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Josep Pujiula I Vila (1937–2016)

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Jo Farb Hernández

Internationally-renowned art environment builder Josep Pujiula i Vila died suddenly of a heart attack on the morning of June 2, 2016. He was 79 years old.

Beginning in the 1970s, Pujiula built a series of monumental open-work structures out of willow branches and found objects in a wooded area just west of the village of Argelaguer, in the Pyrenean foothills of Catalunya. But because he didn’t build on his own property, again and again he ran into challenges with authorities from the municipality, the electrical company, and the agencies in charge of water, electricity and highways. Responding to their demands, he destroyed and then rebuilt four complete art environments in this area; each one unique, but each also utilising what became his iconic material and motif: arched tunnels created from the flexible branches of the saplings found by the nearby Fluvià River. He lashed these slim limbs together to erect numerous towers reaching 40 meters (130+ feet) high, and labyrinths that curved around the hillsides, snaking up and stretching over a kilometre in length. Shelters, passageways strung 20 meters (65 feet) in the air, stairways, and bridges added to the complexity of the maze.

In the last 15 years, Pujiula also constructed a lyrical fountain area from concrete and iron, increasing the durability of his work and the immortality of his name. Hugging the hillside and ornamented with kinetic steel and stone sculptures, these cascading ponds finished in a natural pool below.

Most recently, he hacked out his own “Pharaonic Tomb” from the rocky hillside with simple hand tools, covering the exterior façade as well as the interior walls with hieroglyphics that represented images from his life.

Finally, after decades of fighting the authorities, in October 2014 Pujiula’s site was officially recognised as a local heritage site – a worthy recipient of county funding and support. In summer 2015 he was a finalist for the International Award for Public Art, representing all of Europe including the Russian Federation. He was flown down to New Zealand for the award ceremony, his first major trip beyond Catalunya.

In recent weeks, Pujiula manifested a creative explosion that astonished his family. “He was thinking only about building”, his son-in-law told me three weeks ago, “as if it would be the last act and legacy of his life.”

Image caption: Jo Farb Hernández

Author: Jo Farb Hernández

 

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