Text and images by Nana Maiolini, MRes Moving Image, Central Saint Martins
Nana Maiolini, MRes Moving Image student at Central Saint Martins was selected for the 2016 UAL Art for the Environment International Residency (AER) at Joya arte: + ecología in Almeria, Spain. Here is Nana’s report:
Less is More: 12 Days In Joya
It feels difficult to report the experience I had in the residency at Joya arte: + ecología. Although it was an insightful one, which nurtured me a lot, it seems I am still digesting it now that I am back in London. Perhaps this is because somehow the experience has not finished yet, its outputs are still in progress.
Before arriving at Cortijada Los Gázquez (Joya’s house) at Parque Natural Sierra María-Los Vélez I only had a vague idea of the dynamic of the place and of how my project would be developed while living there. Aware that I would only find it out in situ, I tried to prepare myself as much as I could. In my suitcase I was bringing a couple of books, my equipment and some objects that I imagined that I could make work with. Arriving in Granada, though, I was told that my luggage was lost and that the airline company could not guarantee the exact delivery date.
Spending the first week with very few clothes and only part of the equipment would have been an unfortunate beginning, if it had not allowed me a deeper exchange with the place I was inserted into. As Rauschenberg said, “when you are lost you look so much harder”.
My initial proposal for the residency had been inspired by an ambiguous sensation of missing the natural environment from my home country Brazil, since I moved to London one year ago. The nostalgia of having a lifestyle more integrated with nature than I experienced while living in London, was combined with an anger provoked by facts regarding the huge devastation that happened in Brazil recently; the disaster caused by the collapse of a mining dam in a Minas Gerais, which provoked an enormous environmental impact. The strong image of the mud invading villages, rivers and the sea was attached to my memories about Brazil and generated the need to produce a work related to these images.
In this residency, I wanted to approach this double relation to the environment, between a certain healing that nature can promote and the wounds created by an environmental disaster. Inspired by Walter De Maria’s manifesto On the Importance of Natural Disasters, in which he states that natural catastrophes ‘may be the highest form of art possible to experience’ I was interested in this same force that can be both generative and destructive – whether producing an artwork or a disaster. Intending to avoid making a spectacle out of the images of the disaster in Minas Gerais, my initial proposition was to try and create experiments using the sound of the explosion combined with the sounds that would be recorded during the residency.
Although I was interested in that particular Brazilian landscape, after my arrival in Andalucía it became clear that it would be more sincere to react to this specific location, rather than evoking something that was not present. The lack of the necessary material I was planning to use, because it was still in transit from London, also pushed me to detach from my previous plans and to throw myself to the experience of the place itself.
Even though the landscape in Sierra de María-Los Vélez Natural Park is astonishingly beautiful, it has been suffering from centuries of human unsustainable occupation as well as the consequences of climate change. The agricultural practices, such as monoculture farming, as well as the arid climate and lack of rains have been causing a severe process of desertification.
Amid that area, however, Cortijada Los Gázquez is a pole of restauration: both of nature and of the human structures that occupy this arid environment. Restored from an abandoned complex of five dwellings, the house is constituted by bright and generous spaces, designed in resonance with local architectonic tradition. The off-grid energy system that powers the complex makes use of the abundant sunlight and wind that characterise the valley. Inside the house, the loving family members Donna, Simon, Sesame and Solomon make the artists-in-residency feel at home.
The house’s internal dynamics and its relationship with the environment focused my attention. During the day, everyone did their chores and in the evening we all met for dinner. Public and private spaces were very well defined. The sense of community felt strong, especially regarding the use of water, as we were all counting on each other. This essential element is extremely valuable in the region and it was necessary to use it really carefully.
It became clear that working in the Los Gázquez’s studio was structurally and socially diverse from doing it among any other four walls. What makes it a special place is not only the landscape in which it is located, but also the exchanges inside the house itself. In this sense, the residence in Joya: arte + ecología is very connected with ecology at the root of the term (in Greek oikos “house” + logia “study of”). Not only does it stimulate the creation of artworks related to the environment, but it also promotes an experimental exercise of living collectively.
Work in Progress
Each day at the residency, I would go for a walk. I recorded image and sound from both the inside and the outside of the Cortijada Los Gázquez. In my first wanderings in the park, I was fascinated by the dry roots, flowers and leaves which have some kind of sculptural shapes. I started to collect some of them. After a while, I realized that because of their dryness they would produce singular noises when touched, especially when they were cracked. Keen to explore these sounds, but avoiding the background noise of the wind, I decided to bring them into the space of the house. The most silent place I found there was inside of the shower box, which would be usually dry.
The exercise I did consisted of a series of videos of those isolated objects being handled until the point when they lost their original form. It was a kind of noisy des-sculpturing.
Another test I did was to record some of my bathing sessions. I was interested in those moments, especially because they seemed to work as a metaphor of the exercise, within the private sphere, train an awareness regarding the collectiveness. Embodying the challenge of using the minimum water possible, I tried some different strategies that seemed to improve over the days. That shower box had been an inspirational place to me and bath time was like a ritual in which I negotiated private and common needs. Filming it seemed to promote an interesting estrangement of this routine act that in general is not perceived as part of a broader ecosystem.
It is interesting to notice the transformation of my initial project during these days in Los Gázquez. Even though the work is not complete yet, it is noticeable that the outcomes still connect with the main ideas.
After this singular experience, I am absolutely thankful to the Beckmann family, for being so generous and inspiring; and to all other resident artists whom I had the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with: Annika, Abbie, Stephen, Tori, Maeve, Dayna, Elena and Matt. I would also like to thank Professor Lucy Orta and Camilla Palestra, who made this journey possible.
 ‘I don’t necessarily desire a perfect photography’. Interview by Alain Sayag (1981), in Robert Rauschenberg Photographs, Pantheon Books, New York.
 My practice as an artist is mostly based on research and perception of territories. Having a camera, an audio recorder and my body as main tools, I work across different media, including film, performance and installation. For the development of a new work, I would describe my research method as similar to Suely Rolnik’s definition of the cartographer’s practice. In her words, ‘the cartographer does not intend to explain or reveal. What they want is to dive into the geography of affects and to invent bridges of language to make their crossing. (My translation). Rolnik, S. (1989) Cartografia Sentimental: Transformações contemporâneas do desejo. São Paulo: Editora Estação Liberdade.
 De Maria, Walter (1960). ‘On the Importance of Natural Disasters’, in Compositions, Essays, Meaningless Work, Natural Disasters, in http://stendhalgallery.com/?page_id=4846. Accessed on 08/05/2016.
In 2015, internationally acclaimed artist, UAL Chair of Art for the Environment Professor Lucy Orta, Centre for Sustainable Fashion launched the Art for the Environment Residency Programme (AER), in partnership with residency programmes across Europe. Applicants can choose from a two to four week period at one of the hosting institutions, to explore concerns that define the twenty-first century – biodiversity, environmental sustainability, social economy, human rights – and through their artistic practice, envision a world of tomorrow.
Through personal research, studio production time, critiques and mentoring sessions with Lucy Orta and a selection of Europe’s most exciting cultural institutions, the residency programme provides a platform for creative individuals, working across various disciplines, to imagine and create work that can make an impact on how we interact with the environment and each other.
NOTE: Applications accepted from UAL graduates, postgraduates and recent alumni (within 12 months from graduation date).
More information on Joya arte: + ecología
Joya arte: + ecología is ‘an arts led field research centre’. The research is manifested through their arts residency, collaborations with artists on projects they generate, transdisciplinary programmes with ecologists and environmental activists.
A cultural destination in the heart of rural Spain, in an alpine desert, living at 1000m above sea level in the Parque Natural Sierra María – Los Vélez. This is a place of outstanding natural beauty and remains so despite the environmental challenges facing peoples’ way of life. Climate change, bringing increased aridity and violent weather patterns, combined with outmoded farming techniques causing the loss of soil quality, stand in stark contrast to the coevolutive and sustainable subsistence farming of just forty years ago.
Read More on the the Joya arte: + ecología website