Ecstatic Rot:

Communal (Low) Frequencies & The Listening Party

Artist Michelle Atherton (she/her) will be in residence during 2023, spending time researching our relationships with transience, decomposition and re-composition as more-than-human activities. She is interested in finding experimental ways to explore ephemera: the loss and flows of materialities, including cycles of transformation across species and substances at Bethnal Green Nature Reserve.

As part of the residency Michelle will develop collective methods for listening to different processes and states. In particular alighting on those things and actions that challenge simplistic divisions between what might be identified as living and non-living.

For example, some people have viewed soils as just dirt, as inert substrates, but soils have a genesis and a lifespan. They originate from rocks transformed over millennia by climatic conditions, geological movements, biological processes and the actions of organisms, at all scales. Soils are more than just granular mineral deposits, they include ‘structures within structures within structures’¹. These aggregates or clusters are formed through the actions and interactions of a host of organisms including earthworms, plant and tree roots, fungi, mites, springtails, bacteria, and microscopic predators like tardigrades, ciliates, amoebas. Soils also include decaying matter, gases, liquids, complex chemicals, and minerals. They are the product of highly complex evolving relations coming to support and often teeming with life. In scientific terms they are made up of components that include both the living and the non-living. Yet most people spend little concentrated time trying to relate to what lies, and is buried, beneath our feet.

As part of Michelle’s enquiries, she will develop a series of gatherings, listening sessions, a sculpture, billboard artwork, workshops and a listening party open to all during 2023. The aim is to offer a communal space for exploring transience, vital decomposition² and the ephemeral processes present in the ground.

Image: Regolith in progress.

In engineering terms soil is considered a Regolith, loose materials that lie above bedrocks. Regoliths are also be found on the moon and other celestial objects.


¹ G. Monbiot Regenesis Alan Lane, Penguin Random House 2022 p23

² C. Lyons term taken from her book from the same phrase Vital Decomposition Duke Press 2020


Michelle’s work holds a fascination with the relations, material dynamics and contradictions at play in day-to-day phenomena and experiences. The aim is look again at matters that seem settled, beyond question, but where inherent instability opens into other questions of material states, refusals, politics and new imaginaries. Her artworks and research has been supported by Arts Council England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and shown throughout Europe in galleries, museums, festivals and publications. She teaches fine art and has recently been awarded an ECR Fellowship 2022-23 from Sheffield Hallam University.

The residency has been kindly supported by Bethnal Green Nature Reserve Trust, Arts Council England and Sheffield Hallam University.

©2023 Bethnal Green Nature Reserve Trust