Posts tagged environmental art
Joya: AiR / Stephen Bennett / UAL art for the environment award winner

Nine Quadrats @ Joya

“My residency at Joya: arte + ecología has opened my practice to routes and pathways I didn’t know existed. This was the case even from the application process, where I was successful in securing the residency through the University of the Arts London Environment International Artist Residency Programme. I was already being inspired by reading about Joya’s important mission, their approach to resource sustainability, and the artistic research that Simon Beckmann had done into the ‘ephemeral water systems’ (Sistemas Efímeros). Joya seemed the perfect setting to experiment with land and environmental art, which I researched and blogged about ahead of the trip; I wanted to somehow link this to mapping the terrain, which I also investigated prior to and during the residency.


Whilst I prepared a good deal before the residency, in reality no one can really be ready for the sights, smells and sounds of Joya. The location is set amongst contouring almond groves, surrounded by pine-clad mountains, with an ever-changing light, which changes from silvery through to deep amber-pink. Despite the beautiful studio with stunning view, I couldn’t wait to hike the nearest mountain, and ascended the nearby Sierra Larga. The summit is covered in sculptural limestone paving. Standing at the top, taking in the panoramic view, I recalled some of the land and map research I had done ahead of the visit. I decided to try and ‘capture’ the topography and biology using an interpretation of the quadrat sampling technique (see pictures).


Upon descending to the studio, surrounded by other artists creatively exploring the landscape in other ways, I constructed a second square, this time on the map. Starting with the location of the quadrat I had just constructed, I identified eight other corners or midpoints of the square. Over the next ten days I visited each of these and assembled a location-specific quadrat, made only of the resources in the location environment – stones usually, but also sticks and the bare earth. Other photos are included in this blog, and a full narration of the piece is provided here.


Without the residency at Joya, it is unlikely that I would have taken this step into an unfamiliar territory and explored making temporary, sustainable art deep in a fragile landscape. The location, the presence of a curated group of diverse and fascinating artists, the critical guidance of Simon Beckmann (and the insanely good food provided!), all enable a fertile and productive experience. This setting has allowed me to take some important steps forward in my artistic practice, and I will never forget the opportunity Joya has provided”.

Joya: AiR / poet / Emily McGiffin / Canada

“My poetry and scholarly work is concerned with the nexus of landscape, society, and politics. Working in the field of postcolonial ecopoetics, my work examines human relationships with the natural environment and how these are affected by the global political economy, both historically and in the present. I am particularly concerned with decolonization and environmental justice and the ways in which environmental literature, as an activist practice, can help to examine and dismantle oppressive political systems and the environmental degradation that results.

I travelled to Joya: AiR to begin a new poetry manuscript after an inspiring research trip to the UK. My new work is a book-length poem that delves into events and experiences of British colonialism in Canada and South Africa in the early nineteenth century. I was particularly interested in coming to Joya: AiR to undertake a period of focused experimentation in a foreign, rural environment. Ordinary prosaic or lyric language is inadequate for expressing the extent of alienation and difficulties experienced by early colonists and the lasting violence and dispossession wrought on the indigenous populations they encountered. My language experiments over the past several weeks have taken me far outside of my ordinary poetic practice and I am inspired and excited by the results. I leave here with a skeleton of a manuscript, many completed poems and a direction for the work ahead.

Thanks to Joya: AiR for an excellent sojourn and to the amazing new network of friends I made during my stay”.


Emily McGiffin


Joya: AiR / Nicolás Vasen / Argentina

“It was impossible not to take more advantage of the experience at Joya: AiR. I felt a deep and unexplainable attraction for nature more than ever, it took me to explore every corner in this gorgeous place.

Concentration was absolute and landscape generated some kind of inspiration beyond my expectations.

The silence I experienced here, multiplied my intensity to contemplate rocks, trees, the “barranco”, the absence of moisture and survival of every living thing in this unmatched natural kingdom.

Thank you Donna, Simon, Sesame, Soli and Gwenda”.

Nicolás Vasen

Joya: AiR / Sam Dobson / UK

“One thing that Joya: AiR taught me to do in such a short amount of time, was to allow myself time and space. Time away from the distractions and complications of everyday life, and space to breathe: to reconnect with myself. Once I had these two elements, the core beliefs within my art practice and even in myself, began to rise to the surface of my mind from my subconscious.

I came to Joya: AiR the week after my BA Fine Art degree show, and although I found the transition from art school to Joya: AiR to be very different and often daunting at times, it has pushed me to realise new starting points and allowed me to meet innovative and interesting creatives from all over the world. My practice has shifted and explored various avenues of interest, and I now have the solid foundations to develop on in the future.

I am very thankful to Donna and Simon for such a rich and fruitful opportunity to test my practice out in an environment opposite to the bustling northern city I am used to”.


Sam Dobson

Joya: AiR / Marie Charlotte Carrier / Canada

‘During my short week at Joya, I met incredible people and had fabulous food. Each day, Simon and Donna were more and more welcoming. Because of their openness and availability, I was able to concentrate on my curatorial research. Just like my current project, Joya: AiR is guided in the landscape and its ecology is a constant inspiration. I feel privileged to have been part of this family even for such a short week’.

Marie Charlotte Carrier


Joya: AiR / Fred Hubble / UK

‘I am looking out of the window of my room at Los Gázquez (home of Joya: AiR) at an olive tree in the courtyard, which has recently started to bloom. It is gently blowing in the cool afternoon wind. I recall a conversation I had with Simon earlier today, I too have an olive tree at home that flowers and also yields small fruit scant enough to make a teaspoon of olive oil. I am reminded that both trees are of the same species but belong to profoundly different climates. This relationship is something I felt a great kinship to during my time at JOYA. To inhabit such a severe environment through an art practice is in stark contrast to the bucolic soft landscapes of the West Midlands. The overwhelming beauty and scale of the environment that surrounds you here sets a challenge for your creativity, the gestures I came to perform in the barrancos (ravine), down the many paths and fire breaks in the trees, were reflections on an environment and an ecological situation that revealed itself very slowly to me over the natural course of the days.

Here in the Sierra María you follow the sun rather than the clock, the days seem to stretch and fill at an indeterminate rate as a natural existence.

I arrived expecting arid desert, wandering over white washed limestone plains, and was greeted by brilliant red poppies and rich vegetation. A three-year drought broken a few months prior to my arrival left vast fields of poppies and other ephemeral flowers running wild along the contours of the topography. After many conversations with all of the Beckmanns I came to understanding the work I was making, through arriving with virtually no materials the ephemera of the environment and the environment itself proved the richest and fertile material I could want. It was no longer about making something in the environment but to pass through it with the lightest of touches. I found myself during the nights unable to sleep through the bizarre dreams that I was having consistently, this place itself feels like a waking dream, I am returning to England with many pieces of work, a box of pine needles and a newly founded research to follow. I can only hope to return very soon to realise that this waking dream was no mirage’.

Fred Hubble

Joya: AiR / Anna Lytridou / Cyprus

“My work is based on my personal experience of being immersed in, exploring, travelling in the environment. The residency at Joya: AiR gave me the great opportunity to walk around the mountains looking for shapes that catch my eyes which I then transfer into drawings and paintings. I also I spent many days walking up and down the Barranco which I found to be an extremely interesting place, full of geological shapes revealed by the force of the water. Many of the drawings that I made on the residency are inspired by these experiences.”

Joya: AiR / Katrien Matthys / Belgium

‘I came to Joya: AiR with the plan to work on illustrations for a book that has been in my head for a long time. The first week I was here, I was the only artist in residence, which almost never happens, so I had a lot of time to think, draw and write. However, with the beautiful surroundings of La Hoya de Carrascal it was impossible to stay inside and work all day, so I found myself going out everyday a lot, just where my feet wanted to take me. I discovered the most amazing landscapes, sometimes even together with Fufu, the pet-goat. I stumbled upon all different kinds of forests, almond trees, stones, baranco’s, abandoned houses, mountain tops, fossils… and all those amazing colourful flowers…

As Joya: AiR is a place of exploration and discovery, my walks started influencing my work. I took a lot of photographs of the flora and these plants entered my work. I also found myself painting on the treasures I found on my walks… such as stones, branches, bones… and making compositions with them, something I never did before. I think that is the interesting part about being a resident here, is that the place itself enters your work, even if you didn’t plan it.

The tranquility of the place provides you with a great concentration. And the nature almost becomes like a personality, you meet everyday.

I’m a Brussels based visual artist, as well as an anthropologist. So as an artist, as well as an anthropologist, I’m always studing humans and animals and the way they interact and the stories that can evolve. Being at Joya: AiR provided me with a fresh start for the book I want to make’.


Katrien Matthys

Joya: AiR / Alan Franklin / UK

‘Way back in the early 70’s on day one of the sculpture course at St. Martins School of Art we were simply given ½ cwt slab of clay and told to work with it, to use no other materials other than a base board and not to exchange clay with other students. No further instructions or staff input was given for the duration of the five-day project.

Similar minimal projects followed and I found I enjoyed the constraints and sense of challenge these tasks presented. One could have no preconceived intentions,but had to rely on spontaneous improvisation, play and invention. This particular strategy seemed to suit me and I learned a confidence in exploring materials and ideas and not knowing quite where they were going. Content could be uncovered rather than prescribed. I began to recognize that the outcome and reward I was seeking was surprise, and through a process of play and interrogation I could arrive at a place I had not been before.

So many years later and with a much older head on I now find that residencies can take me back to that first day at St. Martins. Parachuted from my familiar studio into a new environment without my usual panoply of tools and tried and tested processes I enjoy the same sense of challenge and anticipation of surprise and discovery.

Residencies in remote locations such as Baer in Iceland, Café Tissardmine in Morocco and Joya: AiR in Andalusia amplify the challenge and inevitably force more surprising inventions. The isolation brings a focus and the unique landscape a new and particular inspiration. To have no plan or project seems to work best for me. I like to just arrive and respond to what is there. I have acquired a faith that something will happen’.

Alan Franklin

Joya: AiR / Roxana Perez Mendez & Mario Marzan / Puerto Rico

Roxana Perez Mendez and Mario Marzan

‘Blooming from our center, we trekked forth in the Sierra Maria — Los Velez –looping from a center, immersing in the rosemary-fragrant and almond blossom spotted landscape, pivoting, scaling, descending and returning back to center. Our dialogue between body and landscape becomes a way to travel in time as well as space, to understand the landscape short of painting it. This informs how we relate to the natural world in an artistic context—our bodies are the instruments, our path the music. Making art about the landscape is one way of listening to the world, walking the landscape is another.

We began the residency at JOYA with a conversation, confronting triumphant yet troubled interpretations of nature and our practice’s relationship to it, aiming to answer tough questions about the perceptions of the environment, its ascribed meanings and shortcomings in reaching diverse perspectives. It was a direction that joined our individual practices. Most of our research while at Sierra Maria — Los Velez involved peripatetic modes of investigating places and employing logistics of outdoor navigation that respond to the landscape’s history, its people and the ecological imprints on the land. The terraces scraped into the mountain surface, the long worn paths scarred into the terrain, farms that form a wondrous cardiovascular system for water, Nature’s defiance in reclamation, all oriented us to our own geographic discoveries of the region. Witnessing the tremendous challenges, the landscape surrounding JOYA faces, our work points us to a direction of land conservation and to challenge what “Leave No Trace” ethics means to land long employed in support of human activity.

The time at JOYA allowed us to have conversations and brainstorm on a project we are calling CAMPO RESEARCH STUDIO, a collaboration that fosters the integration of nature and art through creative production and education, exploring the philosophical origins of walking, their connections to contemporary art, history, conservation and other intercultural connections. We walked nearly every day, looping routes that covered more than 120 kilometers. We started small and took paths that deviated off the trail into the dry contours of the mountains, searched for ancient caves, collected samples and photographs. Ultimately, our spirit grew with discovery as we walked into the nearby towns of Velez-Blanco and Maria, spiriting small interventions and performances, interacting with the people, the architecture and extensive trail system. Each of these explorations circled us back to JOYA, to our peers in residence and to the Beckmanns. Our paths formed a bloom with JOYA at its fixed center of origin, a spirograph upon the map. As we left, it was clear that a new loop was created. Our practice upon the landscape was initiated and our work, set forth at JOYA, will be complete upon our return’.

As our personal interest in hiking, trekking, and ecocriticism has grown, Mario Marzan and I (Roxana Perez-Mendez) are starting a new artistic collaboration that brings together our joint interest in the pedestrian, pedantic experience and the landscape, mirroring our collaboration on a new study abroad program that takes students through the Camino de Santiago while producing art all along the way. We want to embark on a small body of work based and produced while on a series of long distance hikes that enables us to generate visual, performative and written notation, correspondence, and further historic research. In this new context, the landscape will become our studio and the length of the walk our site.  

This new partnership is centred on a common feature in our work in which the ways in which human constructs of land influence our experience of place. These particular contexts exist in our individual work: I have created video performances embedded in Pepper’s Ghosts Holograms and installations that situate the viewer into an Other’d landscape while Mario has created drawings and installations that reference the graphically encoded language of cartography and tropical weather patterns. Similarly, in both of our work, we interrogate the nineteenth-century Romantic landscape tropes and traditions. For this residency, we will, through the undertaking of a pilgrimage/series of long walks, undertake this discourse within the Parque Natural Sierra María – Los Vélez in order to experiment together the ways our mind frames the land and our experience of landscape. With this work we aim to demonstrate the vitality of deep-lasting human connections to land use by interweaving autobiographic and historic narratives into our experience of this park. 


Artist and Associate Professor Roxana Pérez Méndez: 
Professor Roxana Pérez-Méndez is a video performance and installation artist who creates work about the slippery nature of contemporary of history and identity through the lens of her own experience as a Puerto Rican woman. Her research interests include installation, site specific and video performance, imprint of the landscape or loss of landscape on the self, post-colonial/colonial identity, Spanish colonial history, Caribbean migration and migration politics, tourism and pilgrimages. Roxana embarked on her first Camino in 2012 and has logged thousands of miles on foot since. She holds a BFA from The Ohio State University and a MFA from Tyler School of Art. 

Artist and Associate Professor Mario Manuel Marzán: 
Professor Mario Marzán is an artist who creates work about the constantly shifting, changing and evolving negotiation of liminal spaces in relation to individual and cultural identities and histories. His research interests include landscape drawing and painting, investigations of place and space as a way to discuss identity, and maps as modes of representation. Among drawing courses, Professor Marzán teaches an immersive Walking Seminar course on the intersections of art and nature during UNC Maymesters. An avid hiker and long distance backpacker, Mario carries a NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute Wilderness First Aid certification and has walked both the Camino del Norte and the Camino Frances. He holds a BFA from Bowling Green University and a MFA from Carnegie Mellon University.

Joya: AiR / Merissa Weatherhead / UK

‘During the spring of 2016 I had been working on a theme titled ‘A Table in the Garden,’  which involved putting objects on a tabletop in an outside environment. This was to challenge the idea of a traditional approach to Still Life painting.

I planned to explore this theme during my residency at Joya, with the title now slightly changed to ‘A Table in the Sun’. I brought paper, charcoal and an iPad, I only had a week and knew this time would be precious in developing and reevaluating ideas and ways to move forward with my work.

When I arrived at Joya in March 2017I felt a beautiful sense of calm and honest simplicity here, found in the environment and an unspoken understanding of creativity that needs time.

I found the landscape humbling and hauntingly beautiful. Out of this white clay, a great pine forest covers the mountains and in the valleys, farmers grow almond trees which were just coming into bloom with their pink and white delicate flowers. So beautiful and mesmerising were these almond trees with their dark trunks and pretty flowers against the blue sky, it was tempting to draw them but I found myself looking down into the white of the stones that covered the earth

 I have returned to the UK full of inspiration, my ‘Table’ has been upturned and I’m already working on a series of paintings from the drawings I made at Joya: AiR, it was a wonderful residency, so precious, in so many ways..

Thank you Simon and Donna for giving me the opportunity to share a little piece of Joya: AiR as an artist in residence.

Joya: AiR / Wei Tan / Malaysia

‘We were isolated on a hill yet there was no sense of loneliness. We would venture into our backyard of wilderness and return to the warmth and intimacy of our little house. I was surprised at how much I felt at home here. Being at my first artist residency, I expected a quiet, solemn retreat with most of my time spent in solitude with nature. Joya turned out to be a lively communal experience. There was no time to be alone except in sleep. It reminded me of the joys of family and community that I’ve missed, growing up in cities. We explored our surroundings like children, chased the goats, picked almonds, joked at the dinner table, gazed at stars. Even while walking “alone”, trees, bushes, mud rocks and mountains surrounded and enveloped you. With the constant company of human, animal and nature, old troubles and worries became irrelevant and dull. I came here as an abstract painter and sound artist but I’ve collected more than just images and sounds – I’ve collected new seeds of wonder and optimism for the future as both an artist and a human being’.

Wei Tan

Wei Tan is a mixed-media abstract artist and environmental sound artist currently based in Malaysia. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music (King’s College London) and a Master’s degree in Music Technology (New York University). In 2015 she started practicing abstract painting and has since exhibited her art in New York, London, Rome, Barcelona and Berlin.

Joya: AiR / Tristan Gooley / UK

‘We hack through thickets of doubt and disquiet in search of a land of satisfying work. If we are lucky enough to find this place, then we settle. But soon some new nemesis rises opposite: sameness, a monster with three ugly heads – boredom, apathy and restlessness. Joya is the castle that contains the potion that slays the monster.

It has been a thrill to explore the rich, dry landscapes that surround Joya. And a privilege to do it with such talented and inspirational people. Thank you Simon and Donna for creating a unique place in sympathy with this wild environment. The building is an an artwork, the drawing together of diverse souls with like minds, a treasure.

In the end, the monster was finished off with a thousand cuts, each one a small step up a steep mountainside with new friends. And it was laid to rest under almond blossoms. Flowers that pointed south, to the sun’.

Tristan Gooley

Tristan Gooley is an author and natural navigator. Joya: arte + ecología has been a follower of his work and research for several years so we were particularly pleased to receive his research proposal.

Tristan set up his natural navigation school in 2008 and is the author of the award-winning and bestselling books, The Natural Navigator, The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs and How to Read Water, three of the world’s only books covering natural navigation.

Tristan has led expeditions in five continents, climbed mountains in Europe, Africa and Asia, sailed small boats across oceans and piloted small aircraft to Africa and the Arctic. He has walked with and studied the methods of the Tuareg, Bedouin and Dayak in some of the remotest regions on Earth.

He is the only living person to have both flown solo and sailed singlehanded across the Atlantic and is a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation and the Royal Geographical Society.

Joya: AiR / Anne Gough / USA



How to walk an inquiry? How to walk an inquiry into, through and with a new landscape? These were the questions that propelled me during a magical week residency at Joya: AiR. I was seeking to build a disciplined artistic research practice with time divided between writing and walking and generating questions, materials and representations.

Everyday, after a morning of writing, my partner and I set out into the terraced valley or up the hillsides surrounding Joya. Simon gave us ideas and directions and we set out to explore a landscape steeped in agricultural history and characterised by almonds and Aleppo pine trees. The human relationship with the environment surrounds us.

We played with Donna Landry’s position that “walking means aligning oneself to some extent with a rebellious reclaiming of common rights”. We took roads and designated paths, but also scrambled up and down ramblas, fire breaks, terraces, and the edges of fields between pines, oaks, almonds and aromatic bushes of rosemary and juniper. Sometimes we followed animal tracks, searching for signs of their habitation and paths.

As we talked with how to represent our walks, we experimented with perspective.

From the soil

Some experiments were more successful than others, and I am grateful for the opportunity to fail with some of them. Unable to reach photographs that combine aesthetics and significance. To see what did not work, with the aim of moving towards what Donna Harawy has termed the “embodied nature of all vision… to reclaim the sensory system that has been used to signify a leap out of the marked body and into the conquering gaze from nowhere”. But the gaze from nowhere is abundant in contemporary life and so time and discipline are required to reclaim the sensory system to perceive our nature-culture context.

The daily walking fed my writing project. I came with an ongoing project on visual culture of the environment and emancipatory movements and struggles, with the work of Thomas Sankara, leader of Burkina Faso in the 1980s as the foundation. It is a project with a deadline as it must be a readable book chapter soon. I found the walking and thinking while in motion helped to focus my energies when it came to write. I saw lines of connections in the materials and visual arguments I am working with that I would not have seen without the walking practice.

I came to Joya: hungry for inspiration to build a practice and I found it. It is difficult to write or work or produce work without such creative sustenance. Some of this can be found in the details of the experience. The beauty of the home and the care taken with design and colours. The wonderful dinners and conversations at the table with Simon, Donna and other resident artists. Often our talk invariably turned to the imploding political situation in the United States, my home country. How ironic is it that pine trees native to Syria travel throughout the rolling hills of Europe while the people of Syria are formally refused refuge in the country famous for offering refuge? While working on my writing project I came across this reflection from the curator Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, “Instead of dwelling in a state of paralysis and dumbfounded déja vécu, we could rather reminisce on Sankara’s words to help us understand the status quo and equip us to pose questions that might pave a way out or solve the current conundrum.”


Joya: AiR / Marie-France Bourbeau / Quebec, Canada

“The first night I passed at Joya: AiR was filled with strange noises coming from the wood burning stove next to the wall of my bedroom. It felt like rocks hitting metal panels. I learned the next morning there was a bird caught into the chimney trying to get out. In fact, two birds were trapped in the house: one in the kitchen and one near my bedroom. As I came here for residency having in mind sculpting birds, I felt it like a sign. The next day, Simon (director and co-founder of Joya: arte + ecología) opened the door of the stove and a window nearby. By chance, I happened to be standing in the other room, just as the bird took his opportunity and I saw it fly away through the open window.

I can say that by that moment, I found my point of reference both externally and internally. I understood why I had these images of birds trying to emerge from my subconscious: they were a metaphorical image of our human condition. Trapped in our lives, we may sometimes need somebody – or something – to open up our inside door.

As the days passed, I have been walking a lot throughout the land and the only other living creatures I have crossed  were.. birds. As they were the subject of the project I now had in mind, I felt a deep connexion with the environment.

Finding a lot of branches quite expressive and being inspired by them, I started to work on a series of sculptures mixing human torsos with bird heads in the objective to assemble them together. The wood here has gained a rich density of organic forms due to the harsh living conditions of growing in constant search for water. With the clay taken from the surroundings, I have sculpted figurines halfway between birds and humans. The clay, being full of little rocks and impurities, has given to my sculptures a primitive quality but more complex, expressing a link to this untamed territory.

Joya: AiR is a jewel in the middle of this wild nature, allowed me to plunge into the roots of the landscape – both physically and emotionally – and allowed me to recenter myself and focus on the fundamental elements: water, air, fire, clay, all these being at first necessary but often forgotten as essential to life. Being restricted by the remoteness of the place and having to work with new materials,  gave me the chance to experiment with new materials and new ways of sculpting and therefore stretch my wings”.


Marie-France Bourbeau 2017

Joya: AiR / Karen Miranda Abel / Toronto, Canada

Joya: a living artwork by Karen Miranda Abel

‘Situated in the driest region of Europe within southern Spain’s Almería province, Joya: arte + ecología lies in the Sierra de María-Los Vélez Natural Park. Characterized by moon-like plains and rocky summits, the scenic nature reserve is northeast of the Tabernas Desert, a stark geological landscape of wild badlands made famous as the filming location of classic Western films.

Restored from an abandoned farmhouse complex with exquisite vision and attention-to-detail, Joya: arte + ecología thrives in a challenging yet compelling alpine desert microclimate in the rain shadow of the Sierra Larga. After 14 days as artist-in-residence at Joya: arte + ecología in October 2016, I came to understand the arts-led field research centre as a living artwork, a monumental life’s work created and nurtured daily by the Beckmann family: Simon and Donna, and their two teenage children, Sesamé and Solomon.

Over more than a decade, the Beckmann family has evolved Joya: arte + ecología into a site-responsive residence that demonstrates a finely-tuned spatial aesthetic with inspiring sensitivity towards the natural and cultural heritage of the site. Their creation is a warmly minimalist off-grid home that sustainably functions as a habitable work of contemporary sculpture in natural congruence with the enveloping landscape and climatic conditions. Sun and wind provide electricity throughout the house, rainwater is collected from the roof, and waste is recycled through a grey water system.

True to its name, Joya – Spanish for “jewel” – radiates a tremendous sense of integrity and legacy, like a gemstone revealed in the landscape by the wind and rain.

Desert Pool (If every desert was once a sea)

During my residency at Joya: arte + ecología, I undertook a daily fieldwork practice which culminated in the site-specific installationDesert Pool (If every desert was once a sea). The project references the primeval sea that would have occupied the area millions of years prior to the current desert ecology, due to its proximity to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea within the La Hoya de Carrascal basin. Even the region’s mountains and ridges may have once rested beneath prehistoric waters as part of a primitive sea floor. Evidence of this ancient water body is readily exhibited across the desert landscape in an abundance of fossilized marine life specimens preserved in the terrain’s eroding sedimentary layers.

Following Vernal Pool (2014) and Riffle Pool Riffle (2014), Desert Pool (If every desert was once a sea) is the third in a series of elemental works that reflect on water bodies as liminal spaces. Far from a stagnant form, a pool is a dynamic landscape that has retained its mystery. In each ‘pool’ I see a mythic potential, a kind of portal channeling visionary histories across millennia at the threshold of a timeless sense of equilibrium. Through this thematic concept of a ‘reflecting pool,’ immersive, site-sensitive understandings of place and time are sought.

Desert Pool (If every desert was once a sea) is a light-reflective installation created in the artist studio and gallery at Joya: arte + ecología. The space features an expansive wall-sized window with a magnificent view of the landscape framed against the Aleppo pine-forested ridge of the Sierra Larga. Informed by the topography, geology, and ecology of the area, this work was executed with particular observation of the light that travels through the studio’s large architectural opening with each sunrise. The reflective aqueous surface of the wall-to-wall installation represents a kind of material recollection of an ancient long vanished sea. Referencing formative events such as the Zanclean flood – an epic breach of the Strait of Gibraltar theorized to have refilled the Mediterranean basin five million years ago – Desert Pool’s symbolic waters signal a consolidation or reckoning with the prehistoric origins of the area.

I invested the first seven days of the artist residency in a daily fieldwork practice to expose the metal material selected for the installation to the desert landscape. Metal foil was chosen for its rugged yet malleable elemental properties, with the golden colour of the pure brass radiating the auric quality of the desert sunlight. The shifting autumn atmosphere consisted of cool, still mornings and hot afternoons when the wind whipped across the fields, activating the small wind turbine that provides electricity for the house, which was often the only sound heard upon commencing my solo hike each day. Three 92-metre (100-foot) lengths of heavy brass foil, 30 centimetres (12 inches) in width, were carried across the landscape from the Joya residence and repeatedly dragged down the ‘barranco’ (dry ravine) as a method of etching the material with the terrestrial textures.

The barrancos of the alpine desert are deep erosional gullies in the soft mountain foothills carved by rare rainstorms. A gradual sculpting process, the barrancos were likely formed over hundreds or thousands of years by sudden floods which have historically occurred once every few years or more. A recent increase in these rain events over the last decade is thought to be an effect of climate change. The flooding rain scours the limestone, red sandstone, and domes of white clay of the mountainous slopes with a barrage of rushing water, creating deep fluvial passages that remain bone dry for much of the year during which the wind further erodes the landscape.

The barranco unravels south for many kilometres, eventually widening into an expansive ‘rambla’ where it ultimately reaches the Mediterranean Sea. Each day I followed the meandering path that rainwater has travelled for hundreds or thousands of years, hiking down the barranco’s secluded and narrow passage through steep bluffs of parched limestone. As anticipated, the act of dragging great lengths of metal foil down the barranco produced a vibrational sound remarkably like rain. I led the metallic serpentine streams over giant boulders, around limestone outcrops, and across clay and sandstone deposits, recording and delineating the composition of the barranco while transmitting the rare sound of rainfall which echoed across the desert hills.

The three metal pieces were left ‘in situ’ for several days to acquire a natural patina. Each day I arrived in the barranco to discover the material resting in an altered posture due to the previous evening’s lively winds, which would festively lift and twist the lengths of foil. Under the heat of the intense sun, combined with direct contact with the minerals present in the ground, the metal surface developed oxidized marks and colourful marbled stains indicative of the surroundings. A rare light rainfall seasoned the metal surface with a raindrop pattern. Pine needles that fell from low-hanging branches were similarly recorded on to the material with tarnished markings.

While waiting for the process of natural patination to produce results, I created some ephemeral works in the barranco by temporarily gilding rock surfaces with gold leaf. Evidence of fossilized marine life is increasingly exposed in the barranco as the elements excavate the sedimentary layers of the ancient sea floor. A deep limestone impression of a large fossilized ammonite – a prehistoric extinct mollusc – measuring more than 30 centimetres (12 inches) across was the most extraordinary specimen, located about 40 minutes deep into the barranco. The impression was gilded by placing small torn pieces of gold leaf on to the stone surface moistened with natural spring water from the local village of Vélez-Blanco. Over a few days, the delicate gold leaf fragments were carried away by the wind, a process intended to reference the present-day impermanence of the sedimentary marine record. The water and wind that revealed the ancient ammonite imprint will also wash it away, and in time the remnants may be deposited back into the sea.

Once dragged  out of the barranco, back up to the residence and into the studio space, the metal foil pieces were cut and assembled as parallel latitudes across the floor similar to a large topographic relief map. Sunlight from the window illuminated and animated the installation, travelling across the room and reflecting light around the space. The light created a sensation of waves on the luminous, undulating surface, evoking imagery of a warm sea laid before the arid landscape framed in the studio window. Visible in the foreground of the large picture window is Joya’s water tank, a 6-metre-deep stone and cement cistern which must be regularly replenished with trucked-in water as no constant natural water source exists on site.

Like a ribbon of time, the thin brass foil symbolizes an era when the land was inhabited by an ancient sea, a period that spanned a mere sliver relative to the geological time scale of Earth. Framing the work in this way, the mythic Desert Pool floods the interior space like a mirage in momentary symbiosis with the present. The visitor’s eye sails across the artifact’s faceted surface of gentle, glistening waves, lands at the water cistern set deep in the ground before navigating over the chalky hay fields and lastly rising up to the Sierra Larga. Resting one’s gaze high along the expansive mountain ridge crested by a rocky outcrop named Peña Casanova, the visitor is reminded that if not completely submerged by the primeval waters of long ago, the summit of this commanding landform may have stood long enough to witness a time when the desert was once a sea.

Karen Miranda Abel

Toronto, Canada

Joya: AiR / Heather Ramsdale / Philadelphia USA

‘Work with less.

I came to Joya:AiR to work with less and explore the freedom one has in solitude, off the grid, in a studio filled with quiet. Leaving the shop, power tools and machines behind, my quest was toeliminate defaults, and see what happens, so I showed up with a large roll of paper. A studio window that revealed the severity of landscape in the middle of emptiness was the perfect visual dichotomy to propel ideas.

The mountains became fragile interior objects made of paper.

The fragile objects became heavy in gesture.

The heaviness imposed a curiousness about the forms.

The curiousness called for the addition of functional found things.

The addition of found functional things brought about the pulse of personas, both humorous and lonely.

Here I found the perfect balance of long productive days and great evening conversations. The food was local, fresh and beautifully prepared by Donna and Simon, and punctuated the very soul of the environment. I will leave Joya and return to my city with an awareness of how I live, what I really need both in the studio and otherwise, and with great insight as to what is most important’. 


Joya: AiR / writer in residence / Richard Sidy / Arizona USA

‘In the state of Arizona I am involved in non-profits in rural communities with the goals to enhance awareness and solutions for the challenges of local food security, sustainable communities, and environmental education. The main organization that I work with is Gardens for Humanity. This organization was founded by artists and poets who were moved to find solutions for creating and healing communities through education, art and gardens while teaching environmental stewardship.

For many years I have felt that we are not listening to Mother Earth. We usually talk about her from the viewpoints of science, religion, economy, environmentalism, politics. It has only been the artists, poets and naturalists who have given her voice vivid and compelling beauty, clarity and urgency.

Most of my time in Arizona is spent developing and supporting programs that impact the missions of the organization I work with. My writing is mostly non-fiction or essay. Writing poetry is a luxury for me. Therefore, I looked forward to my residency at Joya as an opportunity to focus on writing poetry that gives voice to the environment and projects a connection to place. I used my time to observe and write poetry that I call  as a whole, “The Earth Speaks to Us: Word Sketches -Discovering a Sense of Place.” To me it is important to listen to the stories that a place is telling us both from the viewpoint of nature and also from the viewpoint of those who live there.

Upon learning that I would be spending a two-week residency at Joya, I was inspired to start writing “The Earth Speaks to Us” to tell the story of where I live, that is rich in Native American culture, with influences of settlers and the Spanish conquistadores. Perhaps now I will continue that and join Andalusia and Arizona places that have many common elements.

A bonus for me was that in Joya, Simon and Donna have created a working sustainable artistic community that supports the arts and the art of living sustainably. So it was extra inspiring to actually see an example of these goals in action. This felt like a perfect fit to the areas of main focus of my life activities’.


Richard Sidy

Joya: AiR / Simon Kroug / Switzerland

‘Arriving at Los Gázquez by following tracks between pines and orchards of almond trees, you believe to be lost. You believe to change world or period. Silence is incredibly thick. Colours, smells and material share in the painting. And yet, here more than elsewhere, at the end of your trip, you touch concrete life as it is when in deep connection with Nature.

Without denying technological progress nor comfort, but with respect for environment, Donna and Simon created an artist’s residence in accordance with their ecologist and social convictions. This does not prevent neither the delicious meals (concocted by Donna) nor the cheerful tables or exciting discussions.

From my point of view, this particular place has got a very positive aura that undoubtedly stimulated my work and ideas, helped by the fabulous welcome of Donna and her family.

I regret that my language proficiency has deprived me of more thorough discussion on all the exciting subjects we have broached together.


My warm thanks to the entire team of Joya’.


Artists statement…

Since 2012, I question my need for space and nature. Uncomfortable with my urban condition and overconsumption all around me, I tried to reconsider my place in nature. My goal is to find the link distended with large spaces, back to basics, to experience the elements, and to self-seek a certain frugality. This initial search yielded a series of small format intimate and introspective prints . I titled this series of woodcuts or linocuts “Canopy“.


Working today in a space twice as large and high ceiling, I deepened the desire of space, of movement, of natural environment. Now I explore printmaking in a format such as printing must be done by hand. My report on the matter is more physical, gesture of a woodcut line or of a brush stroke becomes more important.

As a starting point, I use photography but these two-dimensional representations of reality are not sufficient me. Linking photography —instantaneous process of capturing light— with the slow and complex production of a woodcut print raises many questions about the nature of the image that I work.

I use either my own photographs, or I look for images on the internet and social networks. In total contradiction with what they express (contemplation, slow, pause) snapshots circulating ultra-fast. This deep slowdown that is physically felt in nature is the feeling I’m looking into pictures that I choose as a basis. Appropriating these images means living landscapes that are inaccessible to me at that moment. I fantasize these landscapes. I give a subjective reading about it.

Traditional Japanese gouges that I use, as the ink I make or papers made with natural fiber resonate with my project. It’s a pleasure to handle a great tool shaped itself by hand. Woodcutting thousands small recessed surfaces in(ter)dependent who are the light of all to save the solid ones fascinates me. By printing the matrix in hand, I play with chance. I induce more or less controllable shades on raised surfaces. I often enhance the print with brush strokes  of a particular color to add additional vibration frequency.

Sometimes appears a character, usually alone, engages himself … just me somehow! I claim contemplation as a fundamental attitude of existence. And with it, the use of a long time, which helps to get rid of the superficial.

Loneliness, in my work, like that of these characters is desired and assumed. I focus on my perceptions. During the long matrix etching phase, often bathed in a selected music, my mind wanders in the popup image. Idream and shapes and I can further explain why and how. Beyond the succession of technical milestones that mark the achievement of my work, I try to keep a place for my intuition.