Humus:Human at Lyttleton Stores


By Jono Bolitho

So the Lyttleton stores exhibition was a lot of fun. For the Humus:Human project, Laura and I decided to create three geometric light boxes. We had a whole bunch of materials ready to play with from past experiments, so really it was a matter of getting into the studio with a lamp and just seeing what was going to best illustrate the incredible microscopic properties of humus. Our materials included:

Copper sheet, loofah, cardboard packing material, clear resin, charred timber, lampshade material with woven fabric.

But why light? What does light have to do with soil or humus anyway? The reason we started playing with light in the first place is because we found that the different materials we were using began to take on entirely new and exciting forms. A piece of packing material can become a complex cellular structure. A backlit bundle of loofah strands looks like filamentous, hyphae-like structure. Copper exudes a warm, shimmering glow when light hits it.


It became clear that light in different forms and colours could enable us to create metaphors of the different structures occurring in humus in quite an evocative way.


Since the conception of the project we’ve often reflected on the aim of ‘demystifying’ the science of humus, by creating models that impart some kind of knowledge or awareness of what’s actually going on in the soil. But humus with its vast infrastructure that supports a multiverse of organisms, cannot simply be ‘demystified’. It is inherently enigmatic and elusive. Glenn Morris’ holistic knowledge of humus serves as a constant guiding ‘light’, however the challenge remains: how best to creatively translate and construct metaphors that are not only scientifically plausible, but enable us to imagine and perceive what is happening at this tiny, microscopic level? After all if we can’t imagine it, how can we care for it?

Anyway, the light boxes triggered all kinds of new thoughts and directions for the Cementa exhibition later in the year. Laura and I are super excited about creating a Humus House, that will scale up all of our prototypical experiments so far to human size. A kind of pavilion structure, comprised of various textures and luminous forms will enable people to physically enter the world of humus. If we can’t shrink people down, why not just scale everything up? Think fine water misters, charcoal and copper wall panels with a shimmering glow, diagonal streams of sunlight pouring through resin sculptures, mycorrhizal root structures hanging overhead…

A house fit for a microbe.