Laneway artworks form an “Empire of Dirt”

Melbourne artist James Geurts and environmental microbiologist Prof Andy Ball created a series of open-air artworks at RMIT University’s Rodda Lane in June. 

Crafted through the clashes and collaborations between art and science, Empire of Dirt alluded to the constructed landscape in future modern cities.

Piles of white soil, shaped like termite mounds and mystic underground creatures, crawled from the building, pipe and light boxes in the CBD laneway.

The light boxes featured site drawings and imagery produced from under the microscope ­­– another combination of art and science.

Creative producer Kim de Krester said the installation and creative process allowed two experts from contrasting disciplines to express their ideas on sustainability.

“The collaboration enables people to look at sustainability in an innovative way. People may be inspired to ask questions like ‘how does climate change affect future cities?’ and ‘how can we control it?’,” she said.

Ms de Krester also said the installation allowed pedestrians to stumble upon it.

“The artworks look like they are part of the building, which makes it appear as if the soil is growing out of the building. People don’t notice them immediately and that’s very interesting,” she said.

Artist James Geurts took a sample of the soil at a RMIT University construction site and travelled to the Northern Territory and took 3D prints of termite mounds as inspiration for the project.

“I was fascinated to witness the diverse and rapidly evolving microscopic life of this urban soil, entombed beneath the concrete. It got me thinking about ecological tipping points and the incredible ability of species to adapt,” Mr Geurts said.

The project also inspired Prof Ball, a distinguished researcher in microbiology, to initiate future artist-in-residence opportunities at his research centre.

“Through James’s work, and the artist’s eye, we get a clearer insight into what’s happening in response to man-made contaminants and are able to better communicate this to the public,” Prof Ball said.

Empire of Dirt was part of the Wonderment Walk’s expanding outdoor art gallery.

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