Two local artists—soil science professor Jay Noller and graduate student Elizabeth Garton—have won a $2,000 award (sponsored by the Spring Creek Project and the Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative) to create an interactive eco-art sculpture on OSU campus.

The sculpture, titled “Climate Vān,” is to be built in conjunction with the upcoming Transformation without Apocalypse symposium. It will be a free-standing sculpture six-feet high and three-feet wide, constructed of metal, cotton cloth, soil and synthetic paints. The sculpture’s mixed-media components stem in large part from Jay Noller’s “Soilscapes”: paintings made of acrylic and soil that draw attention to ancient, vulnerable landscapes, such as seacliffs and toppling riverbanks, which are “old growth ecosystems” for trillions of soil-borne organisms.

The Climate Vān sculpture will be shaped as a seed and consist of six “whorls” that will spiral about one another when the sculpture is spun on its vertical axis. Each whorl will represent a global soil type that is vulnerable and responding to change, thus calling attention to human connection to the environment. A changing climate will lead to longitudinal, latitudinal and elevational shifts in ecological communities; the Climate Vān will demonstrate these shifts by twisting and deforming this global distribution from current conditions to new, future alignments. 

The sculpture will also demonstrate how ecological communities must adapt to soils that were produced in large measure by the community they have displaced. As Noller and Garton explain, “Apocalypse arises because we ignore the inherent properties, functions and strengths of the natural soil beneath us, where the greatest majority of terrestrial life resides…Knowing what happens under our feet and why will be the secret to successful adaptability in a changing world.”

This focus on knowledge and education plays a crucial part in the construction of the sculpture. As a Masters student in Interdisciplinary Studies, Elizabeth Garton focuses on presenting scientific information in new mediums that allow viewers to experientially and visually learn. “The big picture of the impact of humans on an environment is still a driving motivation behind my work, but now the focus is on education verses strictly raising awareness of the issue,” Garton wrote.

With this focus on experiential education in mind, Garton and Noller plan on engaging over 212 undergraduate students, seven graduate students, and great number of community members in the creation of the Climate Vān sculpture. A critical phase in this student and community involvement will take place during the Radical Reimaging Fair at the Transformation without Apocalypse symposium on February 15, 2014 at LaSells Stewart Center. Symposium participants will be invited to help create “soil paints” by mixing soil pigments and paint, and then apply them to pre-cut canvas tiles. Participants will also help work wires into leaves, twigs, and branches. 

Spring Creek Project’s original call for art proposals asked for art that explores who we are in relation to the world and how we ought to live without exhausting the Earth. The Climate Vān sculpture does this by having us concentrate on the thin layer of Earth that supports all terrestrial life. This concentration is intended to evoke recognition of our role in maintaining and enhancing this fragile foundation, this teeming soil beneath our feet.