Belowground visions of life: Soil makes Art

Art communicates the importance of soil life
Original artwork by Ed Reynolds

Dr Tancredi Caruso, School of Biological Sciences and Institute for Global Food Security, Queen’s University of Belfast


The relationship between soil and humans is deteriorating: soil biodiversity is threatened by global change dynamics, pollution and intense agriculture while fewer and fewer people appreciate that we need to save soil biodiversity to grow food, have clean water and sustainably recycle waste. A big challenge soil biologists face in their battle to save soil is that the public is often just unaware of the critical role soil plays in our society. How can soil biodiversity scientists share their knowledge with the public? Art is the answer given by “Belowground visions of life: Soil makes Art”, a project funded by the Leverhulme Trust in the UK. This project supports an artist in residence, Ed Reynolds, working with Dr Tancredi Caruso, soil ecologist at the School of Biological Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast.

The idea was born after the 1st Global Soil Biodiversity Conference held in Dijon (France) in 2014. A key, recurrent theme of that conference revolved around the question of how scientists can make the public aware of the crucial role of soil biodiversity in our life.  We were particularly inspired by the observation that worldwide and across cultures, people from rural environments often show an almost religious appreciation of the key role soil plays in supporting our life cycle while in modern, urban environments many think that soil is populated by “awful germs” thriving in dirt. In our project, we want to overturn that view and show the beauty and importance of the kaleidoscopic biological universe that soil is. The arts can make people aware of the beauty and importance of soil biodiversity in our life, and help us rebuild the deteriorating relationship between humans and soil.


Artist Ed Reynolds at work
Photo credit: T. Caruso

Soil organisms are important.
Original artwork by Ed Reynolds

Predatory mites are a critical part
of the soil food web.
Original artwork by Ed Reynolds

Protozoa play important roles transferring
energy and nutrients in soil.
Original artwork by Ed Reynolds

The project will deliver a critical mass of graphical and pictorial pieces of art in the form of sketches, paintings and digital images. These artworks will be displayed in an exhibition and serve as the basis for a children’s book. Finally, Ed will deliver a mural in Belfast with soil biodiversity as the main theme. Soil life will for the first time be back to our urban lives to tell us its astonishing and forgotten story.

Read more about the project at Ed Reynolds' blog: