Maria José Arceo was born in Santiago de Compostela, Spain and moved to London in 1984, where she graduated with BA honours in Fine Art from Camberwell Art School and later with a Postgraduate in Art and Design Education from Goldsmith University.
Permanently based in London, this Spanish artist uses installation, sculpture, photography, and film, to explore close interactions between human manipulation of the natural world and nature’s response to these interferences.
From the early stages of her career, Maria's work has shown strong links with both her childhood fascination for archaeology, oceanography and science. Her passion for water led her to seek human footprints on all kinds of aquatic environments. In one of her first body of works, she used salt crystals as the footprint that water leaves on the environment to highlight the problems of human-induced desertification and, in particular, the disappearance of the Aral Sea in Central Asia.
In 1994, after participating in a group exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall in London, the artist suffered a traumatic spinal accident and had to undergo a long course of physiotherapy treatments to regain full use of her legs. Her first solo exhibition entitled 'Circuitous', that took place in the studio of artist Robyn Denny in London (2007), maps her recovery process.
Since then, she has participated in numerous art exhibitions, film fairs and festivals. She has also collaborated with architects and scientists in environmental projects related to water. Among these: ‘Biomimicry - coral reef ecoMachines _World Incubators' with ecoLogicStudio and the AA (Architects Association), in Dubai. 'Empooling Landscapes', with the University of East London explored the effects of salt on different construction materials regarding proposals for the design and construction of various structures within the salt marshes of Coto Doña Ana National Park, in Andalucia, Spain.
Beachcombing the Thames for links to past and future, has led her to a new found obsession with the long-term impacts of plastic debris entering both fluvial and marine environments. “…Most of my work is based on the systematical study of the various ways in which human footprints manifest into water environments. My passion for water, led me to seek all kind of human ‘footprints’ on aquatic environments.” Her latest line of work utilises discarded plastic objects collected from various locations in the Thames. Her sculptures with these plastics are virtual ‘Time capsules’ preserved and displayed as visual evidence of the long-term properties of these polymers.
In the middle of 2014 Maria was invited to participate in Gustav Metzger’s ‘Facing Extinction Conference’ at Farnham University, as guest speaker on the ‘Global Systems: Food and Water Panel’ and as the spokesperson for the ' Biodiversity Panel'. The conference was followed by an interactive exhibition at the Herbert Reed Gallery in Canterbury with an open inaugurational speech by Maria, culminating in a two day Marathon of talks at the Serpentine Gallery: ‘Gustav Metzger: Remember Nature’.
Later on the same year (November 2014), she was invited to join an international group of 14 women as artist in residence, to cross the Atlantic in a 22-meter sailing research vessel. The purpose of the trip was to collect samples with a trawl net and to investigate the presence of microplastic contaminants on the water’s surface. These were first analysed on board and then shared to a wide range of international research projects such as The Marine Litter Watch (UN Environmental Agency); A Safe Planet Campaign (UNEP); Phytoplankton Secchi Disk Project (Plymouth University); Marine Environmental Research Institute MERI (Maine USA); MTM Research Centre (Örebro University, Sweden).
At present, Maria is working on various creative responses derived from these experiences, while continuing her research and artistic production in relation to the long lasting properties of these discarded polymers.
Supported by ten years of research on the issues brought by plastic debris on aquatic environs, and prompted by her trip across the ocean, Maria decided to create an interdisciplinary project that would bring the issue right back to where it originates: our rivers and cities. With a focus on London’s river Thames, her project: ‘Thames Plastic and the Exploration of Future Dust’, became validated by Maria’s nomination as Artist in Residence with Kings College London departments of Geography, Chemistry, Culture Institute and the Royal Society of Chemistry. The official launch of the project, in September 2016 started a series of collaborations with a wide network of cross-disciplinary partnerships, with the mission to creatively inform and scientifically challenge our understanding to the widespread dispersion of plastic debris on both fluvial and marine environments; while tracing it back to its point of origin: London’s streets.
As intrinsic part of her plan, from September 2016 Maria undertook an extensive program of events, while setting herself the task of conducting as many beach cleanups along the banks of the tidal Thames as she could- from Teddington Lock, all the way to the Sea. The project culminated with two installations; an interactive public workshop at Somerset House’s River Terrace in June 2017 entitled: ‘Plastic Lab’ and the creation of a 12m x 4m lit footprint installation commissioned by the 2017 Totally Thames Festival that traveled to six different locations along the river through out the whole month of September.