Recently I chatted to Dr. Pavlos Georgiadis, one of the founding members of the GROW Observatory, who, farmer himself, cares for the olives trees, and whose father - just like my dad - was a sailor. Our conversation turned into discussing similarities between these two “trades” - the hardship, commitment, mercy of the elements, and - something not talked about very often - loneliness.
It has been discovered that there are certain changes in sailors’ brains, when they are offshore for a prolonged period of time. I cannot say whether that is because of the prevailing sense of loneliness and being far away from loved ones, but I can only guess that loneliness is one of the factors contributing to the change. My father sailed for over 40 years, sometimes being away for almost a year - with months spent on the open sea.
Soil Moisture / Soil Connectivity - from the sketchbook, work in progress
When he retired, and was stuck on the shore - there was always a sadness in his eyes. He was an outsider, looking for the solitude of the ocean, but trying to “fit in” to ways of socialising with people - and his family - living in the city.
Similarly, but not in the exact same way, loneliness seems to exist in the countryside - so I have been told. Many of those who were born to the farmlands, leave their ancestors’ heritage, seduced by - as Pavlos has put it - empty promises of the fossil fuel industry of “easy and sustainable life”. The land is left with parents and grandparents, carefully tending to soil and crops, so that it can bear fruits, from which families - those left behind and those who left for the cities - can benefit.
The farmer / grower and their land - never-ending, demanding, but grateful for the attention - is a romantic picture of what work in the fields can be like. I can imagine the old farmer - looking a bit like my Dad - with pale eyes which can see beyond the borders of the farm, with dark skin and the very specific type of wrinkles which one develops when spending a lot of time outside. Farmers and sailors are deeply in touch with material tissue which holds all of us together - oceans and the land - sea and the soil. Farmers and sailors must be protected and celebrated, caring for the most precious resources without which you and I cannot be. “Great Pirates” as Buckminster-Fuller called sailors, and “Soil Superheroes” - as I call farmers and growers.
While we might be convinced that it is us - people - ruling and managing the land and the soil, we should not forget how much power it has over us. Most wars on this planet have happened because of the land. The land can divide us because, according to the Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth “All of the ideologies […] assume that there is not enough to go around.” But at the same time “science now finds there can be ample for all, but only if the sovereign fences are completely removed.” Soil doesn’t know political or national borders - and perhaps in that respect it can unite us. When typing “soil” into an internet search, the first result under the advertisement of bags with best soil for sale, is from Wikipedia: “Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life.” Scientists in the GROW Observatory consortium describe soil as a friend, as a living being, as a world on its own, as a vital element interconnected with other entities. It is, in my opinion, one of Timothy Morton’s “hyperobjects” - object of such a massive scale and temporality that they exceed the perceptive capacities of humans. Loaded with so many layers of meanings and ideas, it is too often interpreted in a quite reductionist way as the land which serves for our food supplies.
Loneliness can be a terrible, demotivating burden and it should not be dismissed too lightly, if ever. It also should not be considered as separate or personal issue, but very much connected to the current, global state of the environment. “It is quite wrong to make a distinction between action on the psyche, the socius and the environment. Refusal to face up to the erosion of these three areas, as the media would have us do verges on a strategic infantilization of opinion and a destructive neutralization of democracy.” argued Felix Guattari. The opposite of loneliness is being together, being connected. Connectivity. Soil connectivity must be then brought to public attention. While working with cold, impersonal subjects such as moisture data, I try to pick in between the values and parameters and dig for connections. I want to find one nerve, which when touched can resonate with those who look after the land, those who merely benefit from it and with the land itself. Not having any specific conclusions to this post, I’d like however to finish with the poem sent to me by a friend of mine and fellow artist - Julie Freeman - who knew about my work for GROW. This poem is an essence of how we should start looking at what is underneath our feet, and how it all link us together.
Soil by Irène Mathieu
the way you say soil sounds
like soul, as in
after we walked through the woods
my feet were covered in soul
when it rains
the soul turns to mud
the soul is made of decomposed
plant and animal matter;
edaphology is a study of the soul’s
influence on living things
while pedology is the study of how
soul is formed, its particular granularity.
you are rooted in a certain red patch
of soul that bled you and your
hundred cousins to life,
a slow warm river you call home.