Jo Wood is the founder of her eponymous brand
I was lucky enough to spend the first lockdown living outside in Devon. I felt my perspective change as I explored without shoes, experiencing the weather and the atmosphere of the place. I felt in touch with nature in a deeper way than I had before and experienced the development of this instinctive knowledge of my surroundings. When it rained, there was mud between my toes and when the sun dried the land, I walked slower so as to not hurt my feet. When I stopped to think about why this felt so satisfying and life-affirming it was because I was connected. The physical connection through my feet had made way for a spiritual connection. Don’t get me wrong, I'm not suggesting we abandon shoes, I’m just illustrating the point that tangible connection can promote biophilia; the innate human desire to connect to nature and to other forms of life.
It is hard for us to live with climate anxiety partly because it disconnects us from our roots in nature. Stress and guilt that the disaster our planet is facing is our fault is a massive burden to carry! Obviously, action from governmental bodies and big corporations to fundamentally change our way of consuming natural resources is the key to reversing climate change. But I really believe that rebuilding our individual connection to Earth is as meaningful and will have positive repercussions.
So, my interest grew and I started researching soil as a material. I learned that healthy topsoil soaks up water and carbon dioxide while damaged soil releases carbon dioxide. Given that the release of carbon dioxide is leading to the greenhouse effect, which leads to the warming of the planet, whether our soil releases or soaks up carbon is important. Unhealthy soil is soil without biodiversity, without plants, their roots, and the micro-systems that depend on them. Unfortunately, more and more of the world’s top soil is being compromised. This is directly caused by industrial farming’s use of herbicides and pesticides. Used mainly in grain production, these herbicides kill all plants other than genetically modified grains which destroys the soil's natural biodiversity. Yearly plowing disrupts the Earth's natural cycle making topsoil vulnerable to erosion by wind and water. It can take more than 100 years for top soil to naturally form—societies are allowing this gorgeous water and carbon dioxide-absorbing material to be washed away. Looking after the skin of the planet is critical in the fight to halt the climate emergency.
In this way, I became fascinated by this potentially rich material. It's easy to see soil as worm-filled, foul-smelling, and although admittedly useful for growing tomatoes, not something to meditate on. We miss its unquestionable value when we forget the power soil has to rejuvenate our planet. The more time I took to reevaluate the way I think about soil, the more I felt compelled to make work using it. I thought about lava erupting out of the Earth and running along its surface, marking a moment and making the land fertile. It occurred to me how comparable lava was with molten metals.
As an artist obsessed with melting metals I loved the idea of combining soil with precious metals. Soil is an undervalued material and gold has thousands of years of historical and cultural revery surrounding it. To melt gold and cast it in Earth felt like a wonderfully subversive act. With trial and error, I discovered the molten metal held onto the shape of the soil, immortalising its characteristics and creating unrepeatable organic textures.
This is a compelling material combination because soil is how many people have physically connected to the Earth. Whether you experience the over-trodden grass of an intercity park or untamed moors, you’ve interacted with the skin of the planet in some way. Wearing an Earth Cast piece of jewellery, that holds forever the shape of earth, is to carry this relationship with us, against our skin. I hope it will in turn be a reminder to cherish and nurture our connections to mother nature because if we look after her, she will look after us.