Traces from the Anthropocene

Traces from the Anthropocene: Working with Soil at the Research Pavilion #3, Venice

In this sub-project the anthropogenic contamination of the Venice Lagoon area was studied using artistic and soil contamination research methods. The ongoing research was presented at the Research Pavilion #3, organised by the University of Arts, Helsinki in 2019. The working group included artists, researchers and students and local and international collaborators. The research was led by the EMPIRICA research group in Aalto University and conducted in collaboration with the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE.  

First, the artist-researchers studied existing environmental research of the area. Then, they implemented methods of soil contamination research to craft practice: Soil samples from specific sites were collected and analysed for heavy metals in the laboratory of the Department of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, Aalto University’s School of Chemical Engineering. After that, the samples were processed further in the ceramic laboratory of Aalto University’s School of Arts, Design and Architecture: The soil was milled and fired to find out its aesthetic and functional qualities and then used as ceramic slip to paint on large vessels. The vessels were made of local brick clay. The audience could follow the making of large clay pots and painting them with the contaminated soil. The exhibition visitors were also invited to work with local brick clay on the side with the artists. Additionally, the group arranged a discursive event with a soil contamination specialist in the pavilion’s event Material Encounters.

Traces from the Anthropocene: Working with Soil at the Research Pavilion #3, Venice. Photo: Tzuyu Chen.

Project Schedule


Preparations and preliminary research.

February – May 2019

Gathering of soil samples from the artificial canals of the historical Venice center, Porto Marghera’s industrial area, and Murano islands, then analyzing the samples for anthropogenic contaminants.

May 8, 2019

Opening of the Research Pavilion #3.

July 11 – August 28, 2019

Living research laboratory at the Research Pavilion #3. The public is able to witness artistic studio practice and the process of building and painting large vessels using local clay and the materials collected during the project. The audience is also invited to participate in the workshop.

August 20–21, 2019

Material Encounters event at the Research Pavilion #3.

A two-day long event, including a concert-lecture that showcases the outcomes of a residency period, during which musicians and ceramists worked side-by-side forming a parallel discussion of musical and gestural rhythms. The event also includes discussions and presentations on materiality, archipelagic thinking, and the intertwined relationship between humans and soil. The audience is welcome to work with local clay.

September 10–31, 2019

Traces from the Anthropocene: Working with Soil exhibition on view at the Beta Space gallery at Aalto University campus in Espoo, Finland, during Helsinki Design Week.