creative and sensorial ways of knowing soil.
The final day of the Soil Culture Forum (5th July) will focus not simply on the soil itself, but on the cultural narratives that are a conceptual part of soil and, indeed, of ourselves.
In an exciting and inspirational interdisciplinary approach which takes into account the fundamental importance of creating soil awareness across both the academic and the public spectrum, we are seeking both academic papers and creative contributions that address some form of engagement between soil, culture and narrative.