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Just a spoonful...

Lamenting soil degradation, Just a spoonful aims to celebrate the value of soil and question the sustainability of sugar beet farming in the UK. Soil accumulates slowly like the line drawings in the installation below, but it's being lost at an alarming rate. The ceramics, moulded by being draped over sugar beets, represent the ghostly but enduring impact of industrial agriculture. Sound is also an indicator of this impact; healthy soil is noisy - just a spoonful contains more organisms than there are people on the planet - but intensively managed soil is relatively quiet. The approximately three-metre square floor-based installation acknowledges our connection with soil - without it we won't have food to eat or freshwater to drink - and the complexities of the soil ecosystem and our interaction with it.

Sarah Strachan (2021), Just a spoonful, installed in the Ruskin Gallery, Sustainability Art Prize 2021. Gilded ceramics, india ink on canford card, sounds of soil, bucket of compost. Approx 150 x 300 x 300 cm

This installation is the result of ongoing conversations with a wide range of stakeholders to better understand our complex relationship with soil. In particular ongoing conversations with a field in Cambridgeshire, damaged by sugar beet harvesting, and Dr Bob Evans, a research fellow at the Global Sustainability Institute in Cambridge, who has kept my research on the straight a narrow. Unfortunately, soil erosion it is not a new issue and much of the work in the UK was initiated by a short paper published by Bob back in 1971. The project is ongoing and I am currently working with Dr Jack Hannam and the team at the World Soil Survey Archive and Catalogue at Cranfield University, as part of my studies for an MA in Fine Art at Cambridge School of Art.

I’m interested in how our perception of being in, knowing and belonging to the world affects our ecological awareness and thinking. In my transdisciplinary practice I sense environmental changes through deep conversations with people, place, the land and the materials and objects associated with these.

Working with ceramics allows me to explore issues of sustainability through my choice of materials

and process – working with manufactured, recycled and wild clay. In my work I seek to question or disrupt habitual perspectives through the liminality of objects, materials and spaces I create. For me it’s all about conversations, and I hope that those who connect with Just a spoonful continue the drift in conversation about soil.

How do you refer to it? Mud, dirt, or black gold? Our language betrays us and alludes to our perception of the environment

We can't all tackle the issues of industrial agriculture. but we can compost our organic waste.


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