Sophie Twiss is a visual artist living in Andalusia Spain, who explored the subtle aspects of the now drained Laguna de la Janda, over an extended period. In 2013 she created an ARTIST BOOK in response to the cultural and geomantic enquiry of the area.
I spoke to her to ask a few questions about the process of making the book. Sophie: I’m a visual artist working in mixed media, like printing, painting, lately I’ve been into paper cutting for example. I’m interested in working in response to the environment and expressing elements within the environment artistically. I am about to do an MA in arts and environment in Falmouth University.
Karmit: Can you tell me something about your relationship to Laguna de la Janda? Sophie: Its an area near where I live, that I visited, and got to know. Like a relationship develops with a person, you get to know them over time. I first went there birdwatching and immediately felt very connected to the place and the more I went there and the more I learned about it in a rounded way; like learning about the history, about the bird migration, about the prehistory, the different elements that make up the landscape, the more connected I felt to it. Karmit: Can you tell me about the process of making the book? Sophie: I guess the geomantic work we were doing together and the feeling that I wanted to tell the story of the place and also make an offering to the place was the impulse behind it. It was something that I crafted very much thinking about la Janda, thinking about the different aspects and trying to express something of that. The book came very much from a desire to both give something to the place and to tell its story. Karmit: How do you work artistically with a place? Sophie: I guess it’s just feeling it. And then how that feeling comes out when you set about in the creation of something…which is something that is hard to describe in words. I don’t have the words for it… Karmit: Have you done any other pieces in response to Laguna de la janda other than this book? Sophie: I work a lot with that place. I started work on something to do with la Janda which isn’t a fully realised project but I wrote a story about the embalse de Almodovar (the reservoir of one of the rivers feeding into the Laguna). After various trips that I made there,walking and exploring, I had the idea to tell the story in an illustrated way , physically illustrated, telling the story there with props as a kind of performance act. I’d like to develop this idea and maybe its something I’ll work on when I’m in Falmouth University. There was also the ‘wanted’ poster – something that came out of the question of ‘how to draw attention to this place that has been forgotten’. I had learned about Laguna de la janda that had been drained in the 40’s and wanted others to know about it too because when I spoke about it I was amazed at how many people had no idea that there used to be a rich system of lagoons there. Even people that are from this area, local people, its something very much forgotten, which I find incredible. There’s a kind of collective amnesia that often happens in relation to places that have been drastically changed. There was a civil war here in recent history and it seems its something that people would rather forget..
I was learning more about the birds that were no longer breeding in la Janda or are just not present in the area anymore and wanted to show people what is missing. So I made a ‘wanted’ poster with one of those species.
Karmit: And you posted those posters in Benalup (a town near the laguna). Did you get any reactions?
Sophie: Who knows who saw them and how they reacted. It probably fell off after a while or was washed away in the rain. That didn’t seem to matter so much.
I also made the earth woman painting that was related to a specific spot we used to go to and that came from a meditation and a visualisation of the breathing system of the area and seeing this grounded connection from air to earth. This was what I saw while I meditated and tuned in to this place and was later painted.
Karmit: Did you feel like you gave life to something that was there invisible?
Sophie: I’m not sure about that but it was an interesting process to paint it because I was painting in a very different way than I’ve ever painted. It was a very careful, delicate, small painting which I don’t normally do. I painted it with water colours. There was something very, different about the way i worked which became in itself a meditation. Now when I look back I think that the whole process reflected what we found in the place because in the beginning there was something difficult in the flow of breath in and out of the place. The painting at first was done very carefully with a lot of focus but eventually became fluid.
Karmit: And this painting was printed in a book?
Sophie: Yes it was selected to appear in a book called Stories of the Great Turning related to Joanna Macy’s work.
Karmit: How would you like to continue to work with la Janda?
Sophie: The how will come on its own. I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s very important for me to continue to work with la Janda. Because although its ‘just a Laguna that got drained somewhere in Europe’ and that sort of thing happens all the time, all over the world this kind of thing happens, the degradation of rich and important ecosystems and I think it’s very important to look at that and to not forget and ignore it. It’s important to not have this collective amnesia – about human interaction with the environment, we just accept this and I think it’s important we look at this kind of thing, feel it and maybe do something about it. I think this Laguna is important beyond the local area, more than that I think it’s important for Europe, from the point of view of migrating birds. Inner balance reverberates out. If this place resumes the natural ecological balance I think it affects a much wider area. It’s important to address it.
Karmit: Do you think that through art people can connect to it in a different way?say from reading an article about it? Sophie: I hope so!
Sophie’s limited edition book La Janda – A Love Story is available for sale here.