A Piece of Turf: visualizing the soil superorganism.

The Turf in Daylight.

The Turf in Daylight.

The turf exposed to UV light and the sublime soil microflora revealed.

The turf exposed to UV light and the sublime soil microflora revealed.

The turf exposed to UV light and the sublime soil microflora revealed.

The turf exposed to UV light and the sublime soil microflora revealed.

The turf exposed to UV light and the sublime soil microflora revealed.

The turf exposed to UV light and the sublime soil microflora revealed.

Albrecht Dürer’s painting “The Great Piece of Turf”, in which prosaic subjects, such as weeds, roots and leaves are rendered in detail, is often regarded as painting’s discovery of ecology.  Taking inspiration for this painting,  my desire was to highlight the invisible and often neglected but sublime bacterial community which resides within the earth and which supports the roots of the more visible turf. Soil is the matrix upon which all terrestrial life depends and one of its most vital components are the many billions of bacteria that live within it. For this work, I developed a novel process which allowed this normally invisible bacterial community that not only underpins the piece of turf, but in fact all life, to become visible. Here this massively complex community emerges from the soil present on the roots of a piece of turf (or droplets of soil) and becomes visible through its own activity (the complex community is revealed through the novel use of specially selected chromogen which is colourless until the soil bacteria interact with it to produce a fluorescent compound which glows upon exposure to ultraviolet light.

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