Thursday April 21st // Reflections by John Hutchinson // Photos by Clem Sandison
The weather gods were certainly smiling on us as Glasgow basked in glorious sunshine, and what better way to spend a day in the sun than rooting around in the soil and worm hunting? First port of call for the Soil City roving research team was the Gorbals Rose Garden, a former burial ground established in 1715, which now provides a quiet greenspace for the local community. During redevelopment in 2005, some of the original headstones from its former days as a cemetery were installed into the park walls. This provided us with an interesting nod to its past usage and also spurred some thinking on what lay in the soil beneath our feet. Aside from some local workers sunning themselves in the park at lunchtime, there weren’t a whole lot of people around. Help was on hand however, as two kids in the park with their parents got involved with testing the ph of the soil and worm hunting. Spraying the worms with water to stop them from drying out seemed to be the favourite task!
After finishing up in the Gorbals it was onwards to Govanhill Baths, where a small but pleasant garden sits serenely next to the hustle and bustle of Calder Street. Here we were met with a enthusiastic group who were only too happy to sit in the sun and get their hands dirty. It was a nice ambience sitting in the calm of the park, directly adjacent to the busy street and the curious looks of passers-by. It seems that communal handling of soil is a great way to generate conversation – perhaps there is something in its tactile nature and shared childhood experiences of playing and rooting around in it that facilitate this? When discussing what the soil smelt like, one response was “like freshly cut grass when I was a kid”. After wetting the soil to test its consistency and texture (which turned out to be indicative of a sandy clay loam soil type) more fun was had by making some ‘seedbombs’ – sort of like a bath bomb but made of soil and packed with wild flower seeds! This resulted in some impressively spherical balls of Govanhill soil loaded with wild flower seeds to be dropped elsewhere. On my walk home back to the city centre I duly lobbed mine into the large Brownfield site next to the M74. Perhaps there will be a small patch of wildflowers growing there the next time I walk past…
Reflections on North Kelvin Meadow, Tuesday 12th April by Kate Foster
It was raining heavily and chilly too, but Soil City’s research trip to North Kelvin Meadow left me smiling warmly. It was magic! Conversations went backwards to memories people (like me) had about how this was once a football pitch, and forward to the plans for more gardens and activities.
Meanwhile three grey worms took centre stage to be identified, in turn. Digging up a patch of ground for the worm count showed how much soil has formed over the old pitch surface. However enthusiastically kids poured mustard into the lower layers, deep-digging worms refused to be flushed out. Perhaps they weren’t there? As we exchanged experiences, we were also confronted by how much we did not know. What were those birds nesting? Crows? surely not ravens? Had anyone seen a wren? Are those ash or birch seedlings? Is there any known way of distracting kids from screens? Actually several kids were there, up for worm catching and earth-smelling. We all enjoyed watching Alex make a giant worm – to test the soil texture she said.
The next day, I landed the job of testing North Kelvin Meadow soil samples for ‘basic’ information – acidity, Potassium, Nitrogen, Phosphorus. A wee kit with different potions, measures, and pipettes.
After reading the instructions twice, and setting aside questions of why I was doing this, I filled the test tubes (1:4 volume of soil and water) and used yellow labels to make it feel more official. After a little while, you get to add liquid and powders. Then comes the best bit – comparing the mix in the test-tube with the colour chart. Greens, purples and reds mysteriously appeared. Suspiciously, all my readings were the same: alkaline, with moderate levels of nutrients. This will probably be the only day I get to be a lab chemist.
So what do I like so very much about Soil City? I think the bikes push art, and artists, into places where ideas about culture are tested. This isn’t a journey that should end when GI wraps up, and it can’t be understood simply within an individual’s autobiography or fine art practice. Different critical registers are needed to think about what the Soil City mobile unit is doing. The project’s success won’t be told simply by how many people visited the Lab. For a start, we need to count the earthworms too.
Thursday 14th April – Reflections on Garnethilll Park site visit by John Hutchinson
Despite having lived in Glasgow for over 10 years and attended many an event at the Art School, this was the first time I’d actually set foot in Garnethill Park. Although very much in the city, enclosed as it is by buildings, streets and cars, I was impressed by the sense of contemplative space that Garnethill Park offered – almost as if time was moving a little slower while the city trundled on around it. A great spot to just sit and watch people drift through and the local posse of pigeons mill around. The arrival of a local with a bag full of breadcrumbs signaled feeding time – a mad flurry of grey feathers with some opportunistic seagulls bullying their way to the front of the scrum. The birds had obviously been waiting for this regular feed – an example of how small green spaces like this can offer opportunities for people to forge connections with the more-than human.
Delving into the soil, we found a plentiful array of worms. A couple were tentatively identified with the help of a flow chart – who knew there were so many different types!? Funny to think of that hidden world under our feet – a hidden meshwork of worm-ways bisecting and intersecting like an inversion of aviation vapour trails.
Due to the park’s close proximity to the Art School, it seemed only right to try a bit of soil painting. Mixing soil from two different parts of the park with water provided two slightly differing hues of soil paint. Although I’m no artist by any means, I enjoyed painting the shapes which popped into my head without much thought. The end result was a mixture of triangles and swirling lines – a subconscious result I think of having been looking at triangular soil ID charts and wriggling worms! Garnethill Park is a great example of how a small urban green space can provide a welcome breathing space to just be – a welcome island of soil in a sea of asphalt. I’m glad it’s now on my mental map of the green spaces of Glasgow.
A short film clip by Johnny Barrington of our visit to the North Kelvin Meadow.