Soil is a catalyst for riveting conversations at the DePaul Art Museum’s current exhibition “Rooted in Soil.” Environmental awareness, life cycles and science are a few of the ideas explored in this captivating exhibition co-curated by a mother-daughter team, Laura and Farrah Fatemi. This multi-sensorial and interactive show consists of thirty-seven artworks by fifteen artists, and emphasizes an often overlooked—but essential—part of life: soil.
“Soil is undervalued,” Laura Fatemi explained in an interview. “People recognize you need clean air and water. But do they recognize that soil needs to be free of pollutants to be healthy?” The show’s interactive component tactfully answers this question.
The first-floor galleries have the greatest impact, due to intellectual and sensorial engagements generated between visitor and artwork, and demonstrate the importance of soil to life. Vaughn Bell’s “Metropolis” is one example. This hanging terrarium allows visitors to enter a small ecosystem at eye level—inhaling scents of fresh soil. Claire Pentecost’s installation, “Our Bodies, Our Soils,” encourages visitors to lift jars to examine soil types collected around Chicago through sight and smell.
The exhibition continues on the second floor, focusing on decomposition and death. The juxtaposition of Adriaen van Utrecht’s “Vanitas, Still Life with Bouquet and Skull,” a seventeenth-century oil painting alluding to the transience of life, and Sam Taylor-Johnson’s “Still Life,” a contemporary film of a similar theme, is a highlight of the show. It suggests how a subject from centuries ago is still grappled with today. Van Utrecht’s inclusion of a timepiece and skull reflect the brevity of life; Taylor-Johnson uses fruit to depict the decomposition process over time. Furthermore, Jae Rhim Lee offers an environmental solution for the inevitability of our mortality in “Mushroom Suit #1.” Instead of a coffin, this suit is filled with fungi spores and nutrients, helping break down unnatural bodily materials.
The diverse artists and media brought together in an interactive framework make “Rooted in Soil” successful and comprehensive for the themes it elicits. Given the urbanity of Chicago, the show is an apt reminder of the role of soil in life. (Amy Haddad)
Through April 26 at the DePaul Art Museum, 935 West Fullerton