Humus economicus: Soil Blindness and the Value of “Dirt” in Urbanized Landscapes
This art and research project inquiries into the value and future of soil in urbanized landscapes. It seeks to draw attention to radically altered human-soil relations, the invisible work of soils, and practices of soil care in a time when soils are sealed and degraded at rapid rates. Humus economicus is initiated by artist and environmental humanities researcher Janna Holmstedt at National Historical Museums, Sweden. Funded by Formas – a Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development (2021–2024),.
Through the Humus Economicus Collaboratory we will gather artists, scientists, environmental-, urban-, gender-, and heritage scholars, and connect with a growing number of soil stewards to counteract soil blindness, decolonize conceptualizations of nature, transform public knowledge and imaginaries of soils, and catalyse societal change.
Head of Research and Development
National Historical Museums, Sweden (SHM)
Artist and gardener
KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Division of Urban and regional studies
Filmmaker and director
The project explores how multiple forms of inheritance and potential futures meet in the subject of soil, and what societies that strive to be sustainable could learn from it. Soils tie together political ecologies into conflict zones where nature and culture, human and non-human cannot easily be discerned and held apart. Humus economicus intends to stay with these troubles. It also recognizes that soil is not a charismatic other, as whales for example, which manages to mobilize empathy and action. Soil is rather uncharismatic and constitutes a wider form of bio-agency. How then, to call forth embodied knowledge of, and empathy with, an environment that to a large extent is invisible, difficult to grasp, uncharismatic, and which is being altered in anthropogenic ways?
Through digging where we stand, we seek to generate textured, situated, diversified, and connected understandings of soils and human-soil relations. We will attend to living soil as a collaborator, an assemblage of multiple agents, and an urgent matter of care. This will mean curating art-and-science-informed interventions that train our minds to go visiting in ways that spatially stitch together diverse sites in relationally complex knots, through walks, exhibitions, workshops and other public events.
On this journey, we will gather soil stories, and meet with a wide variety of soil stewards to learn how we can live better on a damaged planet while caring for future generations.
Don’t hesitate to contact us if you want to know more, or have a soil story to share!