22 Jun 2022

Coa Valley Ecological Art

Wild Côa Symphony. A 1-year artist residency project with the Endangered Landscapes Programme & Rewilding Portugal. Summer 2022 update. 

[Extracted from a news article on the ELP website, and including personal reflections from primary creative collaborator on Wild Côa Symphony, Bárbara Carvalho, creative ethnographer, Portugal]

Imaginative weavings of landscape, ecologies and communities:
Working closely with local communities in the Côa Valley, the ecological artist, Antony Lyons, and public archaeologist, Bárbara Carvalho, have been exploring this impressive riverine landscape

- to reveal interwoven, entangled geographies of water, people, forests, animals, soil and stone. With participants, they are reflecting on the spirit-of-place and layers of time – imagining futures where both biodiversity and communities can flourish. For them, the creative interaction processes, with place and people, are as important as the final results. The project will culminate in a Wild Côa Symphony film work

Involving the entire journey of the Côa River, the result will be an enduring legacy in the form of an impressionistic video-sonic artwork and be a poetic window into a place of healing and repair for people and ecologies. Also involved is composer Jesse D Vernon.

There will be a touring exhibition, artist-book publication and music-composition releases. Containing timeless as well as ephemeral strands, the works will form a subjective creative ‘mapof a distinctive place, forever morphing and adapting; a valley in transition.

This is one of 8 connected artist residencies supported by the Endangered Landscapes Programme. The project has links to a related initiative by Lyons, titled Here Commons Everybody, which is supported by the CCRI and Arts Council England.


Summer 2022 update

Working with local communities, the team have recently conducted their second creative ‘expeditionin the Côa Valley. There were performative walking events with the village communities of Cidadelhe and Vilar Maior, as well as music/sound-based workshops (or ‘play-shops’) with primary school classes in the large regional town of Pinhel. The artists also had the opportunity to attend the release of a herd of Sorraia horses at Ermo das Águias near Vale de Madeira (Pinhel), an important event for Rewilding Portugal. 

In the school sessions, there was a chance for the pupils to listen and respond to specially assembled soundscapes - representing past, present and future? of the valley region, as well as the sonic experience of wildlife at night. This was assisted by the use of illustrations (wolf, wild boar, red deer) generously supplied by a project partner - Indagatio (see images below). The sessions were completed by music and singing - a mutual sharing between the pupils and the artist team.

The ‘expedition’ culminated with an artist-led creative walk in the town of Vilar Maior, visiting the nearby Rewilding Portugal site of Vale Carapito. The group of 30 participants, of all ages, imaginatively explored the past, present and future of the Côa Valley region, with the aid of recorded sounds and ambient soundscapes. The assembled group shared local plant knowledge, detailing personal connections to particular plants. There was also music, including a playful impromptu choral session and the launch of a specially composed song ‘Vilar Maior.

 The creative walk, titled 'tempo profundo/ deep time' also had reading of different texts, including this artistic statement:

Tempo Profundo/Deep Time
Because of who we are - a geologist-artist, an archaeologist-ethnographer, a musician/composer, we are fascinated about the past, the present…and the future, of this valley region.

We are finding- and making- sounds, music, poetry, stories.
In the valley, in the river, among the rocks, forests, villages, towns, pigeon houses, lagaars, castles and cafes.
With all these sounds and images, we want to create The Wild
Côa Symphony; - a portrait of this special river valley area.
Our little contribution to an optimistic vision for the future.
A future that embraces the coexistence of communities and nature.
A future Côa Valley that is a beacon of inspiration and regeneration.
A refuge.

We have been to the source, to the river mouth- and many places in between.
Exploring on foot- along veredas, by car, kayak, bicycle.
With many many conversations and songs.
We had the pleasure of visiting Vale Carapito and Vilar Maior in the autumn.
And decided to return to make a walk - with old friends- and new friends.
To invite the spirit of rewilding, The spirit of the horses, the frogs, the deer. The Boar, the grasses -  all the web of ecology.
And we will invite the former wildlife of Portugal- echoes of the deep past.
The time before humans.


Back in the UK, lead-artist Lyons was invited to present the project in a workshop format for the new tranche of Restoration Landscapes projects from across Europe, funded by the ELP. Participants from each of the eight new projects gathered at the David Attenborough Building in Cambridge, the Cambridge Conservation Initiative‘s campus, for an intensive week of sharing and project development. To give a flavour of the Côa Valley activity, Lyons created an active listening exercise based on the school-based sessions and the sonic walks. But first, he accompanied the group on a visit to the local restoration landscape of Wicken Fen (National Trust), where he recorded some ambient sounds.

(images below by Liz Ballard. ELP)


Part of the workshop was an opportunity for the eight project teams to share some tangible or intangible cultural element from their landscapes. Some chose to recite poems or readings; others shared some chosen objects or materials; and some shared some musical recordings.

The central element of the workshop (titled Ecological Art, Co-creation & Communities) was a creative mapping exercise, where the project teams made graphic records of their project areas - representing personal and poetic connections or attachments. They then assembled these personal maps plus words/sketches, objects and photos onto cork boards for exhibition.


Alongside, there was an exhibition of photo selections from the Côa Valley artist residency. These images also formed part of a recent exhibition at an international symposium held at the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester: New Futures for Satoyama and SEPLs (Social-Ecological Production Landscapes): Innovation in policy and practice to sustain cultural landscapes. This was hosted by a key project partner, the Countryside and Community Research Institute. (Satoyama is the Japanese term which encapsulates longstanding systems of ‘people living in harmony with nature, managing ‘Social-Ecological Production Landscapes(SEPLs).


‘Wild Côa Symphony’ Creative Team:

Antony Lyons is an ecological artist, working in transitional landscapes. Focusing on deep explorations of natural and cultural fluxes of knowledge, stories and inspirations, he seeks to activate fresh insights and connections. Lyons uses field-recordings, dialogues and archival sources to create film-poems and installations. He has frequently worked with rivers and coasts, as well as ecological recovery zones.

rbara Carvalho is an accredited archaeologist. She develops international research exchange programs in the archaeological and rewilding sites of the Côa Valley. These include the facilitation of community engagement programmes and participatory fieldwork. Carvalho works within ACÔA's Memory Archive - an intergenerational project recording the intangible cultural heritage of the communities of the Côa Valley and has previously collaborated with Lyons on creative research and film-making as part of the international Heritage Futures programme.

Jesse D Vernon is a composer and musician and founder of The Fantasy Orchestra. Also a member of the band This Is The Kit. He started an improvisation group in 2010 called the Full Moon Orchestra. The idea was to meet every full moon and that the pieces would be improvised yet structured. Each session was completely open to all ages and abilities and the audience was encouraged to participate and indeed conduct the orchestra.


Hayao Miyazaki: "I'd like more of the world to go back to being wild."


Personal reflections:

“This is a project of journeys and encounters, where three people with very different backgrounds, are exploring multi-sensory geographies in a landscape.
Through meanderings on pathways, the experience of a region defined by a river has become a shared place; shared also with participants and partners. In our work, we communicate a core principle of  ‘flow’ and positive ecological change, enhancing a sense of territorial identity, encompassing a river and its topography. It’s not only a water body, a resource, a borderland. For me, there are so many other layers - unconscious dimensions of a landscape that materialise identity, pride and consequently, care.”                                                      
Bárbara Carvalho,
creative ethnographer

“With a focus on ecological, social and elemental aspects, our collaborative expeditions have set out to reach and record many little known places and events in the Côa Valley landscape, activating conversations and gaining new personal insights and understandings. In my experience, long duration and commitment are needed for a respectful creative encounter with communities and ecologies in a place or region. The aim of our work is therefore to create a space and conditions for participatory construction of a video-sonic ‘portrait’ with which people can genuinely feel a relationship, and which can also evolve over time.”   
Antony Lyons, artist

Future potentials: This is just the first phase of a bigger artistic intervention in this landscape. More artistic residences are desirable; more continuity, more impact (social, cultural and economic). There is an evolving 'legacy' idea of creating a ‘music bike tour’ celebratory event that can transform into an on-going artistic project in the Côa Valley.

Instagram @wild_coa_symphony