Empire of Dirt by artist James Geurts is a sculptural installation that explores the darkness and complexity of the living earth beneath our feet. The piece considers how soil biology may adapt to survive the Earth’s ecological tipping point, by engaging the public’s imagination and offering them a deeper look into a long-hidden ecosystem.
Empire of Dirt is inspired by the evolving architecture and infrastructure of RMIT’s New Academic Street. This temporary artwork takes its form and content directly from soil samples gathered from the construction site.
To produce the piece, Geurts worked in RMIT’s Bundoora lab with Andy Ball (Distinguished Professor and environmental microbiologist) to investigate the ecology dynamics of the soil at a microscopic level. They found that the construction has introduced new elements into the site’s original terra firma, such as micro-plastics, pollutants and metals. This created a ‘conversation’ between existing soil and the adaptive microorganisms within it. It’s this conversation which has largely informed the shape, dynamic and symbolism of Geurts’ public sculpture.
The resulting artwork tells the story of how microbiological insects in the RMIT zone have evolved and transformed the soil fabric into living structures. This narrative echoes that of the magnetic termite mounds of the Northern Territory.
Installed just off LaTrobe Street in Rodda Lane, at RMIT’s city campus, Empire of Dirt forms part of Wonderment Walk Victoria’s growing open air gallery. WWV’s public art pieces endeavour to combine science, mathematics and art to engage passers-by with wonder, delight and curiosity.