Traces from the anthropocene: Working with Soil & Insects among Us

Climate change has raised general awareness of the impact of human activity on the environment. Ecological degradation induced by anthropogenic factors such as microplastics, contamination of the soil or the successive disappearance of pollinating insects have become major sources of concern. Under the umbrella title Traces from the Anthropocene, this research cell addresses the social and ecological consequences of human footprint through art. The work proceeds within two parallel subprojects entitled Working with Soil and Insects among Us.

Working with Soil -project understands craft making as a valuable embodied practice through which to (re)consider the relationship between human and nature. In this transdisciplinary research, we aim to explore the human imprint to the geological environment with artistic methods combined with chemical analysis. The context of this study is the contaminated sediments of the Venice lagoon. The project builds on a collaboration with professional artist-researchers from Aalto University’s Department of Design and the experts of contaminated soil from the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE.

Insects among Us
targets cultural practices that emerge from meetings between humans and insects. Drawing from the scientific study of insects, an exhibition titled Entomological Encounters constitutes an insect observatory for empathic looking and listening. The fragility of our lifeworld is mediated through a series of experiential visual and audio installations that highlight sensuous aspects of the entomological research.


The project considers conditions of visibility from an ontological perspective. Flying insects are difficult to observe. The winged beings are small; they move quickly and they leave no footprints. A paper to be

be published as part of the RC-exposition of the project will elaborate on methods devised by two Nordic entomologists. The essay introduces the Finnish entomologist Olavi Sotavalta, who in a 1952 paper in Nature presented his idea of an auditory approach for identifying insect species. Along with Sotavalta’s acoustic method, the writing looks at "Malaise traps" for harvesting insects, invented by the Swedish entomologist René Malaise.


Cell initiators: Maarit Mäkelä, Aalto ARTS Helsinki and Tuula Närhinen. UNIARTS Helsinki

Hoverfly performing a breakdance in the Wing Beats karaoke booth.

The Insect-project sets out to explore the deep sense of otherness that encounters with an insect or other arthropods might trigger in human beings.

Visiting officials in Venice for locating and understanding the despairing situation of contaminated soil in Porto Marghera. Image: Maarit Mäkelä (2019).

The Working with Soil -project investigates human traces from the soil samples in Venice Lagoon and brings the contaminated material part of the art practice that is shown during the Research Pavilion #3 in Venice.