Below the Surface –Art about Soil Ecology

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Below the Surface is a solo show by New Mexico artist Kelly Eckel based on soil ecology. See it at Exhibit/208 in Albuquerque from October 8th – November 6th, 2021.

Kelly Eckel, Lichen, Photopolymer etching, 15 x 22.5 in.

Pill bugs, a crustacean in the desert,
segmented bodies and antennae with fine hairs,
details of reflective wings,
dewy fruiting bodies connected to miles of mycelial threads,
layers of leaves in the process of decay being devoured by mites and springtails,
diggers and burrowers aerating soil,
flowers that smell of fruit or rotting flesh attracting those to which they have adapted.

Kelly Eckel, Gills, Photopolymer etching, 22 x 30 in.

My artwork and my engagement with the world are intimately linked. I find connections between topics that make me look at the world with a deeper appreciation. My previous focus in my work was on the needs of pollinators. When creating habitat for pollinators we need to have healthy soil for plants to grow in as well as for native bees to nest in. This transitioned into a focus on the dynamic interactions of life that create healthy soil. I grew fungi, I raised worms, I looked under logs, and searched out animals in collections. I used the book Life in the Soil by James B. Nardi as a reference guide to search for creatures to photograph. Of which many –for example Pangolins and Caecilians– were in the collection at the Museum of Southwestern Biology at UNM.

The images in this exhibit are photopolymer etchings that originate from photographs that I have captured under the microscope, in my studio, on hikes, and at Natural History collections that are collaged into various shapes. I transform the images using an intaglio method, a labor- intensive and materially beautiful process, using light-sensitive etching plates that are inked and printed.

Symbiotic, Photopolymer etching, 22 x 30 in.
Wood Wide Web, Photopolymer etching, 22 x 30 in.

Soil is an under-appreciated ecosystem. The soil is the skin of our planet which most people take for granted. Yet soil degradation has contributed to the end of many civilizations. We poison it, put concrete over it, compact it, deplete it, and cut down plants holding it in place. The past few years, I have read a great deal about intricate webs of life and death within the soil. I look at the fleeting mushroom and know it is connected to miles of mycelial threads that connect with trees roots. I know that each creature moving through the soil creates spaces that allows water and nutrients to pass though it freely. When looking at moss, I know that it is likely that tardigrades are using water like bridges between mosses. I can look at the intricate lace work left behind on a leaf and know a springtail or mite has eaten it.

Each kingdom of life has its place and benefits the whole. It is vital to understand the systems in our environment so that we don’t degrade them. My work is an extension of the joy I have in learning about the dynamics of working ecosystems that engages me to move through the world in a respectful manner.

Find Kelly on Instagram @kelly_eckel or visit her website www.kellyeckel.com
Zones, Photopolymer etching, 22 x 30 in.
Decomposition, Photopolymer etching, 22 x 30 in.

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