Matrix Cultura 2050 – LIVEMEDIA
Environmental and artistic projects in the rural landscape: Riba Rocks & Riu d’art in Riba-roja d’Ebre
To invest the landscape with culture, artistic interventions and performances in the urban, rural and natural environment of Riba-roja d’Ebre
Originally published in Catalan at https://matrixcultura2050.substack.com
WATER AND COAL FAIRY AGRANA THE FOREST WITH BALITROQUES and RIVER OF ART – OPEN AIR GALLERY, IN RIBA-ROJA D’EBRE
A performance based on the different contributions of all those present: from the constructed look camera in hand of Andrew Colquhoun (Livemedia); Sarah Misselbrook and Chris Thornton who host the creation in their estate in Delauà de Mitei (headquarters of Associació Riba Rocks, residences and of their own artistic work); and Andreu Carranza who combines the acoustic environment and the poetic essence of the constructed duration: fairy of water and coal surrounds the forest with balitroques. And from the rural and natural environment to the urban environment: an itinerary and a walk through the streets of Riba-roja d’Ebre contemplating some of the works from the seven editions of RIU D’ART OPEN AIR GALLERY that has been organizing since 2016 Riba Rocks Association with the collaboration of the City Council and the population. From the hand of his young and enthusiastic team with Rachel Bevan, Claudia Roca and Andrea Ettabti, together with the artists Roser Gay and Adrià Cid who open the doors of their workshops to us in the center of Riba-roja d’Ebre.
Sarah Misselbrook (artist, Riba Rocks Cultural Association)
At Delauà de Mitei: leave no traces principles
As the Riba Rocks Cultural Association, we began with the first edition of the Riba Rocks Festival in 2013. Set on the off-grid olive farm Delauà de Mitei, our early festivals offered a distinctive blend of music, art, and sustainability. The intimate farm setting provided an immersive experience, enabling visitors to connect with nature while enjoying an eclectic lineup of international and local artists and performers. Our dedication to leave no trace principles earned us the prestigious ‘Best Festival for Contribution to Sustainability’ award at the Iberian Festival Awards in 2017. We earned this award due to our commitment to environmental stewardship. For example: our waterless composting toilets, solar heated shower facility, solar charging points, rain water harvesting, reusable cups, compostable knives, forks and plates, our rent-a-tent offer, paperless tickets, low price and subsidised tickets for local residents, all whilst promoting the village of Riba-roja d’Ebre to an international audience. The Riba Rocks Festival became a milestone in our journey, cementing our dedication to fostering a cultural and artistic scene in a rural location. We are also hosts for Erasmus Plus and Turing placements as well as the ‘Workaway’ project [www.workaway.info/en/host/343119844573], which brings international students, staff and volunteers to Riba-roja d’Ebre, giving them the opportunity to participate in the annual olive harvest and various environmental and artistic projects. These visiting volunteers have social and cultural exchanges with our members and the local inhabitants. As ‘Workaway’ hosts we ensure through our activities on the farm, eco-construction methods and artistic projects: gender equality, LGBTQ+ equality, good health and well-being, climate action, and positive ‘life on the land’.
Riu d’art and other cultural iniciatives in Riba-roja d’Ebre
The Riu d’art ‘contemporary art in the streets’ project, was launched in 2016 by the Riba Rocks Association. This initiative has grown over the past seven editions and is now preparing to celebrate its 8th edition. The Riu d’art project aims to adorn the already beautiful streets of Riba-roja d’Ebre, transforming the village into an open-air gallery. Riu d’art features contemporary art installations, sculptures, ceramics, murals, live performances and digital projections. Local and international artists collaborate, contributing their creative visions and thought-provoking expressions, making the village an ever-evolving canvas of artistic exploration. Visitors from near and far are drawn to this unique artistic venture, sparking conversations and encouraging interaction from both locals and visitors with art in unconventional spaces.
Fluir amb l’aigua segura, May 2023. Artists: Jasmin Robertson, Josephine O’Connor, Mhairi Brown, Dana Leslie, Kyle Leeson and Andrea Ettabti Aguilera. (Scotland, England, Riba-roja d’Ebre)
As part of the Riba Rocks Traditional Skills Grampus Heritage and Training student placement in May 2023, this mural was created. The mural is inspired by a letter found (originally in Farsi) by one of the artists, Jasmin Robertson. She explains the inspiration behind the artwork:
‘When first arriving in Riba-roja it was clear that the people and place take pride and care of the River Ebro, which was beautiful for me, and of course was great inspiration to all of us in our mural. I soon heard about Santa Madrona, the Saint who cared for sailors and passers by on the river, and its presence in local storytelling, especially to do with travel and passage. I felt privileged and gained a lot of inspiration whilst swimming in the Ebro and travelling both upstream above the dam and further downstream. When I’m at a waterway or river I always like to think about what is downstream in a physical sense and also metaphorically because if we think about what is downstream, it is what is to come; the villages, the people, wildlife, the oceans and time. The generations, the experiences that are our future.
In the Cal Carreter workshop of the artist Roser Gay (because it was a place where carts were built), showing her cyanotype work based on analogue photographs of the Riba-roja dam and the Fábrica Química de Flix.
Our collaboration with local businesses and organisations aims to strengthen this cultural fabric. Engaging in traditional workshops, participating in local celebrations, and actively supporting environmental conservation initiatives, we try to build bridges between different sectors of the community of Riba-roja d’Ebre and further afield in the Ribera d’Ebre. These partnerships with other associations create a sense of shared purpose and unity. They include: Grup de Natura Freixe, Amics de Riba-roja d’Ebre – for whom we have designed their logo, T-Shirts, Tote Bags and Posters as well as collaborating by organising a Mercat d’Artesans for their Festa de l’Oli de Ginebre event. Our members have supported with translation for their English speaking students and staff and we worked with them in 2020 to setup the original Grampus Heritage and Training student placements, with detailed activity schedule. Others with whom we collaborate are: Figot Tour, Music Association of Riba-roja d’Ebre, Figots Satànics, Escola Municipal Les Puntaires and La Txavalada (Youth Association).
El ganchillo de la araña hembra, 2019. Sarah Misselbrook (Riba-roja d’Ebre)
The female tiger spider creates her web following the crochet pattern. She is large and spectacular in nature and now presents her work and signature on this facade. The building belongs to Fina Querol Suñé, the wife of Josep Aguilà (president of Amics de Riba-roja d’Ebre Association). Just as Fina preserves the tradition of intricate lace-making in her house each summer, the female tiger spider weaves her web in the same way. Preserving local traditions and connecting with the population of the village, the artwork strives for deep connection and inclusion.
Dream Tree, 2018. Maryann Loo (Singapore)
Maryann Loo from Singapore describes her work as follows: The Dream Tree is a celebration of the social and cultural landscape of Riba-roja d’Ebre. This works presents the Juniper Oil Ovens, the signs of Catalan independence, the classical ‘siestas’ or snaps, fiestas and the artistic fabric of the village. The wall where this painting has been installed belongs to Bar Pota, which is where we shared food each day of the artistic residency, a special place where I shared conversations and cultural exchanges with people from the local community and artists from around the world. We are extremely lucky to have a group of dedicated young members in our association. They have a passion for the arts, multilingual skills and a detailed local historic and heritage knowledge. They facilitate communication and collaboration between international and local artists and the local context of Riba-roja d’Ebre, which acts as a huge inspiration in the production of their artwork for Riu d’art. For example: many artworks represent the Juniper Oven structures (emblematic of the cultural heritage of Riba-roja d’Ebre) and take inspiration from local residents’ stories, heritage and history.
The dedication of our young members ensure the continued success and growth of the Riba Rocks Association, they are an integral part of the vision for an inclusive and artistic rural landscape.
Retorn, contenedors de vida, 2019. Adrià Cid (Riba-Roja d’Ebre)
Adrià Cid (ceramist): This wall decorated with ceramics is a 2019 project within Riu d’Art and the idea was to talk about depopulation, the degradation of towns. Just a few months before, they demolished the house behind us, a completely stately, historic house, like so many that unfortunately are falling down. From the villages we find that we are losing population, housing, neighbors… I thought it would be interesting to bring life back to this street by putting these pots on the wall, with the commitment of the neighbors to take care of and take care of the plants. They ended up putting in more plants, and that was what I wanted from this space: for the neighbors to make it their own. Many residents of the village are already putting many plants, giving life to the village. It seems to me a fantastic metaphor for the desire we have to keep the town alive and how art can be totally linked to the problems and realities of a place.
Teresa and the Wolf, 2018. Bianca Tschaikner (Austria)
Inspired by her informal interviews with local inhabitants of Riba-roja d’Ebre, the artist depicts in this mural the grandmother of Josep Aguilà. When Josep’s grandmother was very young (around 14 years old), she found herself trapped in the countryside by a pack of wolves. She used a piece of rope to create dust from the ground, fooling the wolves to believe that there were many people in order to escape the situation and return to the village. The artist has created a series of monochrome illustrations in various locations, all taking inspiration from these personal stories of the town.
On sustainable farming: the annual olive harvest
As well as our various cultural activities, Riba Rocks also focuses on sustainable farming. Visiting volunteers participating in the ‘Workaway’ scheme, as well as Riba Rocks members, take part in the annual olive harvest, which uses the traditional handpicking method. These olives are carefully pressed to produce Riba Rocks’ very own extra virgin high-quality olive oil, a testament to our dedication to local production and preserving traditional agricultural practices. Throughout the year, we try to improve the soil quality on the farm using permaculture techniques and to promote biodiversity. We also cultivate vegetables and other crops using sustainable farming methods including companion planting, grey water use and adding composting waste to soil around base of trees.Visiting artists, volunteers and members not only stay on this completely off-grid farm which uses rain water harvesting techniques and solar power, they also volunteer for the local Grup de Natura Freixe Association www.freixe.cat/, building insect hotels and bat shelters and help to clear invasive plants from the lagoons.Through our various cultural, artistic and sustainable projects, the Riba Rocks Association aims to work alongside the local Ajuntament and other associations to preserve the region’s cultural heritage. With the four editions of the festival on the off-grid farm and the ongoing evolution of Riu d’art in the village of Riba-roja d’Ebre, we are committed to nurturing artistic expression, empowering local talent, and attracting national and international visitors.
Art is Always Something Hidden, 2019. Vladimir Abikh (Russia)
Prolific Street Artist Vladimir created this large scale text-based artwork in the Nucli Antic of Riba-roja d’Ebre after a building had collapsed. Cleared and made safe by the Ajuntament, it was then offered as a canvas for this artwork. The work suggests that art is something we must search for, with a hidden meaning. To view this piece, we must walk to a ‘perfect spot’ to read the message and even then some remains hidden. The interpretation is personal to you.
Comunió de la vida, 2017. Sarah Missebrook (Riba-roja d’Ebre)
I created this artwork in 2017. It is a site-specific drawing using handmade charcoal, applied directly to the wall. Taking inspiration from the internal structure of the fig, the drawing relates to its immediate environment. A wild fig tree emerges from the top of the wall. The wall also features a defunct water pipe, which has become part of the composition of the artwork, as if waiting for water to arrive. The fig relates to the population of the village of Riba-roja d’Ebre, ’Som Figots!’ and the artwork parallels the fig tree’s ability to survive drought, flood, and fire and the determination of the people in a rural village like this to continue with strength and spirit.
About the author: Sarah Misselbrook
I am one of the co-founders of the Riba Rocks Cultural Association in La Vall, Riba-roja d’Ebre, Catalunya as well as being a project co-ordinator for Riu d’art and an artist mentor in La Vall art residencies with Erasmus+ and Turing Scheme UK art student placements.In 2000, I studied a BA (Hons) Fine Art Degree with First Class Honours at Nottingham Trent University, UK. I then went on to do a Post Graduate Diploma in Fine Art in 2007 at the famous Cyprus College of Art. In 2011, I was licensed as a trainer for Emotional First Aid for Young People and then went on to complete a Masters Degree in Fine Art with Distinction at the Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton), UK.
Originally born in the UK, I have lived and worked abroad for over 15 years. I am a multidisciplinary artist with a focus on environmental sustainability and the connection between the human body as canvas and the natural landscape. After completing my studies in the UK, I continued with a Post-Grad Diploma in Cyprus and realised space, light and a close connection with the natural environment offered me such freedom to explore. I then found this finca in Riba-roja d’Ebre, which is completely off the grid and has become an immersive space for live performance, ‘spoken word’ and site specific ‘land art’. My research-based practice refers to the transience of materials, body and environment. Fragile sculptural installations degrade, reflecting the climatic devastation of floods and fires.
Artworks include site-specific ephemeral installations, charcoal making and drawing, and live performance. In 2022 I performed two live artworks at Territori Performance Festival in Ibiza and most recently in El Pinell de Brai for the touring exhibition ‘Ermita 2.0’. In 2019, I was invited to create a sculptural installation and site-specific actions in the Maials forest here in Terra Alta, which was devastated by forest fire in June 2019. The work was created as part of a large-scale project called ‘Cendrart’. In 2018, I was part of a project called BlockChain: The Power of Two with Chapel Arts Studios in Andover, UK which progressed my research into site-specific installations and bodily performances.