alexandra regan toland

research narratives in artistic ecology

Micro Turf

Examples of true wilderness are nearly non-existent. The only way to preserve what is left of the natural world is for people and nature to co-exist in a mutually sustained manner. Optimistically speaking, this might be easier than previously imagined. More than half of the world’s human population now lives in cities. Exiled by monocultural, pesticide-ridden rural landscapes, many plant and animal species have also migrated to cities, establishing new niche habitats on construction sites, rooftops, road-sides, backyards, airports and railway yards. Urban bioscapes may offer new opportunities for the lost forest primeval. The goal of the Micro-Turf project is to create flexible, accessible tools to analyze and envision co-habitable futures, in urban centers and beyond. By intentionally avoiding culturally loaded constructs such as “nature”, “wilderness”, and “urban”, we attempt to deconstruct barriers that limit discussions of urban wilderness, perceptions of how ecosystems incorporate human habitats, and the real-world developments that those barriers and perceptions perpetuate.

Although there has been an increase in urban-ecological research over the last 30 years, collaboration between the arts and sciences, and even within disciplines remains rare. The Micro-Turf project is a process-oriented, sci-art exploration of urban biodiversity. Inspired by, but certainly not limited to the core researchers’ backgrounds in fields such as visual art, digital media, interaction design, social hydrology, urban ecology and environmental planning, the Micro-Turf project is a transdisciplinary experiment in deep-observation. While standard environmental site surveying techniques differ according to discipline and data collection objectives, Micro-Turf techniques include snippets from multiple disciplines that embrace subjective as well as objective criteria, and allow for qualitative as well as quantitative analysis. Through meticulous, unbiased and respectful attention to detail and to each other, our aim is to transcend mainstream constructs of the environment in order to initiate imaginative futures of co-existence. Through the creation of new open-knowledge tools, we encourage individuals and communities to engage in their surroundings, regardless of experience or background knowledge.


The Micro-Turf project consists of several working components. Processes include investigation, tool-creation, data-gathering, documentation, and sharing. The exploratory process begins with a team of observers who set out to observe, document and interpret small parcels, transects or cross sections of the urban environment. The site exploration integrates speculation, imagination and multisensory perception into structured observation. In this way, the Micro-Turf project serves as a template for approaching the urban environment that moves past overly romanticized, reductionist, or scientifically exclusive approaches to experiencing and describing urban nature. Rather than re-inventing the traditional site survey, the Micro-Turf investigation represents an ecophenomenological expedition into the daily lives of extremophiles and the fringe ecologies they pioneer.

The project concentrates on what is actually observable and currently happening in each micro-turf space – what factors led to the creation of a particular space, and what may happen in the future. We analyze the patterns and interactions of plants, animals, humans and their respective structures. We collect soil and water samples and filter atmospheric particles. We make photographic and audio recordings, and create drawings, icons, and maps. We make flower pressings, take notes on possible avenues of succession and construct new poetic terminology. We incorporate current research from various disciplines by weaving theory and fantasy into our own field data.

In addition to an exhibition of our findings and a series of public Micro-Turf expedition workshops, a further goal is the publication of an experimental, non-traditional field guide. True to its contextual focus, the Micro-Turf is itself a work in progress. On the 20th of March, as part of the Electrosmog Festival, 20 individuals gathered for the first Micro-Turf expedition at Berlin’s Skulpturen Park, initiated by Myriel Milicevic and Jon Cohrs. Future interventions, coinciding for example with Berlin’s Langer Tag der Stadtnatur on June 20th, were used as a way of opening up the process to other participants. The public Micro-Turf expeditions offer a hands-on opportunity for creative learning and discovery. The process is intended to be developed over a full cycle of seasons. The writing process involved in the creation of the Micro-Turf field guide is also a dynamic process. The open-source software Booki allows authors to write in real-time collaboration, while the MT survey form as well as other tools are shared freely under the copy left share alike license.

Concept Text and Motivation Statement by J. Cohrs, M. Levy, M. Milicevic, A.R.Toland, June 2010


This entry was posted on June 19, 2010 by .
%d bloggers like this: