El Relato #1 / Simon Beckmann

Joya: arte + ecología has invited contributions to the Joya: website in the form of esoteric essays. We all agreed to keep alive and hearten a conversation with past and potential resident artists. We looked for an iconoclastic chinwag, a discursive nosedive into art and ecological thinking and to perk up the tête-à-tête amongst convergent thinkers in an era of profound change.

We asked that contributions should be around the themes of aesthetics, ecology, pedagogy, water rising, activism, language, the Anthropocene, the 6th mass extinction, the built environment, painting, food, a change in the weather, autonomy, travel and doing the right thing. Or anything you like.

We would love it if you would like to contribute, full credits (obviously) plus links to wherever you like. No word limit beyond a minimum of 500.


 On Joya: arte + ecología / AiR - Simon Beckmann

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”  Gandhi

 Something of the two years we spent in India rubbed off. As artists Donna and I backpacked with a giant portfolio of paper across the continent and way up into the Himalayas. When we came to a standstill we painted, not predictable exotic landscapes but a continuation of our studio practice back in London.

In an everlasting experience, five thousand six hundred and thirty eight meters up on a rocky ridge in Zanskar, we ate lunch watching a raven. Airborne, but static. Just enough given wingspan, just enough updraft, he flipped, remaining in the same position but upside down. Flipping back again he spread his wings and soared into the sunlight above. Closing his wings, he dropped back to the same position as before, flipping upside down again. Over and over again he repeated the same action. At that moment, like the raven we connected, briefly, with what defines us, trying to be in possession of all the requisite feelings that make you happy. Not wrapped up in ourselves happy, but a quality of unlatched happiness, untroubled and integral.

 Seven years later, married, in London and with two-year-old twins we only had a notional link to the concept of changing ourselves, to living sustainably, to approaching that complete sense of happiness you can achieve by living in the same air, the same clean air, as that raven in Zanskar.

 Something had to change, we needed to relocate and create and live with nature.

Donna chose Spain. Her Grandfather was Consul General during the civil war in Barcelona. He looked after the interests of British citizens in Spain especially one particular French speaker from Haiti whom he subsequently married. Their children grew up speaking Castellano as their first language, English their second. Donna’s great auntie was three times Spanish ladies tennis champion and the first female tennis player to wear a backless dress at Wimbledon. Another great aunt married the famous Spanish racing driver Pierre De Vizcaya in the 20s but sadly he was killed in 1933 in a bizarre accident. Spanish family fable for Donna was part of growing up. She is English, but not entirely, so Spain was an obvious choice for her. For me, being an environmental activist and artist, the Andalucían province of Almería was the obvious choice. Where were the first signs of climate change going to manifest themselves in Europe other than in the alpine desert, we now call home?

We bought an abandoned property, Cortijada Los Gázquez in 2006. This is the full name of the property. Cortijo is the word for farm in Castellano and a Cortijada is a collection of small farm houses. Gázquez is the family name of those who once lived here. Cortijada Los Gázquez at 3281 ft. up, is a 50-acre ‘off-grid’ rural farm and arts residency in the heart of the Sierra María-Los Vélez Natural Park, Almería, Spain.

Spain, within Europe, is ground zero for de-population of rural areas. Even up to 1970s life for the Gázquez family was hard. No electricity, no running water, no schooling. Living as subsistence farmers, scraping a living from pre-industrial farming methods, using livestock for ploughing and carrying loads. The abundant resources of colonial Spain had passed them by. In the 1930's the civil war had brought them to their knees. After time the autocratic rule of Franco prevented the development of rural areas. Once the slowly emerging awareness of other people’s better fortunes elsewhere came upon them their collective desires drove them to leave. They left for the factories in Valencia, Tarragona and Barcelona. They left for the vineyards of France. Many searched out their former Republican supporting family, the exiles once caught up in the vortex of civil war. The Gázquez family, along with many families in this region, relinquished their homes in search of better fortunes in the cities of Spain or abroad in the mid 70s.

In 2006 Donna and I started a long road in the pursuit of restoring Los Gázquez and the land that surrounds the farm. We created a challenge for ourselves, a task that exhausted the skills we already possessed and left us in need of acquiring new knowledge. Conventional aspirations were thrown aside and once Joya: AiR, the residency, became a reality so did the reality that our continued existence here was more inexorably intertwined with the land, how we live and how we take responsibility

Donna and I, with our four-year olds became parishioners of the village of Vélez Blanco. Population, two thousand, though we have never seen them all at the same time. Seventy-five percent of the village is over the age of seventy-five. Villages like this are called pueblos blancos, white villages, very redolent of the traditions of communal living in Andalucía. The white reflects the summer heat and the close proximity of house to adjacent house provides shade and a cool cross breeze. As a crown the 16th century castle of the Marques de Don Fajardo y Chacon sits above the village, warden to its vassals living beneath. It in turn, like the unseating cuckoo chick, is built upon the former 7th century citadel built by the Moors. Ironically, if you know New York and are familiar with the Metropolitan Museum you may have entered the heart of this castle, the Patio de Honor, the renaissance courtyard, sold in 1905 by the wardens of the long-gone lineage of the Marquesado. Via a circuitous route the marble pieces were transported to Paris before a US industrialist’s aspirational installation in his New York mansion. The museum was gifted the courtyard in 1963.

Half an hour from the village, through the natural park, via dirt tracks winding through the pine forests, the almond groves, the dry fluvial systems called barrancos, you reach our project. Back then the roof was partially collapsed and needed replacing entirely. The walls were field stone bonded with clay and lime washed. The rooves were pine beams, crossed with cane and clay and clad with terracotta tiles. Ceilings were distinctively coated in undulating gesso, the floors brushed dirt, no glass in the windows just shutters, no light but candles, no stove but an open fire. What remained of the Gázquez family, those who yielded to the harshness of life here, were the unmade beds, the wash bowls, individual potties and empty coat hangers.

We took on an Ecuadorian builder, Segundo San Martin San Martin and he and I started the task of reforming this fragile ruin. First, we cleared the collapsed elements of the building, salvaging what we could, burning what we could not. Then came the reconstruction. Twice a week I would take my old 4x4, trailer, water tank, pump and generator an hour away to gather water from the nearest river. We could only make concrete with water and this was the nearest source. Once the roof was on, the building sealed the next problem was services. Too remote to access public needs in the village we had to be autonomous, non-polluting and we wanted to be carbon free. We installed photo voltaic panels and a wind turbine to create electricity. We fixed solar panels on the roof to create hot water. We plumbed two giant bio-mass burners for underfloor heating and a rainwater catchment system to harvest water from the roof. And we claimed back our waste water with an elaborate system of reed beds. But most importantly we preserved the vernacular character of the building. We took the unconscious design principle of the Gázquez family, who built this place, and refined their irregular white-washed surfaces into a new vernacular, sculptural form, clean and minimal and organic. Three years later we were ready, notwithstanding global financial crises, high winds destroying wind turbines, partial building collapse as a consequence of intense rain, and raising a family. What we had made was a beautiful space that is virtually 100 percent carbon neutral.

The Joya: residency came slowly as we eased ourselves gently into what was to be our ultimate goal, a cultural and sustainable destination for international artists and writers. Ten years later we accept approximately 170 artists and writers from the 400 who apply annually.

Now, the poor yielding clay soil, the pine forested limestone mountains, the gullies and the high plains are home to an international assortment of transdisciplinary, poets and writers, dancers, painters, sculptors, performance, video and installation artists. Our wild spaces are populated with chroma keyed Lycra onesie wearing Irish video artists or Chinese installationists sleeping in bucolic desert landscapes whilst being filmed. The main studio has been turned into a giant camera obscura to film the summer equinox. We have had Nigerian and Welsh performance artists transforming the appearance of our location merely by their presence in the landscape. Japanese calligraphers building paper kites to mimic the wild birds, the eagles and vultures. Abstract painters from New York and graphic graffiti artists from Sydney. Poets from Washington State and painters from DC. We have had sculptors from Argentina, conceptual artists from Uruguay, painters from Brazil, activist artists from Chile and Colombia. Many artists arrive here via the work we do with graduate Fine Art courses at the University of the Arts London, Goldsmiths and Granada. Without fail all the artists and writers we have hosted over the years have responded to this place in ways only the most perceptive can. With intelligence, wit and an unbridled creativity. On one memorable occasion we hosted a young graphic illustrator born and bred in Barcelona. She was super excited to be here as she was a descendent of the family Gázquez

For many artists and writers, the experience they have here is transformative. Artists are not here to finish projects but to research their practice, to evolve, to integrate with a like-minded community and cultivate new thoughts and ideas. And as a group, we give back. As a cultural and sustainable destination in an area fraught with climate and cultural issues such as land abandonment, desertification and an un-replenishable aging population our activities breathe new life, inspiration, initiative and hope.

 Thirteen years later our children are about to start university in Spain as artists and film makers. Donna’s family has returned to Spain and like the raven in Zanskar we have connected with what defines us, we have recast ourselves in a world full of extreme challenges and we have changed into what we wished for.


 The world has become different in a lifetime. Fifty years on from the days the original family lived here successive Gázquez offspring come to visit during the fiestas in summer. Wherever they found themselves after their exodus they gravitate back to the land of their ancestors, even if only in mind. They share their stories of life here with us. They never talk of hardship, of lost children or of hunger. They talk of toil, yes, but they also talk of happiness. They were self-reliant, they produced food from such scant resources. They swam in water. Their life was one co-evolved with all the flora and fauna that mutually benefitted from their culture, their invention.

Over the last eighteen months here at Joya we have begun an ambitious sustainably designed forest garden. Phase one has seen us plant over 50 trees on a terraformed water catchment system. Stage two will see us plant over two hundred trees in 2020. Unlike the Gázquez family we don’t just need to produce food. Unknown to the subsistence farmers here fifty years ago the hyperobject known as climate change means we plant trees to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. We no longer live in isolation as our futures are inextricably linked in a fight to maintain a global environment that can sustain all of us.

Simon Beckmann co-founder and curator of Joya: arte + ecología / AiR



Simon Beckmann
Joya: AiR / Harvesting the Sun
work in progress - Thibault Duchesne

work in progress - Thibault Duchesne


Harvesting the Sun - Thibault Duchesne

“The 1965 Sergio Leone’s “For a Few Dollars More” movie opens on a vast and arid landscape. An anonymous man, soon to be shot to death, is riding a horse under a crushing sun. This scene taking place in the so-called New Mexican far west was actually filmed in the Desierto de Tabernas in Andalucía — a two hour drive from Joya: AiR according to google maps.

I came to Joya to harvest the sun. It is the residency’s main source of energy.

I harvest solar energy for the production of two works.

work in progress - Thibault Duchesne

work in progress - Thibault Duchesne


The first one (above) is the continuity of a series I started last year, here at Joya. I draw volumes on large papers. These surfaces are like walls within a 3D simulation of an architectural space. By a choreographed overlay of symmetrical caches, I use the chemical properties of paper, letting the sun degrade the lignin and mark the surface where it was not covered. The paper turns yellow proportionally to the exposure time. The resulting images introduce a spacitality, yet they are the result of a temporality.

work in progress - Thibault Duchesne

work in progress - Thibault Duchesne


The second work uses the same principles only differently. Last year a thunderstorm occurred. I took photographs of the strange yet beautiful cloud formations prior to that event.

One of that picture was enlarged and printed as multiple negatives. Each of them was assembled to blue paper and left to bleach under the sun.

The temporality and sense of space are characteristic to Leone’s movies, perhaps those two intricate elements are inherently exacerbated in arid and harsh places. Getting lost in a territory is maybe what’s left to reevaluate our relation to nature and understand how it must be transformed”.

Thibault Duchesne


Joya: forest garden / #2

So, what did we plant in stage three and how does it relate to previous planting.

Entonces, ¿qué plantamos en la etapa tres y cómo se relaciona con la plantación anterior?

3 x madroño / Arbutus unedo / Strawberry Tree. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arbutus_unedo

1 x Myrtle / Myrtus communis / Myrtus

2 x pomegranate / Punica granatum / Granada. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomegranate /in addition to existing 4

3 x hazel / Corylus / Avellana

1 x walnut / Juglans / Nuez

1 x chestnut / Castanea sativa  / Castaña

1 x níspero / Eriobotrya japonica / https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loquat

1 X quince / Cydonia oblonga / membrillo / in addition to existing 3

2 x persimmon / Diospyros kaki / Kaki

2 x apricot / Prunus armeniaca / albaricoque

29 x olive / mixed varieties

1 x fig / Ficus carica / higo / in addition to existing 23

A tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds / 22 kilos of carbon dioxide per year and can sequester 1 ton of carbon dioxide by the time it reaches 40 years old.

It’s a start…

Simon Beckmann
Joya: forest garden / #1

english / texto castellano abajo

We only have to see the Extinction Rebellion movement growing around the world and the Greta Thunberg phenomenon, embarrassing the politicians, and realise that the campaign is making an impact. And here at Joya: arte + ecología, we support all climate activists. Banning plastic straws is clearly not enough and we feel a groundswell of discontent, especially amongst youth, and the need to change from the polarised old left and right.

The desire for perpetual growth is outstripping the resources the planet contains and to access those finite resources we are destroying the environment and the bio-diversity contained within it. Gross Domestic Product has never been an accurate measure of the quality of the human experience and yet the World Bank wants a 3% annual growth. That means in 24 years they expect to have doubled GDP! Where do they think it is all coming from? The atmosphere is already full of carbon as a result of this expectation.

However there are things we can do to sequester the carbon already in the atmosphere and here at Joya: arte + ecología this is something we have been doing for the past 12 years. In annual phases we are planting a forest garden. We wont go into too much detail right now. If you would like to know more we are planning on doing a weekly blog on this (and other subjects), so please follow our progress.

We have created a physical permaculture system (you can also call it a traditional Spanish dry farming system) at Los Gázquez (home of Joya: AiR). It consists of a series of large swales (ditches) built on contour and the spoil (called a berm) is built on the lower side of the swale. This is a water catchment system which in time will accumulate ground water and provide a resource for the trees we are planting within the system. Initially we have installed a drip line irrigation system, but this is only for the first three years to get the trees established in the hard dry clay we are built upon.

In addition, we do not use insecticides and have opted to experiment with a biological solution to pest insects. We have used the swales to evolve an insectary. The idea is, by using and encouraging the diversity of wild plantlife, we can create an environment beneficial to the insects that prey on the pest insects. This is complex, obviously, but with years of trial and error we hope to perfect a balanced system. We do expect to lose edible produce to insects and this system is designed to yield for our needs and to some degree the insects that also benefit from the food resource. We want a co-evolutive arrangement with the wild flora and fauna around us.

We are currently averaging around 35 trees a year as the system expands incrementally. These trees will not only supply us with food in the form of olives, almonds, apricots, persimmon, medlar, hazel nuts, walnuts, chestnuts and pistachio, they will help to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Couple this with Joya: AiR´s zero carbon emissions and we are building a powerful example of how we can all, in one form or another, make efforts towards climate change solutions.

En Castellano:

Solo tenemos que ver el movimiento de Extinción Rebelión en todo el mundo y el fenómeno Greta Thunberg, avergonzando a los políticos, y darnos cuenta de que la campaña está teniendo un impacto. Y aquí en Joya: arte + ecología, apoyamos a todos los activistas del clima. Prohibir las pajitas de plástico claramente no es suficiente y sentimos una oleada de descontento, especialmente entre los jóvenes, y la necesidad de cambiar la polarización de la izquierda y la derecha.

El deseo de un crecimiento perpetuo está superando los recursos que contiene el planeta y para acceder a esos recursos finitos, estamos destruyendo el medio ambiente y la biodiversidad que contiene. El Producto Interno Bruto nunca ha sido una medida precisa de la calidad de la experiencia humana y, sin embargo, el Banco Mundial desea un crecimiento anual del 3%. ¡Eso significa que en 24 años esperan duplicar el PIB! ¿De dónde creen que viene todo? La atmósfera ya está llena de carbono como resultado de esta expectativa.

Sin embargo, hay cosas que podemos hacer para secuestrar el carbono que ya se encuentra en la atmósfera y aquí, en Joya: arte + ecología, esto es algo que hemos estado haciendo durante los últimos 12 años. En fases anuales estamos plantando un huerto forestal. No vamos a entrar en demasiados detalles en este momento. Si desea saber más, estamos planeando hacer un blog semanal sobre este (y otros temas), así que siga nuestro progreso.

Hemos creado un sistema de permacultura física (también puede llamarlo un sistema tradicional de secano español) en Los Gázquez (hogar de Joya: AiR). Consiste en una serie de grandes cunetas (zanjas) construidas en el contorno y el botín (llamado berma) se construye en el lado inferior de la cisada. Este es un sistema de captación de agua que a su tiempo acumulará agua subterránea y proporcionará un recurso para los árboles que estamos plantando dentro del sistema. Inicialmente, hemos instalado un sistema de riego por goteo, pero esto es solo durante los primeros tres años para que los árboles se establezcan en la arcilla seca y dura sobre la que estamos construidos.

Además, no utilizamos insecticidas y hemos optado por experimentar con una solución biológica para plagas de insectos. Hemos utilizado los swales para desarrollar un insectario. La idea es que, al utilizar y fomentar la diversidad de la vida silvestre de las plantas, podemos crear un ambiente beneficioso para los insectos que se aprovechan de los insectos plaga. Esto es complejo, obviamente, pero con años de prueba y error esperamos perfeccionar un sistema equilibrado. Esperamos perder productos comestibles para los insectos y este sistema está diseñado para rendirnos a nuestras necesidades y hasta cierto punto a los insectos que también se benefician del recurso alimenticio. Queremos un acuerdo de co-evolución con la flora y fauna silvestre que nos rodea.

Actualmente estamos promediando alrededor de 35 árboles al año a medida que el sistema se expande de manera incremental. Estos árboles no solo nos proporcionarán alimentos en forma de olivas, almendras, albaricoques, caqui, níspero, avellanas, nueces, castañas y pistacho, sino que también ayudarán a secuestrar el carbono de la atmósfera. Combine esto con las emisiones de carbono cero de Joya: AiR y estamos construyendo un ejemplo poderoso de cómo podemos todos, de una forma u otra, hacer esfuerzos para encontrar soluciones al cambio climático.

Simon Beckmann

Joya: Los Gázquez

This is Los Gázquez (home of Joya: AiR) in the late 60’s. Here are the Gázquez family threshing wheat by hand on the threshing circle (era). 

Simon Beckmann

Joya: AiR estaba muy contenta de recibir la visita del Director de Arte del Museo Regional de Arte Moderno de Murcia, Juan G Sandoval. Esperamos una visita recíproca a Cartagena pronto ...


Simon Beckmann