Soil, Clay, Land

Online exhibition searching for images of the contemporary relationship between man and soil.

Interviews with Jaroslav Záhora, Soňa Jonášová and Radomil Hradil draw attention to the present unsustainable and unacceptable attitudes and the need to change the system and paradigma.

Mariana Serranová, the guest curator of this online exhibition, chose the Italian artist Leone Contini, who deals with the issues of migration, agriculture and the changes of landscape in his video entitled A Nation of Migrants – Foreign Farmers.
Mira Gáberová and Ruta Putramentaite follow up on the proceeding project Holding the Earth and during their performance meeting they speak about their relationship to land, their homeland and their feelings related to touching of soil.

The last part is a slideshow of photographs mapping the artist-in-residence program of Veronika Čechmánková, Rona Jankovičová, Tomáš Hrůza, Karel Kunc and John Hill in the studio Prototyp in 2019 during which they all dealt with the topic of soil, either individually or through group activities. Nikola Brabcová and Karin Šrubařová studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and in 2014 they established a platform for contemporary art Prototyp.

We wish to thank Tomáš Uhnák for providing specialist consultancy in the area of agriculture, historical context and the present state of affairs.

Nikola Brabcová, Mariana Serranová, Karin Šrubařová

01 Introduction

„Today, the same as in the past, mankind is totally dependent on the ability of soil to create and ensure convenient conditions for growing of plants which form the basis of our nourishment. Apart from that it is absolutely clear that soil today has many other non-productive functions (ecological, ecosystematical), which are irreplaceable and sometimes, for a given region, even more important than the possibility to grow plants. It supplies and regulates water in the landscape, soil is a storage of carbon, provides space for recycling of dead organic matter, provides a living space for different organisms, forms a basis for agriculture and material infrastructure, is a source of bio-control organisms for the health protection of plants and animals, as well as man, and finally it is a bank of microbial producers of medicines, a source of information about history and a source of knowledge.”

Soil forms a natural part of our living environment and is irreplaceable due to its limited amount. The lifespan of a human being is negligible in comparison with the length of processes which are happening in the soil. A few centimeters of soil correspond to hundreds of years and the creation of the soil profile takes thousands of years. The layer of soil covering the Earth therefore becomes a container of the past and future memory of man.

The relationship of man towards land has always been a significant mover of the organization of social, cultural and spiritual life. Land is inseparably linked with our basic needs, it is the source of our nourishment, offers us a safe home and a space for the merger with the cycle of nature. Despite all this we have managed to bring this relationship to the verge of a crisis full of misunderstandings, visible in all spheres of our coexistence.

In course of the past two centuries the development of capitalism and market economy brought about changes in the social structure and spiritual organization of society. The move of people into towns, professionalisation and the separation of households from land lead to the industrialization of agricultural production.

In our country the realization of economical targets set by the Communist Party, the aim at food self-sufficiency, collectivisation and the following mass production as well as the intensification of agriculture caused the break of ties between generations and their relationship towards land, its protection and economy.

Innovations in the form of heavy agricultural machinery does not take into account different landscape specifics, widely applied results of research will not lead to a better understanding of local problems, artificial fertilizers will not enhance the development of the root system and interspecies exchange, extensive built up areas will not be covered by greenery and will not retain rain water and generous grants will not guarantee investment in sustainable future.

We have replaced immediate contact and experience by functional intermediate links, which do not have their own perception and are not dependent on healthy land and do not feel the need to belong to the organism of nature. Pictures of land, vision of the future mediated by the media present bright tomorrows, but land itself is vanishing from our field of vision. Virtual planting, visualization of buildings, geo scanning, satellite pictures, maps and navigation are only evidence of the anthropocentric thinking and man´s route towards greater isolation in artificial nature.

But also invisible soil – delicate fluttering particles which will form in the long run a deposited surface. Dust, which is carried away by wind and water from fields because soil loses its consistency. Dust, which we breathe, water and food are the earth, which becomes our body.

How can we change the paradigma and begin to see land as a living creature, as a part of a common body? Through what kind of image can we communicate? We are landing on Earth, where land is no longer sacred, but still gives birth to life.

Karin Šrubařová

02 Interviews

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Forest decimated by bark beetles and logging, Vysočina region. Photograph by Jiří Zelenka

Jaroslav Záhora

Why must we look at dead forests next to beautiful stretches of landscape? This is what we should be worried about. The explanation lies in the dynamics of processes which take place right under our feet and right in front of our eyes. In places where agriculture respects nature a small flower must hand over a due part of its energy in favour of the regeneration of all creatures living in the soil.
The vital thing is to understand that soil is home to a whole world, in which a key role is played by mechanisms which protect resources and natural riches. There is no need to add chemical substances to make soil do what we want it to do.

Jaroslav Záhora deals with the research of microbial activity in soil and the interaction between soil organisms. At present he lectures the the Faculty of AgroScience at the Mendel University in Brno.

English translation of the audio interview to read or download here

Soňa Jonášová

One of the key topics in circular economy is bioeconomics, which is based on closing cycles of bio-mass and all natural substances, that is where soil plays a substantial role.
We have forgotten that the role of organic matter in soil is not only to supply plants with nutrients but also to maintain a healthy soil microflora, including billions of organisms which take care of soil and turn it into such a significant aspect of life on Earth.
When we look at our present natural system, how badly we disturbed the entire balance in nature and how we forgot to take care of the soil the way we did in the past, it is paradoxically a greater challenge for our society than recycling in the area of circular economy as we deal with it today.

Soňa Jonášová studied at the Faculty of AgriSciences at the Mendel University in Brno. She is the head of the Institute of Circular Economy which she founded in 2015. She also deals with issues related to sustainable development, circular economy, agriculture and „cradle-to-cradle“ approaches.

English translation of the audio interview to read or download here

Radomil Hradil

If we do not use manure and we only apply artificial fertilizers and pesticides, the soil will die. This has been happening for the past one hundred years, most of all since World War II. This is not only related to the quality of humus but also to the activity of microorganisms because they form the structure of soil and make soil genuine soil. This is not a permanent state, soil has to be constantly taken care of.
I think it is an easy step to start regarding soil as a live organism. The next step is to regard soil not only as something alive but as a creature with its own intelligence and wisdom. And the last step is to regard soil as something sacred, something that transcends us, which is a very rare experience with view to our state of consciousness. This is the path we should take not only in relation to soil but to everything alive.

Radomil Hradil studied at the College of Agriculture and Agricultural University in Brno. He worked on biodynamic and ecological farms in the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland and Norway. He participated in the education and training of ecological farmers and producers of organic food organized by PRO-BIO and the Bioinstitute, he was one of the founders of Camphill České Kopisty. He is the author of several books, he translates and publishes anthroposophic literature and he is the head of the Foundation For Soil.

English translation of the audio interview to read or download here

03 Leone Contini

A Nation of Migrants - Foreign Farmers

Leone Contini studied philosophy and cultural anthropology at the University of Siena. His research finds its place at the intersection between creative practice and ethnography. Leone Contini focuses primarily on intercultural conflicts, power dynamics, migrations, and diasporas, and how all these phenomena influence the anthropological context and the botanical landscape in the places where he works. His practices include lecture/performances, events in public spaces, text and audio-visual narrations, and drawings.

Works by Leone Contini were selected by Mariana Serranová.

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Mira Gáberová, born in Slovakia, she studied at the Studio of painting and new media at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, she graduated in 2006. She was awarded the Oskar Čepan Prize in 2012. In 2010-11 she ran an exhibition space called Chladnička (Fridge Gallery) in her flat and since 2014 she has continued with this project in Prague. Mira Gáberová is concerned with videoart, performances, installations, photography and drawing. Her work is intentionally or unintentionally based on the transformation of personal experiences into visual art form. Recently she has been intensively engaged in participatory art.

Ruta Putramentaite comes from Lithuania, she studied photography at Middlesex University in London. At present she studies at the Academy of Art, Design and Architecture in Prague in the studio of sculpture under Edith Jeřábková and Dominik Lang. She focuses on sculptural, sound and video installations, often overlapping with performance art. She often uses herself as the main actor of her audiovisual scenes combining reproduction of appropriated messages with her own agenda. She moves on the edge of personal and collective evidence related to issues of environmental crisis and ecology of the mind.


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Stratification and time of creation
An artistic and theoretical study of the medium of matter, earth, soil and clay over a period of several months has created a new and specific environment in the project of Galerie Prototyp Gallery. It is determined by the group in the process of meetings, trips, workshops, and discussions. The possibility of the penetrating influence of nature and society meets at the point of general reflection and interaction. The key idea is based on the soil, created by the influence of mutual circumstances. The material itself is gathered in a similar way. Soil, as the highest part of the Earth’s crust, is formed by the influence of external factors, and especially time. Time is the product of the transformation of its minerals and organic substances. In the third chapter of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateus, ‘The Geology of Morality (What does the Earth Think it Is?)’, the term stratification is not only a term for the formation of matter and creation, but also an effort to capture everything within reach. Strata or layers have their philosophical and geological interpretations. The surface is layered with several opposing phenomena, which can be called ‘double articulation’. The classical binding status of a sequence of structures is shaped as a form in the first phase and updated as a substance in the second. In geological terminology, this first articulation is sedimentation, and the second, folding. The forms reflect the methods of coding and decoding, and the substances relate to territorialization and deterritorialization. The first articulation is flexible and in order, the second organized. The binary relationships they form are close to the structures of creative group-thinking and the structure of the earth’s layers.

Collective microprocesses
Systems without an organization penetrate the structures of society. They appear as entities of deities, capital, or as subjects of social, linguistic, political, economic, and scientific discourses. This decentralized structure permeates the flows of energy and matter, thoughts and actions, and attempts to connect them. Analysing the composition of all the material systems of the world is a complex process. It is almost impossible to reconstruct it at all scientific, chemical and geological levels. Soil microprocesses are formed by the exchange of energies and substances in which the soil is constantly growing, disappearing, translocating and transforming; decomposing, dissolving, reducing and moving. Where does the geological and artistic come together? The text and the image try to rearrange the ideas as content with themes shaped by the past. The tool outside the hierarchy and organization of time and space is the network. It is an imperfect tool of internal and external connection and necessarily captures only fragments of all the components present. To penetrate through thought, as when a hand is digging in clay, is a return to the immediate circumstances of flow. Touching is constant destruction and renewal. The basic principles permeating the whole process comprise of layering and excavation.

The fire burns from top to bottom
Sitting at a table, drinking tea and eating biscuits. Sometimes complex and sometimes empty topics of conversation open up. Sometimes they emerge from memory as solid strongholds, like the names of people we might meet, places we can visit, books we can read regarding the soil, or objects we create. From Jerry Mander’s In the Absence of the Sacred, Marko Pogačnik’s Sacred Geography, Stephan Martin Living a Cosmic Life: Reflections on the Cosmos, Daily Life, and Personal Experience, to the environmental magazine Sedmá generace (Seventh Generation). We live procedurally, we think about plants that can be grown or those that live dependent on touch, as with algae, about yeast maps on the internet, composting not only food but also bodies, the radicality of agricultural systems, growing food, cultivating soil systems. The possibilities of construction, its composition and layering drive away fear, such as the search for safety in the sand and dust, or the existence of functional indigenous buildings, a return to the essence of safe spots for fires that are dug in the ground and flow through air and fire. We find individualized universes on the paths of destruction of the concepts themselves. Collectivity is individualized, sequential, incomplete. Moments of synthesis of collective processes are built only in the process of production of material artifacts of culture, such as ceramic vessels, clay whistles, antique mugs, and face masks. This happens at the moment of material organization. It is as if ceramic matter finds its way to return from fragments of infinite creative potentials, only if one can unambiguously determine its connection with the technologies of the body.

06 Authors

Conception, Curators: Nikola Brabcová, Karin Šrubařová
Co-curator: Mariana Serranová
Translation of the texts: Zuzana Rousová a Deana Kolenčíková
Translation of the videos: Kateřina Prokešová
Sound Design: 2046
Editor: Janek Rous
Published on Dec 4th 2020