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Earth Craft Zine 4 - The word for world is soil

Earth Craft Zine 4 - The word for world is soil

Dayna Casey & Erika Sprey (Eds.)

Royal Academy of Art The Hague


21 x 14.8 x


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"Soil is a testimony that everything on earth is matter made of matter, that has been matter of something else. As we die, we return to the soil. We are matter passing, shapeshifting forms through a finite Earth." Maria Puig de la Bellacasa "Terrapolis is an equation for guman, for humus, for soil, for ongoing risky infection, for epidemics of promising trouble, for permaculture." Donna Haraway

Beneath our feet, in what would be a mirror image of our late-capitalist, unraveling un-civilization, lies a terrapolis, a more vast and complex ecosystem than any of our human-made megapolises. The invisible cities of soil are permeated with unexpected critter companions. Famously, one square meter of undisturbed ground in the Earth’s mid-latitudes might harbor several hundred thousand species, of which most still go unnamed. It contains what we humans, with our limited perception, could recognize as boroughs, labyrinthine infrastructures, skyscrapers, intricate passages, opulent vaults, aqueducts and even ventilation systems.

And yet, what most of us will see is ‘dirt’, the substrate on which we usually mindlessly build and live our lives. As mysterious as the deep sea and as crucial for all life on earth, it leaves one to wonder why soil remains one of the darkest and most undervalued ecosystems of all - especially in view of its astonishing regenerative, biological carbon sequestration capacities that seem to hold an important lesson and promise for the future. A good understanding of it, and above all, a transformed relation to it, may prove to be crucial for our earthly survival in this time of accelerated collision of systemic crisis. With soil degrading and eroding on an unprecedented scale urgent and confronting questions start to emerge for all us, terrans, to reckon with: How can rethinking human-soil relations help to disrupt and transform exploitative inheritances of earth belonging? What new, life-affirming soil stories need to be told as hot compost for systemic change?

As below, so above.

On top of this vibrant life, human critters are prone to project all their kinds of earthly longings and belongings, for the good as well as the bad. Maps and territories - and any man-made, abstract and often arbitrary constructs for that matter - have often told much less life-affirming stories. Usually, whenever sight comes to dominate all senses, as is the case with most western knowledge systems, we literally lose touch with our foundations and a more harmful storytelling can start to proliferate.
  • Stories that conceive soil as passive, lifeless matter, chemically fertilized, optimized and eventually exhausted to wield every time more and bigger harvests - the addictive death trap of modern industrial farming.
  • Stories that present a picture-perfect, pastoral idyll, not seldom obscuring the actual pollution and power dynamics taking place, dictated by the implacable market logic of the world food system. Toxic nationalisms build their notions of identity (c.q. Blut und Boden) on idealized representations of the ‘motherland’ that can only sustain its false identity by keeping ‘impure’ and ‘polluting’ elements out.
  • Stories told from the point of view of a distant planetary gaze, beholding the world as a neat, blue ball, to be contained, controlled and pocketed. This same eye scans its crust for resources to be extracted, exploited and traded, while ruthlessly cutting off lifelines for indigenous, ancestral ways of intimately knowing and living the land.

It’s for this reason that this Fall cycle is set up as a homage to the classic science fiction work of Ursula le Guin, The Word for World is Forest, the story of the suffering, struggle and resistance of the peoples indigenous to the planet Atshe, vis-a-vis an abusive colonizer (the terrans) who log the trees on which their life depends.

So earth, terra, tallus mean both the soil and the planet, two meanings and one. But to the Athsheans soil, ground, earth was not that to which the dead return and by which the living live: the substance of their world was not earth, but forest. Terran man was clay, red dust.
Ursula le Guin

In this cautionary tale Ursula brings diametrically opposed onto-epistemologies and cosmovisions into collision. Also this Fall cycle of the Studium Generale contrasts the exploitative, market-driven logics to industrial farming to the more regenerative farming practices and ways tending to land that are mindful of context, histories and ancestral ties. We do so treading carefully, trying to avoid the trap of exclusionary nationalisms and honoring the moving nature of soil that is transported and deposited, slumping and dispersing, breathing and teeming.

And there is more: Athsheans are gifted with a collective dreaming practice that helps them digest the past, metabolize societal change and project themselves into a collective future. As terrans, we are called to relate to our soil as the Athsheans relate to Forest. We are called to start skilling ourselves into the art of collective dreaming. Dreams of, for instance, a healthy, culturally appropriate food grown in ways that are ecologically sound and the ability of local people to control their own food and agricultural systems. Dreams of breaking the corporate grip on the food chain, uphold the rights of women in the food production, improve the distribution of land and the condition of rural workers, guarantee fair incomes, stop coercive trade agreements and the privatization of nature and recuperate ancient modes of commoning. Soil health, which is at the basis of many land struggles, the food sovereignty movement and permaculture, matters because without it, there can be no human, social and even ancestral health.

Kindred soils

These last two pandemic years the Studium Generale of the Royal Academy of Art has grown a food forest that we named Wxtch Craft. In twenty-nine conversations and the three zines we explored witchcraft as a queer feminist liberatory practice that is inextricably intertwined with earthcraft: the intimate knowledge of and entanglement with a kindred, more-than-human world. Making good use of sensuous, embodied tools for knowing, earthcraft is fully aware that there can be no ecological justice without social justice, and therefore commits to become every time more knowledgeable and skilled in regenerative practices that contribute to both. That’s why for this year, Earth Craft continues to work on these kindred soils that we cultivate in the spirit of reclaiming, the literal and metaphorical healing and rematriation of stolen and damaged land.

Certainly to reclaim often means to re-appropriate a toxic terrain, a field of domination, making it again capable of nurturing; the transformative seeds we wish to sow. It also evokes the work of recuperation previously neglected grounds. But most important for the approach to care in this book [Matters of Care - ed.], reclaiming requires acknowledging poisons in the grounds that we inhabit rather than expecting to find an outside alternative, untouched by trouble, a final balance - or a definitive critique. Reclaiming is here all but about purging and “cleaning” a notion; rather, it involves considering purist ambitions - whether these are moral, political, or affective - as the most poisonous.
Maria Puig de la Bellacasa
For this cycle we have left many sources and practices to compost so as to inoculate the neglected grounds of Soil, encouraging new cultures to grow so they may also nourish the microbiomes of our practice. Also, in line with the always partial view of the ground on which we stand, and given the limited capacity of our program, we do not pretend to offer an exhaustive, complete overview of the poisons and the remedies. Rather, we invite you to this program as an underground labyrinth, to walk like soil critters companions, sensing and grounding our way.
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