Expérimen-terre, residency of the artist Stefan Shankland on the ECT sites

19 janvier 2023

From May to November 2022, Stefan Shankland was in residence at ECT. This was an opportunity to develop an artistic reflection in relation to the materials, sites and know-how of the company. This artistic experimentation is the result of a partnership between the artist, Paris Ile-de-France Capital Economique, the DRAC Ile-de-France, Artistik Bazaar and ECT.

With this residency, Stefan Shankland continues his work on inert waste from the construction industry, which he began several years ago with the Marbres d’ici project.

An artistic creation around excavated earth

« This residency was intended to allow for fieldwork, workshop experiments, new meetings with experts and readings. This privileged time of research allowed to feed current reflections and favored the emergence of new tracks of artistic creations around the excavated lands, the lands of tunnel boring machines and the inert waste managed by the ECT company. »

Stefan Shankland

At the conclusion of this residency, Stefan Shankland presented his research. Here are some excerpts from his reflection.

Excavated soil : monumental and invisible

The monumental quality of the quantities of excavated subsoil is impressive : Almost 20 million metric tonnes of soil are excavated every year in the Île-de-France region (of which 13 to 15 million are managed by the ECT group). Work on the Grand Paris Express alone generated almost 50 million cubic meters of soil.

These very solid figures remain an abstraction which we are unable to connect with our experiences or with physical representations : »50 million cubic meters. » What is that ? Where is that ? What kind of thing is it ?

The material « earth » remains invisible for most of us. No doubt we will never have before our eyes or in our hands even the smallest sample of earth removed from our deep subsoil by the tunnelling machines.

In the future we will use the public transport system and in our daily lives we will go through miles of tunnels. And from the windows of the Grand Paris Express, we will see « nothing ».
The earth will escape us. Earth, or soil, will be no more than a word, an idea, a promise. An emptiness.

Negative Monument

Negative : That which is contrary, the opposite, the inverse.
The negative of the tunnel borer’s hole: a monument created from excavated soil.

Negative : that which is subtracted from, which is withdrawn from, which is invisibilised.
That which resists our words, which is lacking in our representations, which is missing from our experience. Negative monument, negative landscape, negative material.

A site for deposition of excavated soils : an anti-monument ?
Soil from the tunnel borer : anti-matter?


The work of the land artist is not limited to one situation or to the communication of one piece of information.
The land artist’s work : To attempt to make visible, tangible, perceptible. To seek to produce a positive from a negative.
To make manifest from the latent, from the absent, from an invisible omnipresent.

Soil is everywhere / soil is nowhere

« The deep earth is always below the threshold of visibility: beneath our feet; the other side of the hoarding around a building site from which the public are excluded; behind the retaining bank; over the horizon of the landfill cell, and covered forever beneath a layer of topsoil.

The invisibility, the lack of any scale, the lack of anything to represent excavated soil or soil produced by the tunnel boring machine of the GPExpress are one with those other monumental but equally fundamental and equally invisible things: the metropolis of infrastructure, the land of flows and networks, the urban metabolism, the invisible mountains of waste from the building and public works sector, the Anthropocene, which shapes the landscape and the world… »

Beyond our experience

« We see the horizontal retaining bank. We see it from below. In profile. Never from above. Never from inside. Except on satellite images – but they are only virtual.

Who has experienced a deposition site for excavated soil from the inside ? Who has seen the earth from the tunnellers in its liquid, plastic state, poured into its centre ? Who has set foot, or laid a hand, inside ?

Behind these retaining banks, within these cells: several million cubic metres of ancestral geological strata, all mixed up by a tunneller set loose in the sub-basement of the Île-de-France in the 21st century. A myth ? A reality ! »

Stealth monuments

We see landfill cells, generally from some distance away, that form part of the wider man-made landscape of the Île-de- France. The elongated profiles of their retaining banks, their uniformity, the scale of them, which is hard to assess, the impossibility of walking around them or of grasping the overall layout — all of this gives them a kind of indecipherability.
These are monumental yet stealthy installations of which the real size, shape, nature, functioning and future are not grasped by those who pass close at hand. They are there, but they tell us nothing. These monumental installations are mute.