January 09, 2009

Josep Pujiula i Vila, Labyrinth environment

this picture and the next one (2011) 
courtesy of Rafa Castells

Life and works

Josep Pujiula i Vila (1937-2016), a textile worker, around 1980 began creating a labyrinthic landscape on a plot of land in a curve of the river Fluvià in Catalonia, Spain, near the village of Argelaguer.

He made cabins, towers, bridges, walkways, using the trees and all the natural material in situ, knitting twigs into mazes and connecting wooden poles and planks with nails and ropes.

Until his death in 2016 he continued to build his art environment which would become one of the most impressive in the world.

The labyrinth he constructed became a favorite spot for a daytrip by families with kids.

The plot of land, however, was not his property. The authorities had doubts about the safety of the visitors of the labyrinth and they also wanted to use the plot for a better layout of a main road. So, in 2002 Pujiula agreed to dismantle the site and the autostrada A26 had its planned route.

picture (2010) courtesy of Adam Fowler

Pujiula made a decision not many people in a comparable situation, would make. He began again. On another spot, not far from the original one, he once more constructed a labyrinth.

this picture and the next one (around 2010) courtesy of
Meery Mariel Merková

And once more it became a wonderful construction, a creation that reached its full size in 2001 with seven towers, all about 30 meters high, spread over a length of some one and a half kilometers, a labyrinthic complex with points of view and ongoing tunnels.

It became a fantastic art environment, a tribute to creativity and a monument to perseverance, but also a non-Disney wonderland, nice to visit with kids, provided you had the stamina to complete the circuit and find an exit.

Wooden structures of the site dismantled in 2012

However, spring 2012 the authorities and the owner of the land made the decision that the wooden structures of the Labyrinth should be dismantled, because their stability could not be guaranteed, the constructions could be dangerous in case of fire and they had been constructed without any permit.

Pujiula, meanwhile in his seventies, dismantled some high-rising structures and burned the wooden parts,

International petition (march 2013) and manifest of the local population (may 2013)

However the site also has other, more near the ground creative structures (ponds, sculptures), and in March 2013 an international petition was initiated to convince the authorities that these -and what was still left of the wooden structures- should be saved for the future and Pujiula should not be hindered in developing the site.

On April 3, 2013 the Agència Catalan de l'Aigua (the water authority in Catalonia) ordered that the remaining constructions should be dismantled too, in order that the banks of the river would return to their original state.

Inhabitants of Argalaguer and other parties issued a manifest (May 13, 2013) to prevent this demolition, arguing that the site constitutes "an architectural, cultural and social heritage with a great beauty and sentimental value" (full text in OEE-texts). Argelaguer's community council unanimously decided to agree with the action to save the site.

In Pujiula's honor and to document his labyrinth Solanum Films made a movie, which was presented to the inhabitants of Argalaguer in the summer of 2013.

Further developments of the site

Late 2013/early 2014 Pujiula constructed a wooden tower provided with a dome and with several corridors of arched branches leading to the tower.

The art environment was enlarged with a part that is named the Poblat Salvatge (Wild Village), which for example also has the sculpture pictured below.

this picture and the next three (spring 2015) 
courtesy of Julia Sisi
Pujiula also began cutting out a nearby rock formation with chisel and hammer, creating rooms, tunnels and windows.

One part of this rocky area is the Tomba Faraonica (Pharaonic Grave). 

As the pictures demonstrate Pujiula started making sculptures in the rocks, which he embellished with sculpted faces and other characters.

Site classified as a local heritage

In October 16, 2014 the regional government of the province where Argalaguer is located unanimously decided that Pujiula's site is a local heritage (a Bé Cultural de Interès Local). This means that this art environment has a protected status, a wonderful result of the actions of the local population and the international petition !

International award in 2015

The Institute for Public Art which propagates knowledge about the practice of public art globally, in 2015 organized a competition for projects from all over the world, the International Award for Public Art.  Pujiula's art environment was one of the five projects from Europe that was nominated and in July 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand, the artist was honored with an award of special distinction.

In 2016 Pujiula suddenly died

On June 2, 2016 Josep Pujiula i Vila suddenly passed away because of a heart attack. In the weeks before he died, he had been very busy working on his art environment

Situation late 2021/summer 2022

The picture above, made in October 2021 by Tiramisu Bootfighter, who traveled through Spain in the context of his project La Valise, Galerie Ambulante, shows that the site at that time still was in good condition.

However in the summer of 2022, a violent storm knocked down almost all  towers. One is still standing, but with a cracked top. With that, the tower-like structures seem to have had their day. The creations in the rocky area are still intact.

Selected documentation
* Website L'home de les cabanes (with referrals to publications about and videos of the site)
* Article in Wikiwand (with bibliography)
Manifest (May 2013) of inhabitants of Argalaguer and other parties to save the site
* Juan Antonio Ramirez (Ed), Escultecturas margivagantes: la arquitectura fantástica en España. Madrid (Siruela), 2006. pp 64-69
Jo Farb Hernandez, "Josep Pujiula i Vila", in: Singular Spaces. From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art Environments, Seattle (Raw Vision, SPACES, San José State University), 2013, pp. 540-573. An abridged version on the website of SPACES
* A series of pictures made in May 2018 on weblog Herault Insolite 
* Article in French and a variety of pictures (april 2019) on the weblog of Sophie Lepetit
* In Memoriam in Raw Vision by Jo Farb Hernandez

* Scenes of the site (2014) on the Provincia de Girona (Catalunya) trip video by Serflac (YouTube, starts at 32.56,  cannot be embedded here)
* The video la Chose (made in 2001 by Bernard Legros and Joseph Pastor, 13'24", published on 
YouTube March 2013), shows the Labyrinth as it was up and running (subtitled in french)

first published January 2009, last revised September 2022

Josep Pujiula i Vila
Labyrinth Environment/Poblat Salvatge
Argelaguer, Girona, Catalunya, Spain

1 comment:

  1. i've visited it many times (before it was dismantled) and it's one of the most impressive things i have ever seen. not only because the work itself, but because it's a brave gesture for free "art".

    Obviously, burocracy and "legality" have at last killed it's magic.