Critical Moss

I am enveloped within a private olive grove valley, surrounded by the Catalan mountains with the nearest populated village of Riba-roja d’Ebre over 3km away. I visit the village at least once a week to absorb the rituals. The Catalan language still mystifies me, only having Spanish as my second language. Catalan has been protected within the home by women across generations. A strong cultural identity pervades this rural, underpopulated place. My studio, in the olive grove, is isolated, I have no neighbours, no ‘passers-by’. My family are in the UK, where I am originally from. My practice and daily life on this wild, off-grid finca merges into one. I chop wood, build, restore, prune trees, landscape, harvest, moving around this place like some kind of performative act. Survival is a daily concern, collecting rain water for washing, ash from wood burners to compost waste, improving dry clay soil for cultivation. My movements and energies are specific to this place. A sense of closeness to the wildlife and the weather here in the valley creates at times a sensorial overload which can only be made sense of by presenting this connection within my art practice.

Online support networks and conversations are of paramount importance to my practice. Digital projects and sharing work across platforms is ongoing. Visiting artists to a village based residency that I co-organise and is in it’s 4th year creates a temporary 2 week shared studio space within the streets of the village. Meeting and working alongside visiting international artists offers me huge advances in my learning and sharing opportunities. The village is a 3 hour train journey to Barcelona (which is relatively affordable at 15 euros each way) which allows regular visits to the city for inspiration and events. The valley can now offer artists a stay here within the off-grid environment to challenge their practice as well as creating an artist group within this wild space.

performance artwork by sarah misselbrook
live performance to camera

This image is a result of a two week online project in which artists networked across a blog platform and instagram, responding to and challenging each other’s imagery. Specifically, my contrast of situation with my partnered artist resulted in an interesting dialogue – Catalan mountains versus flat in Oxford. I continued to explore the differences in accessibility to materials, supplies and the idea of creating my own in the way of charcoal, fire, clay soil, all in abundant supply here in the olive farm. In an attempt to resolve an ‘art as object’ question, I continue to create works almost as a bi-product of living here which are either ephemeral or performative, documented digitally. Pushing further the idea of a circular practice of creating my own materials and then using the waste product, I burnt my drawings to keep warm, and then made paint from the resulting ash. This ash was then painted onto my face as some kind of beauty face mask in order to curb the aging process, to disguise the cracks in my face. These very cracks having been observed closely within this natural environment of mountain and moss.

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