#SciArt – Soil and art

There appears to have been a Twitter-storm this week regarding ‘science-induced art’. See this Nature article for more information. Using the twitter analytical website, Topsy we can see the spike in Tweets using the #SciArt hashtag at the beginning of March. The #SciArt event due to span from March 1-7.


Working with Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and maps, I often stumble across wonderful images and visualisations. For example, the use of high-resolution LiDar-derived digital terrain models has produced some stunning images (see below). Many different scientific disciplines have contributed to the #SciArt Twitter-storm. However, it was whilst in a meeting earlier today that provoked thought about how soils contribute to #SciArt.


Lidar-derived digital terrain model depicting fossilised channel creeks in the Cambridgeshire Fenlands, north east of Ely. (Data Source: Environment Agency Geomatics)

You may be thinking, was the meeting that boring? In fact no, it’s because in our office, to emphasise the fact that we are a soil-related department and furthermore the custodian of the National Soil Map, our meeting rooms are draped in wallpaper which depicts sections of the soil map of England and Wales. It’s effective in that it is a change from the boring magnolia or pure brilliant white walls that often adorn office walls.

Anyway, the use of soil maps as a decorative feature got me thinking further about the use of soils in art. Last year, a visiting professor of Art, Daro Montag (Falmouth University) gave a seminar on his experimentation with the use of soil and associated bacteria as an art medium. He used colour film, with which he buried in soil for a month. The fats contained within the film made a tasty snack for the bacteria present within the soil. Subsequently, they would eat through the layers of film exposing the different layers of colour, creating wonderful resultant images. The picture below shows a ‘soil profile’ with the whiter areas depicting a higher presence of bacteria.


Soil profiles as part of ‘This Earth’ portfolio by Daro Montag

So I want to present here some other examples of the use of soils in Art. After a quick trawl on the inter web, I have found some interesting, curious and fascinating examples – click on the pictures for further contextual information.


The ‘Soil Table’ by Ori Mishkal


‘Soil-erg’ by Claire Pentecost

A Ca Pousse! sculpture by Mathilde Roussel-Giraudy

‘A Ca Pousse!’ sculpture by Mathilde Roussel-Giraudy

Riverbed Installation by Olafur Eliasson

‘Riverbed Installation’ by Olafur Eliasson

'A small area of land' by Sean Connelly

‘A small area of land’ by Sean Connelly

There are instances where science and art come together to help disseminate the science of soils in an interesting and engaging medium. For example, the Festival de International des Jardins de Metis in 2005 used soil cubes extracted from real sites to depict the different soil profiles of some Canadian soils.

Soil Garden at the Metis Festival, Quebec

Soil Garden at the Metis Festival, Quebec

Artists using soil as a medium are helping to increase peoples perception and awareness of soil systems. Although perhaps some artists do not understand the scientific principles behind soils, they do all have a common ground. In that they are often concerned about the environmental impacts of humans on the soil system and the life that they support. However, what I have shown here is by no means exhaustive and many other examples exist.


For more on soil and arts, check out soilarts and this previous EGU G-Soil blog.


Author: Oliver Pritchard

Feature Picture Credit: Glendon Mellow (Source: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/symbiartic/2015/03/01/sciart-tweet-storm/)