I got to spend most of June as an artist in residence at the Folly Tree Arboretum in East Hampton, NY. This wonderful place has trees with stories which are curated, grafted, collected, and cared for by artist Tucker Marder.
During the residency I made Soil Joy (Alegría de la Tierra). The roots of exuberant plants (sometimes called weeds) reveal their past travels through soil. Roots engage the underground world of minerals, water, and air and they collaborate with the organisms that make up the life of the soil. Roots are records of the resilient, multispecies networks that plants participate in. These are brought into our human world and highlighted with color as a way to celebrate plant intelligence and the value of all plant species, even those maligned as weeds.
Soil was my focus and roots became a way to see its interaction with plants. I explored several methods for extracting roots, including digging with claw gloves. I sourced larger roots from giant piles of dead tree that were to become mulch. Pulling the stems of plants gently after a good rain was best for getting the small roots up intact. The green parts were fed to the chickens and the roots washed and dried before coating them with milk paint. Using this biodegradable paint means the artwork can be composted, and can and re-enter the cycle of becoming soil again.
The Tree Folly Arboretum was an incredibly inspirational place for me to generate work and new ideas for collaborations with humans and non-humans. On site there were several giant, outdoor worm bins and piles, black soldier flies, bee hives, chickens, ducks, turkeys, and pigs. Local waste from coffee shops and breweries were feedstock for worms and black soldier flies, which were feedstock for chickens and gardens. I was in heaven.
I dug into the soil, examined it under the microscope, listened to the worm pile with a piezo microphone, I witnessed a large tree moving, and giant piles of compost being made and turned.
I’m making plans to return in Spring to create a “Soil Arena” on site. This will be a space for celebrating soil, the living ecosystem that supports our life and so many others.
This is a model for “Soil Arena”, which we plan to build in an area where there is now a dirt road. Let’s appreciate soil with our careful observation, admiration, dances, and games so we remember to care for it – and remember to treat it like our lives depend on it.
If you are in East Hampton, New York, in the summer, you can make an appointment to schedule a tour of the fantastic Folly Tree Arboretum. The Arboretum was founded in 2013 by Tucker Marder, who currently directs Arboretum programming with co-programmer Isla Hansen.