Boots on the Ground, Hands in the Soil

Boots on the Ground, Hands in the Soil
Karolina Uskakovych
The project offers a sincere exploration of the role of gardening during times of war and the complexities of food systems.

Karolina Uskakovych
Oxford, UK
Team members
Karolina Uskakovych
Field of work
Design, Ecology, Film, Photography, Research
Project category
Food system
Project submitted

My name is Karolina Uskakovych, I am a multidisciplinary artist, designer, and filmmaker from Kyiv, Ukraine. I have a background in media design and art direction. In June 2023, I graduated from the Non Linear Narrative master's course at The Royal Academy of Arts, The Hague.

My multi- and inter-disciplinary art practice examines the entanglement of nature, culture, and technology. My recent projects have grown from conceptually rich academic grounds and bloomed with drawn, painted, and moving images; handcrafted objects; and experimental and documentary filmmaking. I use several techniques, from coding software to traditional Ukrainian wax wreath-making. At the heart of my practice is a commitment to cultivating liveable and equitable more-than-human relations and worlds.

Throughout my career, collaboration has been integral to my work. I have actively engaged with cultural groups and research networks, working as an art director for the Anthroposphere: Oxford Climate Review magazine since 2021 and participating in an artist residency with the Digital Ecologies research group. Additionally, I am holding a residency with D6: Culture in Transit, UK and IZOLYATSIA, UA.

In response to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, my colleagues and I founded the Uzvar Collective, a student-led charity art group. Our project, "Recipes of Displacement," was exhibited at Dutch Design Week in 2022.

I am also a co-founder of the Ukrainian Environmental Humanities Network, an interdisciplinary space for the academics, practitioners and artists who define this emerging field. In May-July 2023, we held an online seminar series and covered the following themes: Ecocide, Food and Agriculture, Chornobyl, and Kyiv’s urban ecologies.

"Boots on the Ground, Hands in the Soil" is a multimedia project which evolved from the academic research of Ukrainian traditional ecological knowledge and the role of gardening during the war. It consists of a physical installation and a documentary film.

The film centres around the spiritual bond shared by me and my charismatic grandmother, Zoya, a proud Ukrainian pensioner who cherishes her non-capitalistic peasant lifestyle. In the winter of 2021, Zoya presented me with a package of her harvested tomato seeds. The next gardening season, however, coincided with the devastating invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation. Undeterred by the dire circumstances, we embarked on a unique journey of tending our gardens together online. We nurtured our plants and engaged in important conversations, shedding light on the significance of this age-old practice during times of war.

"Boots on the Ground, Hands in the Soil" weaves together themes relating to the human-nature bond and the profound impact of gardening during turbulent times. The documentary implores viewers to reflect on the intrinsic connection between humans and the natural world, emphasizing the therapeutic and empowering qualities that can be found in cultivating the land, even in the face of adversity.

The film is screened as an immersive installation—a small cinema/gardening shed. Inside, the shed is adorned with tomato plants, enveloping the audience in the scent of tomato vines. This multisensory experience allows spectators to intimately connect with the film, fostering a deeper understanding of the profound themes explored.

"Boots on the Ground, Hands in the Soil" became an inviting place for the viewers to share their personal stories about their relationship with the local environments. I would like to continue my research of traditional ecological knowledge and the processes that shape it in Ukraine and put it into conversation with the other international contexts.