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 and oceanography. 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 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 treatment of severe physical therapy to regain full use of her legs. Her first solo exhibition entitled 'Circuitous' maps her recovery process and took place in the studio of artist Robyn Denny in London (2007).
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 Andalusia, Spain.
Beachcombing and mudlarking 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. 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. She is also working on some large-scale sculptural installations involving wider interaction with the public and cross-curricular collaborations.