PROJECT CHAPTER A: EPHEMER(E)ALITY CAPTURE
Diary in JOYA – Ephemera
The following text documents a project developed during residency/retreat at JOYA: arte + ecologia in Andalusia, Spain in Spring 2018. JOYA is a residency designed for artists, writers and musicians to focus on work which centres on ecological issues or connections to the landscape. JOYA was established by Simon and Donna Beckmann under sustainable principles: producing their own electricity through wind and solar generators, burning wood for heat and hot water, and collecting drinking water from the nearby village spring. It provides artists an escape from the trappings of contemporary living such as digital media, with little or no mobile data signal and intermittent satellite WiFi. Released from these modern burdens, residents of JOYA are free to read, write, create and explore the landscape. During this period, I focussed mainly on work using photogrammetry and natural ephemera.
It seems an odd place to base a digital project – far removed from the resources necessary for a cloud-based, digital media technology. However, I was intrigued to investigate how the limitations of the technology would manifest themselves when capturing subjects at JOYA. Having established previously that photogrammetry works ‘best’ under certain conditions (dictated by the manufacturers guide), JOYA seemed to provide conditions contrary to those stipulated in a commercial product’s guidelines. In essence, the project’s aims were to test what were the limitations, vulnerabilities and peculiarities of photogrammetry’s visualising of ephemera. The assumptions of ubiquitous connectivity and electrical infrastructure make the technology fragile to harsher, less anthropocentric environments. Even visually, the rural environment contains a number of conditions and ephemera which cause issue for photogrammetry technologies. The incomprehensible complexity and yet confusingly homogenous visuality of forests, rock formations and clouds mean that interesting errors emerge from capturing these environments. The vastness of the landscape, the changeable weather and light conditions, the indistinct and repetitive nature of the terrain; all are the antithesis of the ‘ideal’ for capturable photogrammetric conditions.
Below is a diary of notes documenting the time and works made there – an environment which is unstable, vast and somewhat contradictorily multifaceted yet repetitive. I feel the diary provides reflection on decisions of the development to the works made, influenced by the landscape, sites and encounters.
5th March 2018
I arrived at JOYA late the night before. Getting off the bus from Granada, I was met by Simon in an old Land Rover sprayed with chalky mud. We headed north, past the 16th Century Castillo of Velez Blanco which was up-lit imposingly, until the tarmac road turned into dusty trail. The road steadily became more treacherous as we got closer to JOYA; the characteristic starchy sludge of the mountain earth shifted under the tread of tyres. Emerging around the corner, the refurbished farmhouse - JOYA sits 1074m above sea level in a mostly deserted former agricultural parkland of Sierra María-Los Vélez. The region is scattered with abandoned farms, not uncommon in rural Spain, a depleted agricultural community which used to contribute the areas almond production. Simon mentioned in the morning, that due to the unusual amount of rain, the delivery of wood hadn’t arrived, which is why there was no heating or hot water. Owing to a combination of climate change and agricultural abandonment, the area is untraversable at times. Landslides, forest fires and floods are not uncommon and yet the land is amongst the most arid in southern Spain. In the afternoon, I perused the immediate area. JOYA sits in a bowl between several peaks, 12 km east of María and 14km due north of Velez-Blanco. The hills north of the residency site were covered in woods, save for a stripe of felled trees for fire prevention purposes. I ventured up the belt of cleared woodland hoping to be able to view over the adjacent hill. Halfway up, the weather changed, with strong gales and torrential rain making my ascent impossible. I could hear the wind turbine at JOYA whirring increasingly as the gusts intensified. I headed back to the farmhouse.
6th March 2018
After breakfast, I ventured up the opposite hill to the previous day, in order get to a view of the landscape. I aimed to capture the area in from these vantage points. The ground underfoot was chalky white and crumbly, dry and baron from the persistent breeze that is perennial. I’m told that Sierra María-Los Velez sits in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada. The almond trees which were dotted around this landscape were suffering from this drought, although despite that, were starting to bloom. From the top of Sierra Larga María, the hill to the south of the farmhouse, I could see the Sierra Nevada was snow-capped; partially hidden by cloud. I could also see that the cloud was moving in our direction. I took photos on my phone of the landscape below me. In the images the ground appeared as a pixelated mass of homogenous grey/brown, the limestone soil had no discernible features. The granular earth appearing like noise or static on the phone screen. I captured the landscape to the east. As, I panned around, clicking the shutter, the images of the vista became increasingly engulfed in fog. North-westerly cloud swirled and began to obscure the view of the thousands of Aleppo pines that stretched towards the valley. The lichen covered limestone at my feet began to bear the droplets of rain as I tried to capture the lunar-esque terrain. Images began to resemble a smeared lens or blurred texture, an image degraded in definition from compression or reduction.
8th March 2018
A clearer, warmer day meant I could venture further toward the abandoned farmhouses around the perimeter of the Embalse de Valdeinfierno - the nearby reservoir. On the dirt track I headed east, towards the border of Andalucia and the Region of Murcia. Collapsed stone buildings dotted the path. Fallen timber, smooth and silvery through weathering, jutted from piles of rubble from the dilapidated dwellings. Unenriched by the acquisitions of earlier colonialism and hindered by the austerity of Fascism in the 20th century, many agricultural communities in Spain were abandoned in favour of life in the nearby cities. As a result, most of the structures in the vicinity were deserted. I took images encircling the remnants of the walls of what was once a barn. I continued down to the ‘shores’ of the reservoir. Reeds and shrubland had long replaced the pools of water however, as the reservoir had dried up decades before. Standing oddly and ominously out of the reservoir, as a barrier to the possibility of flash floods, was what Simon called the ‘Fascist Dam’. Meticulously and uniformly engineered, it contrasted against the desolate landscape. Built as flood defence for the flash flood prone to the region of Lorca, it now mainly provides a road link between the bordering regions. From here I captured the openness of the reeds and shores of the reservoir. Plain yet complex, the constantly moving reeds and plant life meant objects appeared in different configurations in each shot - shifting and shimmering in the wind. I side-stepped around the banks, strafing the shoreline, in order to capture the stark soil from several angles. As I manoeuvred around, I could see the etchings of an abandoned quarry over the other side. The craggy hills disrupted by clean incisions revealed the bright white limestone which shone in the sunlight. Here, several dormant quarries could be seen. Their sharp, geometric cuboid excavations juxtaposed the weathered contours of the landscape surrounding. I ventured back to JOYA, encircling the quarries from on high.
I went back to the quarries with the drone to capture some of the inaccessible areas. Huge cubes of stone were placed outside of the quarries, ready for collection. Inside, several levels of excavation meant some areas of the pit were not accessible on foot. I started the drone in order to see the stepped layers of stone which escalated above. High winds made the navigation tricky, as the drone collided with some stacked rocks and then into a drooping tree. The heavily compressed, glitching images it sent back display the technology’s own grainy texture which permeates the images of stone. White limestone surfaces – surprisingly unpatterned and indefinite – unremarkable in their uniformity and blandness yet grandiose by their sheer size. The confusing rubble - repetitive textures and tones could be confused with the digital grain of glitching corrupted mpeg images. I recovered the drone and took extra photos using my phone.
The soft magnolia sunlight that beamed into the residency studio cast a diagonal glow across the floor and adjacent wall. As the light hit the floor-length mirror, it projected a peachy hue throughout the far side of the room. A glass of water perched up against the mirror, refracted colours tangentially onto the floor beside it, echoed symmetrically in the mirror as the colours conjoined at point of reflection. The light shifted and faded as I moved around the object taking images. Beams of light dimed and altered as the environment outside changed; clouds passed, and leaves dappled. Light flared into the lens of the camera from the mirror as I duck to capture the rear of the glass. I moved around incrementally, the water in the glass warps the objects behind differently each time I move - itself a lens, refracting the surroundings and confusing the spatial structure. I unavoidably blocked the light as I encroached on the far side, capturing images from above the glass. The captures become a time-based media: warped by the changing of states, altered by the photographer and camera themselves.
As I ventured outside in the morning, I could hear the distant sound of bees encircling the almond orchard, that were attracted by the blooming of the trees. The low cloud passed by steadily as I crouched down to take images of the trees. I shot the branches from underneath, the blossom fluttering in the breeze. Some delicate leaves fell away as I captured shots around the circumference of its roots. The complexity of the overlapping branches and petals made the images confusing devoid of depth. The bright petals matched the soft white of the sky, at certain angles petals forming clusters similar to a wispy Cumulus. Its brightness resembles a digital saturation of light - a white balance error. The distinction between foreground and background is lost. The ground around the trees was arid and harsh, broken yet indistinct. The stones and clumps resembling pixilation or grain of images. Sequentially, the images appear not to move in a circle but produce a strange buzzing of static; of stones and grit appearing and disappearing instantaneously.
After previous attempts to load images to the cloud, I tried a different tactic. As the satellite internet connection at JOYA struggled to cope with the recent trend in ubiquitous computing which involves the automatic cloud-storage of iPhones - all imagery is automated uploaded to the iCloud as soon as it is connected to the internet. I connected my phone directly to the laptop and uploaded images through the photogrammetry software. The use of the technology was still an issue as Autodesk Recap’s cloud-based processing (the functionality of the software which uses high processing function of server farms) relies upon the transfer of images through the satellite internet in order to process 3D models. As the software assembled the models, a progress bar would state “8%” or “Queued” or get stuck on certain percentage of upload and then ‘time out’. Images would get lost, glitched or omitted at this stage, thus not informing the 3D model. At JOYA, the images became intrinsically linked with the environment. The satellite internet itself was powered by the wind turbine and solar panels. A pivoting turbine at the top of a scaffold tower located at the rear paddock stood high above the roof of the farmhouse. Next to it were two reflective panels, pitched diagonally at an angle in order to face them roughly towards the East. The energy produced from these were stored in a 24 battery cells located next to the kitchen. The two-dozen Tudor EAN 70T batteries stored enough energy for the modem and transmitter connected to the satellite dish. Energies which had disrupted images, changed weather and lighting conditions were also the entities which powered the images and transferred its data. An embodiment of the natural materiality of the area upholding the digital processes which it is hostile to.