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  • Writer's pictureBecky Horne

Soil

To ask how we, as humans and dancers, can meet soil. 

With Sean Murray & Théïa Maldoom (this document holds many of their words too), Sophie Holland and support from Katye Coe.



 

In March 2024, we spent a week in an orchard on Streatham Common. Trees were present – inevitably.


I was tired, so we started softly. We gave attention to arriving and departing.


Being still shifts how you experience time. It becomes easier to empathise with the trees.




 

We were testing – what does it mean to make in an outside public space, rather than the privacy and comfort of a dance studio? The weather is impossible to ignore.

And what does it mean to be working in a good space? Being in a clean space, a dirty space, one that requires cleaning? Are we wet or dry, warm or cold? Is there natural light? Privacy, isolation, company?

 

 

 

I’ve wanted to work with soil for some time.


Again, it took a while for me to articulate why.


It is alive, and maybe the most complex material I can think of. It certainly falls in-between categories.

The consistency of soil changes drastically depending on how much water is there. It can be different textures, temperatures and be composed of different materials.

We found ourselves speaking about the theory of relativity and panpsychism (does matter have consciousness?).

I discovered later that our brains perceive aliveness through detecting movement or a face.

 


For months I was preoccupied with questioning whether we should work with soil.

It is alive after all and consent feels important, especially with how extractive the relationship has been between humans and soil. But then it is vital we stop seeing ourselves as other to land.


It took a week to rinse the soil from my toe nails. Two weeks later my hands are still unusually dry. The soil left its mark on us too – it wasn’t a one-way street.




It was dirty and not always a pleasant sensation. And then sometimes considerably more engaging than I’d imagined. There is a lot to dig into about what is clean. 

Who has permission to roll around in the mud? 

To be childlike?

 

We tracked our desires:

To dig like dogs

And search for treasures like pirates

Bury body parts – you would at the seaside

‘I want to put it my mouth, but I also know that wouldn’t be nice…’

Burrow, cover myself, rub it into my skin, squeeze and mould (but is that what it wants?), make things out of it & change it, lay in it, put my face in it

To roll down a massive hill


 

We planted each other in soil

 




 

I want to borrow a term Beccy McCray uses: ‘interspecies participation’

Removing the separation.


Phrases borrowed from collaborators:


You are alive, you are complex, you are so many beings


Soil as a collective noun


Soft underfoot. Spongey, crumble, brownie, cake


Save it from the rain (what?)


It took us, moulded to us


Can soil fight back?


Does it have a motive?


This soil, that soil, which soil?


Is it human? It’s not human


Is this dangerous?


When do we say enough is a enough?

 



Yielding


One of our key explorations was around what it means to yield. The agency and the limits of that.

It has a duality. It can mean to produce and to give in to. Or simply to hand over possession of.


Yielding dancing, yielding to gravity, yielding to each other, yielding to our desires, yielding to the soil.


No, really, when do we say enough is enough?


Reliving this later, I realise how related to absorbing it is.









 

 

When my focus is on research, play & process (which it usually is), there is always a moment of doubt – what should we share from this?


Sean reminded me that other artists have sketchbooks and many pieces on a theme that fill exhibitions. This reflects a conversation I’d had with Charlotte Spencer, earlier in the project, about having multiple outcomes and the possibilities of that spanning years.


This can be the beginning of more than one thing.

 

 

 

As always when working amongst green spaces, the resilience increases. My freckles and the emotional capacity to cope, grow.


When I was a child, one of my dreams, alongside running a chocolate shop, was to have an outside dance studio. I hadn’t thought through the logistics of this, but I suppose that what I wanted, was somewhere outside that I could always dance. A place where it wasn’t weird to be dancing outside… and with a nice clean flat sprung floor.




This work was carried out as part of a DYCP grant, supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

 

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