In his 1958 painting “The Exemplary Life of the Soil (Texturology LXIII)” Jean Dubuffet invented a technique to portray soil by adapting the ‘Tyrolean’ technique, used by stone masons to texturise newly plastered walls. Consequently, and in this way, Dubuffet shook a paint brush over his painting, laid-out out on the floor, in order to scatter tiny droplets of paint across its surface. His intention was to give an ‘impression of teeming matter, alive and sparkling, which I could use to represent soil, but which could also evoke all kinds of indeterminate textures, and even galaxies and nebulae’.
As a microbiologist, I am very taken by this work and took inspiration form Dubuffet’s description of “teeming matter, alive and beautiful”, and imagined this as a description of the teeming, yet usually invisible, microbial life and activity that are vital for all of the more visible other life that soil supports The videos above and below are thus made from small soil samples taken from my own garden imaged in situ using a portable Newton NM1 microscope, and via a process, that uniquely reveals the activity of its vital cryptozoa and microbes (at 200x magnification). I’m struck by the serendipity at play here and how the videos could be interpreted as an animated interpretation of Dubuffet’s remarkable work.