Ecstatic Rot: Michelle Atherton begins residency at Bethnal Green Nature Reserve

Image: Ecstatic Rot: Probes with Soils Michelle Atherton 2022

Michelle Atherton has begun her new practice-based research residency Ecstatic Rot at Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, East London, investigating our relationships with transience, decomposition and recomposition 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.

Bethnal Green Nature Reserve Aerial Shot. Michelle Atherton, 2023

Bethnal Green Nature Reserve Aerial Shot. Michelle Atherton, 2023

As part of Michelle’s enquiries, she will develop a series of gatherings; including conversations, a sculpture, bill board artwork, listening sessions, workshops and a listening party open to all. The aim is to offer a communal space for exploring transience, vital decomposition[2] and the ephemeral processes present in the ground.

A related research paper: Low Frequencies. A Speculative Relationship with Transience was presented at the Association of Social Anthropologist’s conference: ASA2023: An Unwell World?, SOAS, London, April 2023.

Michelle was also invited to participate in Reveil 2023, a live 24hr global broadcast for World Dawn Chorus Day 6-7 May.


[1] G. Monbiot Regenesis  Alan Lane, Pengiun Random House 2022 p23
[2] C. Lyons term taken from her book from the same phrase Vital Decomposition Duke Press 2020.

Residency information

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

Website: Ecstatic Rot: Communal (Low) Frequencies & The Listening Party

About the Researcher

Michelle Atherton is an artist, researcher and Senior Lecturer in Fine Art and has been awarded an Early Career Research & Innovation Fellowships (ECRI) fellowship at SHU. Her 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.