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Stephen Bennett is announced as the 2017 AER Resident at Joya: arte + ecología this Summer

Written by Postgraduate Community
Published date 04 May 2017

image credit: Joya: arte + ecología

The Art for the Environment International Artist Residency Programme (AER) was launched in 2015 by member of the UAL Research Centre for Sustainable Fashion and UAL Chair of Art and the Environment Professor Lucy Orta and coordinated by CSF Associate Curator Camilla Palestra.

We can announce that Stephen Bennett – Current MA Art & Science student at Central Saint Martins has been selected for this years’ AER Residency at Joya: arte + ecología in Almeria, South-East Spain.  

The not-for-profit arts organisation Joya: arte + ecología is an arts led field-research centre based at the farmstead of Cortijada Los Gázquez.

The residency offers an ‘off-grid’ experience in the heart of the Parque Natural Sierra María-Los Vélez in the north of the Provincia de Almería, Andalucía.

Residents engage with the founders of Joya, taking part in their daily routines and living in a fully sustainable environment in respect of the cycles of nature.

This family-home environment aims to facilitate, through production and collaboration, creative practice and critical thinking that manifests a discourse with the environment and sustainability.

Through the exploration of the vast natural landscapes, residents will also experience the effects of climate change on the degradation of the natural environment.

Read Stephen’s successful application here:

Ice caps are melting and species are being wiped out. There is abundant evidence and data on this yet appropriate political decisions are not taken. My work explores whether art can bridge the gap between science and public decision-making. Data visualisation and maps are points of departure. Much of the most important evidence is relatively inaccessible: housed in data repositories, pay-wall journal articles and written in technical language. Regan et al (2015) describe how processing, analysing and presenting data is “increasingly removed from the everyday experience”. Tufte (2006) emphasises the importance of escaping ‘flatland’, given that “all the interesting worlds (physical, biological, imaginary, human)… are… multivariate in nature”.

My work takes inaccessible and complex information and presents it in analogue, tangible and interactive formats. Bourriard (2002) argues that artworks can build micro-communities, and relational aesthetics can be employed to embroil the viewer in an issue. My hypothesis is that participatory and interactive art can increase agency and engagement in science about environmental change.

Stephen Bennett, Stained Glass Climate Data Projection, Middle East 2017

Stained Glass Climate Data Projection, Middle East (2017) is an interactive work which has a focal point of a large square of handmade stained glass portraying climate change data sourced from the website The data shows change in precipitation by 2080 in a region of the Middle East including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Israel and Syria. Light is projected through the stained glass onto the floor. A chalk-drawn map exactly corresponds to the locations which are signified by the climate data. The deep red light filtering onto the Palestine-Jordan border indicates this will see the most drying in the entire region.

Viewers activate the map by blocking out the competing light from a nearby source. The audience walk over the map, explore the interaction between the chalk drawing and the projected light, and take selfies through the glass.

Stephen Bennett, Participatory data visualisation of climate impacts in the Indus Valley 2017

Participatory data visualisation of climate impacts in the Indus Valley (2017) shows precipitation change in the Indo-Pakistan border region. This map was painted and built by gallery visitors at the Tate Modern’s Tate Exchange in a single afternoon. Visitors sit down at tables and chairs with an assortment of paints, brushes and paper. A leaflet explains the exercise: paint a 15cm2 paper in a certain colour. The colour exactly matches a map of the Indus Valley (India/Pakistan border), again sourced from Each 15cm2 paper is a pixel of data showing change in precipitation in 2080. Audience members are encouraged to discuss what this might mean for the region, as well as take sheer pleasure in the process of painting.


These are examples of my current practice. I believe that the AER residency at Joya: arte + ecología would provide an unparalleled opportunity to develop my practice in two directions.

The first direction would arise from situating myself in a landscape going through the process of environmental change. I have researched and visited some of the world’s megacities affected by environmental change as part of Foresight project Migration and Global Environmental Change. Places like Kathmandu, Dakar and Johannesburg are receiving significant in-migrations from rural populations struggling with climate change, whilst becoming increasingly vulnerable themselves. However, I have not had the opportunity to live in and study a rural setting under pressure. It would benefit my practice enormously to witness the land itself. I am aware that in a two-week residency I am not going to ‘see’ climate change, a process which operates on a decadal and century-scale timeframe. This is a microcosm of the problem we face as a global society. We wake up one day from the last, and it is hard to discern change. We are informed by scientists that the climate is changing, but there are confusing messages from a politically charged media. We rely on memory, but this is uncertain and
unreliable. Here lives the dilemma: how do we understand the profound environmental tragedy unfurling around us, when it is so difficult to see? I would like to use my time at Joya to address this.

The second direction would come from Joya’s self-sustainable approach. Carol Hanisch coined the phrase “The Personal is Political” in her 1969 analysis of the Women’s Liberation Movement. It could equally be applied to the multiplicity of micro-actions we all need to take to avert environmental disaster. Art is political; so is putting the recycling out, using biodegradable materials and switching to a green energy provider. Whilst these actions do not negate the imperative of macro-level political change (national and international climate targets, electing green politicians, legislating against coal), ultimately they represent a viable route to reducing our impact on the environment – through personal action. My work so far has focused on conscious-raising around climate change.

An important next step for my practice is to tie that to the actions people can take. The approach of Joya is inspirational in this regard – walking the walk, as well as talking the talk! I would like to use my time at Joya to study the sustainable approach, consider how it could be practically applied in homes and communities, and how that could be brought into a playful and non-didactic form of art.

Planned schedule (subject to discussion with Joya)

Ahead of residency:

  • Research of data and evidence for the Provincia de Almería, Andalucía, including:
  • Water risk data from the World Resources Initiative aqueduct online resource:
  • Local environmental data e.g. from this page of
  • Biodiversity data, including from European Environment Agency, European Soil Data Centre (ESDAC) and UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
  • Interviewing UK-based environmental experts with knowledge of Andalucían region, e.g. Mark Mulligan (Kings College London), Neil Adger (Exeter).
  • Researching British Library for historical maps of area

During residency:

  • Organisation of participatory data visualisation with other residents, potentially using entirely organic materials.
  • Organisation of a dérive with other residents to explore the region.
  • Research into Joya’s sustainable and off-grid operations, including interviews.
  • Photography of the landscape and terrain, including at different scales – capturing the microscopic elements of Joya and the buildings, and juxtaposing this with the macroscopic scale of the landscape.
  • Painting, including exploring the use of organic substances for both paint and as the ‘canvas’.

Post residency:

  • Development of digital collages using photographic imagery from Joya. ‘Mixed media’ works incorporating both digital and organic materials.
  • Incorporation of work and research into my MA main project, subsequent exhibitions and potentially MA final show.
  • Production of blog for Central Saint Martin’s MA Art and Science website.
  • Documentation of research on my website

Bibliography and other current reading:

  • Badrocke, L. and Long, R. (2015) Richard Long: time and space. Bristol, England: Arnolfini.
  • Bourriaud, N. (2002) Relational Aesthetics. Translated by Pleasance, S. and Woods, F. Dijon: Les Presses du Réel.
  • Hanisch (2006) The Personal Is Political: The Women’s Liberation Movement classic with a new explanatory introduction (Accessed: 14 April 2017)
  • Harmon, K. (2004) You are here : personal geographies and other maps of the imagination. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
  • Kastner, J. and Wallis, B. (2010) Land and environmental art. London: Phaidon Press, 2010.
  • Regan, T. et al (2015) ‘Designing Engaging Data in Communities’, CHI 2015. Crossings, Seoul, Korea. 18-23 April.
  • Seoul: CHI’15 Extended Abstracts, pp. 271-274. (Accessed: 9 April 2017)
  • Tufte, E. (2006) Envisioning Information. 11th edition. Connecticut: Graphics Press LLC.
  • Virga, V. (2007) Cartographia: mapping civilizations. New York ; Little, Brown.
  • Wells, H.G. (2006) A short history of the world. London: Penguin.
  • Witzke, A. and Hede, S. (2009) Rethink: contemporary art & climate change. Århus N.: Alexandra Institute

As part of the AER Residency agreement, Stephen Bennett will be writing a report upon completion of his time at Joya: arte + ecología which will be published on this blog site.

Read previous AER Residency Reports here 


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