Soil Culture

Purchase the Soil Culture book

Not only are healthy soils essential for the production of food for a growing world population, but they are also a vital part of our global ecosystem, acting as a carbon sink to reduce the impact of climate change. They filter our water and protect us from flooding. They also provide fibres for our clothing, and timber for construction and fuel.

Soil Culture was a programme that used the arts to inspire a deeper public understanding of the importance of soil – a topic that has never captured the level of attention devoted to the conservation of such ‘charismatic megafauna’ as the giant panda or the humpback whale.

Soil Culture was supported by Arts Council England, the British Society of Soil Science and South West Soils, and Heritage Lottery Fund, and comprised twelve artist residencies across the South West and at Kew, eight of which were selected from an open submission (selected from 456 applications from 22 countries).

The residencies were held in a wide range of organisations, from the Eden Project in mid Cornwall and the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute in Penryn to the new Hauser & Wirth arts centre in Somerset and Daylesford Organic Farm in Gloucestershire. Each host set a different brief for the artist, but all offer dedicated time for experimentation and the development of new work, and unparalleled access to facilities and expertise.

A second exhibition of work (Deep Roots) by a number of established international artists whose work has engaged with soils, sometimes over several decades was shown at Falmouth Art Gallery and then at Plymouth University in 2016. This included work by Mel Chin, whose artwork uses special hyper-accumulator plants to extract heavy metals from contaminated land, and Paulo Barrile, herman de vries and Chicago-based artist Claire Pentecost. Claire’s work includes refashioning soil into the shapes of gold ingots, a reflection of its true worth. She says: “My soil ingots propose a new system of value based on living soil, a form of currency that anyone can create by composting.”

Read Clive Adams’ introductory article published in Resurgence and Ecologist Magazine.


Revitalising our relationship with the soil

Falmouth University, 2 – 5 July 2014

RANE (Research in Art, Nature and Environment) group in collaboration with Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World delivered the Soil Culture Forum at Falmouth University.

The Forum brought together the visual and literary arts to help raise awareness about the importance of soil, with over 80 participants. Clive Adams and Daro Montag, directors of CCANW welcomed and launched the Forum with a presentation which outlined the wider Soil Culture programme, including its residencies and touring exhibitions. Followed by Patrick Holden’s enlightening talk on his relationship to his farm, calling for a deeper cultural understand of soil, growing from the mineral, to the biological, to a holistic approach on growing healthy soils. Here are some photographs showing the variety of presentations and workshops across the four days.



Between August 2014 and June 2015 the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World (CCANW) initiated 12 Soil Culture artist residencies. In the lead up to and coinciding with the United Nations International Year of Soils 2015 the short residencies are aimed at encouraging an exploration of the importance of soil.

Taking place across the South West of the UK and beyond the residencies provided dedicated time for experimentation, research and the development of new work as well as unparalleled access to facilities, expertise and working contexts.

The resulting work will be presented in a touring exhibition that launches at the create centre in Bristol on 4 July and will tour across the South West of England.

Of the 12 residencies 9 were selected through an open call process that attracted 655 applications from 39 countries across the world. The residency artists are:

Marissa Benedict (USA) working at the Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, Karen Guthrie (UK) at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Jonny Briggs (UK) at White Moose in Barnstaple, Debra Solomon (USA/ NL) at Schumacher College, Dartington, Anton Burdakov (UK/UA/DE) at the Eden Project, Sarah Ciurysek (CA) at Daylesford Organic Farm, Something & Son (UK) at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Lisa Hirmer/ DodoLab (CA) at Peninsula Arts, Plymouth University, Karen Wydler (UK) at Hannahs at Seale-Hayne, Touchstone collaborations (UK) at Blue Finger Alliance, Bristol, Paul Chaney at Kestle Barton in Helston and Anne-Marie Culhane at the University of Exeter.

We also worked with Sophie Mason & Simon Brown (UK), in partnership with Willis Newson on a roof garden commission at Dolphin Primary School in Bristol.




An exhibition of research findings and work created during 12 residencies across the South West and at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, together with a roof garden commission for a new primary school in Bristol.


Jonny Briggs in residence at White Moose


herman de vries collecting earth, montana colorada, el hierro (canaris) 1994 © susanne de vries


This exhibition is a significant part of the UK contribution to the United Nations International Year of Soils (2015) and a final stage of the three year Soil Culture project initiated by the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World (CCANW) and launched at Falmouth University in 2013.

Healthy soils are essential for the production of food, fibres and timber, they filter our water and protect us from flooding and are a vital part of our global ecosystem. Today, however, soils are increasingly being threatened by poor management and short-termism, resulting in compaction, contamination and a loss of natural fertility. In the South West alone, 38% of its soils have already been significantly degraded.

Full information can be found in the Soil Culture Publication


Deep Roots artists

The work of Paolo Barrile (1925-2008) was rarely exhibited outside of Italy during his lifetime and this is the first time a group of his works from the ‘Message Earth’ project has been shown in the UK.

A survey of work by Mel Chin (b.1951) has recently been shown in a number of American museums. He is best known for his ‘Revival Field’ project and is lending work which has never previously been exhibited.

The work of herman de vries (b.1931) is currently on show at the Venice Biennale in the Dutch pavilion. His ‘earth rubbings’ are made from samples of coloured soils collected from around the world.

The work of Richard Long (b.1945) from Bristol is being celebrated in a major exhibition at Arnolfini/Bristol this year. He creates his art out of his walking experiences and this includes drawings using collected muds.

A major survey of work by Cuban American Ana Mendieta (1948-85) was shown in London in 2013. We will be showing videos from her ‘Silueta’ series, filmed using her own silhouette in nature.

The group of works by American artist Claire Pentecost (b.1956) were previously shown at Documenta in 2013 when she proposed a new system of value based on living soil ingots.

SoilCulture at the Create Centre Bristol

A CCANW Collaboration with Touchstones

The Centre for Contemporary Art & the Natural World (CCANW) is a charity registered in England & Wales Co. No.1167039
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