[ISEA2020] Paper: Sandra Volny & Ruth Schmidt — Aural Soilscapes: Sensory Challenges in a Subterranean World

Abstract (short paper)

Keywords: Sense-based research method, aural spaces, soil, microbes, plants, ecological consciousness

Sound is an omnipresent feature of all ecosystems, including the ecosystem soil. Since Rachel Carson’s influential work Silent Spring in 1962, sounds have been inextricably linked to the health of ecosystems. The living inhabitants of soil, including plants and their associated microorganisms are capable of producing and perceiving sounds at low frequencies to interact with each other. However, climate changes, such as temperature increase and reduced soil moisture can impact interactions among soil inhabitants, which will likely hamper interactions through sounds. Sounds could thus be seen as an indicator of ecosystem health, which in turn is impacted by climate change. As an artist-researcher working with sound, space and technology and as a microbiologist working with the effects of climatic changes on soil microorganisms associated with plants, they aim to combine their expertise to approach this yet unexplored topic by giving a voice to the inaudible and invisible living in soil and to expand their ecological consciousness to climate change. Their ongoing experiments are leading them to renew their consciousness of this subterranean world, thus enabling them to interact with its subtle presence. [Presentation video removed on request of one of the presenters]

  • Sandra Volny is an artist and researcher, founder of the art research platform Sound and Space Research (www.soundandspaceresearch.com). She holds a Ph.D. in Arts et sciences de l’art from Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (FR) and an MFA in Open Media from Concordia University (CA). Situated at the intersection between the acoustic and the visual, the art practice of Sandra Volny explores the perception of sonic space. Through walks, recordings, meditations, narratives, personal accounts, as well as scientific research and fieldwork, Volny strives to capture the sonic residue of our everyday spaces, surviving resonances attesting to our passing and triggering the collective or individual imagination. Her work in installation, sound, video, and performance have been presented, among others, at the Centre d’exposition de l’Université de Montréal (2019), Galerie Michel Journiac (France, 2017), Ionion Center for the Arts and Culture (Greece, 2017), FOFA Gallery (2017), Dazibao (2016), Centre CLARK (2016) and Raumlabor-267 Quartiere für zeitgenössische Kunst und Fotografie (Germany, 2013). The current research-creation project, Aural Soilscapes, takes a non-anthropocentric perspective to explore aural soils as witnesses of climate change, in collaboration with biologists and environmental scientists. Volny is also part of the interdisciplinary research-creation project AISHIP: Les nouveaux états d’être, for which she is working with Dr. Robert Truog (Harvard Medical School) to examine the ethical and emotional issues associated with the growing use of artificial intelligence in healthcare. She is currently in residency at the Darling Foundry until 2022. sandravolny.com
  • Ruth Schmidt, Postdoctoral Researcher INRS (Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, Canada) – Armand-Frappier Santé Biotechnologie, is a microbial ecologist who is working on finding microbial solutions to combat climate change. The basis of her research lies in studying how microbes in the soil interact and communicate with each other and their plant host via volatiles or smells. Her research aims to find solutions for anthropogenic issues, such as climate change-induced drought in agriculture. Apart from doing research, Ruth is passionate about bringing arts and science together and about building a more inclusive scientific community.