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Lucas Ihlein: Baking Earth: Soil and the Carbon Economy

Shapes of Knowledge

9 February – 13 April 2019

For Shapes of Knowledge, artist Lucas Ihlein presented a new project that builds on his long term research into agriculture. Ihlein’s project focusd on the Yeomans Carbon Still, a recent invention designed by Allan Yeomans to measure the carbon content of soils. The still is intended to be used by farmers as a means of quantifying the carbon sequestration performed through their agriculture practices. In a future carbon economy, farmers could be paid for drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through regenerative farming.

According to Allan Yeomans, soil carbon testing procedures have been complex and prohibitively expensive, meaning payments to farmers are cancelled out by the cost of carbon measuring itself. The Yeomans Carbon Still has slowly evolved into a very accurate device for measuring changes in soil carbon levels. It can now test individual samples weighing up to 2,000 grams with 1-gram accuracy. In the Carbon Still an air flow, at a preselected temperature, passes directly through the sample material. Intermittent contact between soil and air seems thus assured. A complete test takes about three hours.

In a future carbon economy, farmers must be paid for sequestering carbon from the atmosphere into their soils through regenerative agriculture—however there is much work to be done to create the technical, economic and governance systems to enable such financial incentives to be implemented.

During the exhibition a working model of the Yeomans Carbon Still was installed in MUMA's galleries and used to test the carbon content of soils of various farms throughout regional Victoria. An excursion to collect soil samples took place and doubled as an opportunity for learning about regenerative farming processes more broadly. Alongside these material investigations, public discussions involving engineers, climate scientists and carbon farming advocates about the potential viability (economic, legal, botanical) of an agricultural approach to carbon sequestration took place.

Visit the Baking Earth project website

About the Artist:

Wollongong-based artist and educator, Lucas Ihlein, holds learning at the very centre of his artistic practice, understanding his artworks (prints, film and text) as tools to satisfy his own desire to learn. Importantly, he opens up the processes of his learning so that the audience may also be present in knowledge production, as it unfolds rather than after-the-fact.

Ihlein’s projects tend to explore the relationship between socially engaged art, agriculture and environmental management. He is a founding member of artists’ collectives SquatSpace, Big Fag Press, and Teaching and Learning Cinema. Major exhibitions include The Yeomans Project (with Ian Milliss), Art Gallery of New South Wales (2013–14); Green Bans Art Walk, The Cross Arts Projects & Big Fag Press, Sydney (2011); In the Balance: Art for a Changing World, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2010); There Goes the Neighbourhood, Performance Space, Sydney (2009); The Bon Scott Project, Fremantle Arts Centre, Perth (2008); and Bilateral, Australian Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide (2002). In 2010 Lucas completed a practice-based research PhD at Deakin University entitled ‘Framing Everyday Experience: Blogging as Art’, which won the Alfred Deakin Medal for best Doctoral Thesis in Humanities and Social Sciences. In 2015 Ihlein was awarded an Australia Council for the Arts Fellowship for Emerging and Experimental Arts. He is currently an ARC DECRA Research Fellow at University of Wollongong, Australia.

Allan Yeomans:

Allan Yeomans is the Managing Director of the Yeomans Plow Co, and author of the book PRIORITY ONE: Together We Can Beat Global Warming (2005). Allan’s main concern for the last thirty years has been the prevention of global warming and the halting of climate change. He sees this as the most urgent problem facing humanity this century. His invention of the Yeomans Carbon Still aims to contribute to the collective effort to draw down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere using agricultural soils as a carbon sink. In the mid-twentieth century, Allan worked with his father PA Yeomans on the development of the Keyline Design System for sustainable agriculture.

Artist Publications/Further Reading:
Kim Williams and Lucas Ihlein – Sugar vs the Reef?
Artspace Mackay, 3 November 2018 - 27 January 2019
Exhibition catalogue available with texts by Fiona Vuibeqa, Kim Williams, Lucas Ihlein and Tracey Heathwood
Downloadable PDF available here

Lucas Ihlein: Diagrammatic
Deakin University Art Gallery, 2018
Downloadable PDF available here

12 Creek Walks. Walking Upstream: Waterways of the Illawarra
By Kim Williams, Brogan Bunt and Lucas Ihlein. Published in 2017 by Leech Press in association with the exhibition Walking Upstream: Waterways of the Illawarra at Wollongong Art Gallery

Downloadable PDF available here

Lucas Ihlein's project was assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body; the Australian Research Council (ARC); and the NSW Government through Create NSW. The project forms part of "An artist, a farmer, and a scientist walk into a bar..." co-ordinated by Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation (KSCA).

Image: Lucas Ihlein, Baking Earth: Soil and the Carbon Economy, 2019. Installation view, Shapes of Knowledge, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne, 2019. Photo: Christian Capurro

Related Programs
Live Demonstration: Lucas Ihlein, Soil Carbon Testing with the Yeomans Carbon Still

Tuesday 12 & Wednesday 13 February 2019, 10am–3pm
Thursday 7 & Friday 8 March 2019, 10am–3pm
Thursday 21 & Friday 22 March 2019, 10am–3pm
Lucas Ihlein: Soil Sampling Field Trip

Saturday 9 March 2019, 10am–4pm
MADA Art Forum: Lucas Ihlein

Wednesday 20 March 2019, 1–2pm

VIDEO: Lucas Ihlein, Baking Earth, Soil and the Carbon Economy
VIDEO: MADA Art Forum: Lucas Ihlein

Wednesday 20 March 2019, 1–2pm

Installation Views