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Speaking Soil

Over three blog posts. Dan reports on his recent involvement in Grizedale Arts anniversary weekend, and a current opportunity to get involved with them. The themes of this relate to current Arts & Environment learning resources, visits and e-meets developed by Dan and Melissa for OCA. Further information on upcoming activity will be released shortly but for now you can look back at what’s happened so far by searching “Arts & Environment” on #weareoca.

We’re Talking about Soil Today: with Roving Microscope and Grizedale Arts

Recently I invited @Roving_Microscope to join me for an Open house at Low Parkamoor – a remote Lake District off-grid farmhouse, as part of Grizedale Arts anniversary weekend and The Valley project.

Low Parkamoor

I’ll say a bit about why we were there below (getting far too excited about soil) but first want to tell you about a current Grizedale volunteering opportunity. This is what Grizedale say about how art residencies have shifted to volunteering:

‘In recent years we have moved away from the traditional residency model (i.e ‘you give up everything for a while to secrete yourself away from life, with us’), for various reasons: 

Firstly, we don’t think it’s what most artists (at any stage in their careers) really need to thrive, and secondly, because we want to be able to respond to the many different ways that great projects can evolve. This can’t happen if we are locked into a rigid cycle of a certain number of applications annually. We now adopt a flexible approach that is integrated into our local, national and international curated programmes.’   

Grizedale Arts website, July 2019  

The politics and labour of socially engaged art practice is really complex and fascinating. I would really recommend this volunteering opportunity to anyone interested in, ‘experiencing an alternative to the familiar gallery / studio world’ and learning more about  the Grizedale Arts ethos of ‘making art an essential component of everyday life.’ (more on this in my next post). This is an unpaid opportunity but you get free accommodation at the amazing Lawson Park and full board. The deadline is end of July 2019 for a week’s volunteering in Nov 25-29. Apply via Grizedale Arts

Back to Low Parkamoor farmhouse

Low Parkamoor farmhouse has no road access, running water or electricity. We walked up a steep hill for about 40 minutes carrying a microscope, food, books, soil-testing kit, wooly hats and a healthy supply of ginger and carrot cake bought in Coniston Institute honest shop.

After settling in, we looked at some protozoa (single cell organisms) under a microscope. 


(videos of similar using youtube search ‘Protozoa under microscope’)

I read out some of my fiction writing — scenes of a land-use inspector in Edo period Japan.

Hari, Ellie and Melissa (Roving Microscope) shared some fascinating knowledge about microscopy and soil

We discussed histories of thinking and writing about soil. (more on this in the next post.)

We talked to passing walkers and mountain bikers, drank tea, ate cake and wrote on the windows of the building – ‘We’re talking about soil, please come in.’

Soil bacteria
Fun facts from Hari (Roving Microscope)

“less than half of one percent of 2-3 billion microbial species have ever been identified.” 

“the largest nematode worm is nine metres long and lives in sperm whales.”

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Posted by author: Dan Robinson
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