Computer generated model of 'Empire of Dirt' by James Geurts
    A component of 'Empire of Dirt' by James Geurts being 3D printed
    One of the six light boxes with James Geurts’ termite mound sculptures in the Empire of Dirt installation.
    'Empire of Dirt' (detail) by James Geurts
    'Empire of Dirt' (detail) by James Geurts
    'Empire of Dirt' (detail) by James Geurts
    'Empire of Dirt' (detail) by James Geurts

Empire of Dirt

Student work

Exploring the role of public art in engaging citizens in the governance of environmental concerns within cities, using innovative collaboration between art and science practice-based research.

Developed in partnership with Wonderment Walk Victoria and Carbon Arts as part of the Urban Animators: Living Laboratory Program, Empire of Dirt is a sculptural installation that investigates the complexity of the living earth beneath our feet, and proposes how soil biology may adapt to survive the current ecological tipping point of the Earth.

Integrated within the evolving architecture and infrastructure of RMIT’s New Academic Street, this temporary artwork took its form, content and context directly from a soil sample taken at the construction site.

Artist James Geurts, worked in the lab with environmental microbiologist, Distinguished Professor Andy Ball, to investigate the ecology dynamics of the soil under the microscope. The conversation between existing soil and the process of microorganisms as they adapt to introduced elements such as micro-plastics, pollutants and metals, informed the shape, dynamic and symbolism of this public sculpture.

The artwork creates a narrative of how future microbiological insects in the RMIT zone have evolved and transformed the soil fabric into living structures, similar to the great termite mounds of the Northern Territory.

Empire of Dirt is installed in Rodda Lane, just off LaTrobe Street, at the university’s city campus. It forms part of Wonderment Walk Victoria’s growing open air gallery of sculptures and installations combining science, mathematics and art to engage passers-by with wonder, delight and curiosity.

Find out more about the installation.