A vision of the Suelo Methodology (August, 2021)

Before you read this text, I invite you to put your bare feet on the ground. If you can’t go outside, imagine the connection of the floor with the soil beneath. Take a moment to realize that you are standing on the skin of the Earth; the medium that connects the organisms and air above, and the organisms, rocks and water below. This ground not only sustains and holds our weight, it is home and support to billions of beings and systems that enable trees and plants to grow; it is the base and sometimes material of the buildings we live in. It holds the history of our ancestors: human, animal, plant, fungal and bacterial. In its depths and in its rocks, are stories of millions of years ago of how and where land was formed to become the landscape we see today. It can affect the quality of the air and amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and its health influences that of the food we grow and eat, and therefore our own. So this skin–the ground, earth, soil–is a critical and literal sustainer of life on our planet. It holds the key of where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going. What is most remarkable still are its unique characteristics in different corners of the world in quality, taste, color, texture, usage, fertility, history, culture and potential. What is the soil like where you are?

The times we are living feel like the future is here: climate change, rampant fires and floods across the globe, loss of biodiversity, and a pandemic that is lasting longer than any of us would like. The domination and destruction of what some call natural resources for the sake of profit, rendering entire communities of life invisible, is an ongoing trend that surpasses reason or science fiction. The amount of noise, pain, and fear that these realities create in our minds and bodies, often leave many people feeling hopeless. Simultaneously, these times call for our presence and attention to the living world for ecosystem restoration, for more regenerative livelihoods, and reciprocity with our fellow biota. In other words, it’s time to rethink our relationship with our natural and cultural heritage, not as a static set of valuables to inherit and conserve, but as a world of wonder that we belong to, depend on, and co-create. A world that we can only truly understand (and therefore love) by relating with it here and now.

In response to this call, I have been developing a Suelo Methodology based on a multidisciplinary residency I facilitated in Panama with Estudio Nuboso–a nomadic platform for art and ecology dedicated to facilitating space and time for encounters between people, nature, science, culture and diverse communities–seven years ago. It is a toolkit or roadmap for individuals, organizations and communities to (re)connect with the places they inhabit. Suelo uses the concept, metaphor and materiality of soil to articulate the natural and cultural value of a selected location, leading into practices of collective positive action. By engaging with its various aspects and uses, soil becomes the interlocutor between people and their surroundings, stories and visions. Its versatility addresses different interests and ways of learning while showing how important this essential element of nature is for our lives.

Similar to analyzing a soil profile, the methodology can reveal the multiple layers or horizons of deep time, history, present, and potential futures of a place through open exchanges with its knowledge holders (a term I use to replace stakeholders). These persons can be community members and researchers from different fields of study and walks of life, or elements of the ecosystem (the soil itself, rocks, plants, structures, the landscape). Local and guest creatives (artists, writers, makers, crafters, designers) are given an additional invitation to reflect, document, and support the overall process. The exchanges are encouraged to be in the form of storytelling, embodied/hands-on experiences, soil kinship practices (art, craft, composting, food growing/harvesting/cooking, construction, biodiversity observation, reforestation, deep listening to local music, language, and the environment, walks through the landscape). They should also be horizontal, based on the premise that every single person is an expert in their own life. Allowing participants to encounter each other as equals and enter a dialogue comfortably, will more easily lead to empathy between people or groups who don’t know each other, have different approaches to the place, or who may have had tensions before. Facilitated social gatherings, with conversations that reference the shared experiences, support horizontality and are helpful for integration and feedback loops to emerge organically.

This period of collective research and practice brings to light the underlying connections and hidden potential in the relationships and timelines that make up a place. From here, existing or new projects can bloom based on the newfound knowledge, alliances and revelations. The results of the methodology can be as varied as the places that implement it, and some sort of profound portrait to share with others is desirable, in the form of images, sounds, artworks, collective maps, etc. To weave a web of support and collaboration towards a regenerative future, based on profound understanding and love for a place, is the ideal objective of the Suelo Methodology.

What I have described is how I imagine this working in a community setting. But this can also be adapted to an individual wanting to connect with the place they live in, a group in an educational context, or to support existing initiatives who seek more interconnection. Ultimately, this methodology is for anyone whose efforts are aligned with keeping the beautiful complexity of life on Earth alive. While it may be daunting to attempt to save the whole world, we can certainly keep feeling hope beneath our feet, and create what Margaret Wheatley calls “islands of sanity”. Suelo aspires to be one way to do this.

This text was commissioned by the Fundación Mar Adentro for their exhibition Expanded Nature. To read the publication of the visit this link.