Traces from the Anthropocene. Working with Soil.

A multidisciplinary research project that addresses the ecological consequences of the human footprint through ceramic art. The exhibition is a part of Venice Biennale during summer 2019.
Traces from the Antropocene exhibition in Venice Biennale in 2019. Photo: Tzuyu Chen
Traces from the Antropocene exhibition in Venice Biennale in 2019. Photo: Tzuyu Chen

'Traces from the Anthropocene. Working with Soil' is a multidisciplinary research project that addresses the ecological consequences of the human footprint through ceramic art. The project took place before and during the Research Pavilion in the context of the Venice Biennale 2019, the world’s best-known contemporary art event. As ceramists traditionally work with local earth, the research is situated in the local environment of the Biennale, the Venice lagoon area. 

During the process, local soil was gathered and then analyzed for anthropogenic contaminants. Local brick clay was used to create large ceramic forms, and finally, the analyzed, contaminated soil was used to paint the ceramic vessels. In this project, craft making is understood as a philosophical space to think through the ethical and ecological concerns related to the stage of the environment.

This project has been a collaboration between the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, School of Chemical Engineering and the Finnish Environmental Institute SYKE.

Working group: The research is conducted by an international group of artist-researchers led by Aalto University:: Maarit Mäkelä, professor, project leader,  Riikka Latva-Somppi, artist-researcher, curator, Priska Falin, artist-researcher , Pauliina Purhonen, research assistant (all Aalto University).

Catharina Kajander, artist, Aalto University alumna, Ozgu Gundeslioglu, Akdeniz University, Turkey, Hannu Revitzer, Aalto University.

The Finnish Environment Institute SYKE : Jussi Reinikainen, Senior research scientist, Outi Pyy, Leading expert, Ulla Ala-Ketola and Hannele Ahponen, Communications specialists. Exhibition team: Aalto University MA students Tzuyu Chen and Hanna Kutvonen.

Contact: [email protected]


Working with Soil is shortlisted for The First International Whitegold Ceramic Prize that seeks culturally and environmentally aware and socially engaged art projects. Ten exceptional proposals were shortlisted out of more than a hundred submissions. The Working with Soil group is led by professor Maarit Mäkelä.


DISCOURSIVE EVENT September 29th2019 in Beta Space 3-6 p.m.

3.00-3.45 p.m. Curator Riikka Latva-Somppi introduces the exhibition and tells about the research

3.45-4.00 Official closing of the exhibition with bubbles and snacks (please note that the exhibition can be viewed until Monday September 30th noon)

4.00-5.00 p.m. Senior research scientist Jussi Reinikainen from The Finnish Environment Institute SYKE talks about contaminated soil in Europe

5.00-6.00 Discussion on the topic with audience, the artist-researchers and the SYKE expert(s)

Please sign up to help us take care of the space and refreshments: 

More info: [email protected], tel: +358 415199181

Coiling vases from the local earthenware and painting the vases with the local earth in Earth Laboratory, Venice, August 2019. Photo: Catharina Kajander

Working with contaminated soil in Venice

Revealing human traces in Venice Biennale.

Sediment sampling in the historical centre of Venice with the Limnos sampler provided by the Finnish Environmental Institute SYKE. Image: Pauliina Purhonen

The trip to Venice—in the words of the students

Contemporary design students spent a week in Venice setting up the exhibition and gathering soil samples for the research.

Venetsian tutkimuspaviljonki

Artists digging up contaminated soil

Artistic research does not provide ready-made answers, but instead raises important questions. Artist researchers are currently interested in global topics such as climate change and migration.


Environmental issues get form by ceramic art

Finnish ceramic artists visualise land contamination in Venice research pavilion.

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Aalto University UNFOLDED magazine focuses on contemporary issues dealing with creativity, experimentation, and transdisciplinary co-creation.

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