Sanne Derks (b. 1979) is a documentary photojournalist and anthropologist from the Netherlands, mainly focusing on social issues in Latin-America and Spain. Themes include climate-change resilience, water- housing and human-rights. She holds a...
Focus:Journalist, Reporter, Photography
Postgraduate in Photojournalism, Universidad Autónoma, Barcelona
Ph.D. Cultural Anthropology and Gender Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Master in the Psychology of Culture and Religion, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
RUTOPIA This project focuses on the repopulation of different ruin villages in Spain’s empty interior, where people strive to construct self-governed ecological communities as a ‘rural utopia’ towards a sustainable future.
In recent decades, there has been an enormous exodus of the Spanish countryside. According to the Spanish Ministry of Planning, only 10 percent of the 42 million inhabitants live in 70 percent of the country. In the past years, the boundaries of urbanization are becoming increasingly visible. Increased climate awareness has resulted in a revaluation of rural areas, which has been given an extra boost by the current Covid crisis.
In addition to depopulation, a reverse movement is also underway, in which people want to bring abandoned rural villages back to life. This project documents the process of repopulating several (seven) abandoned ruin villages in Northern Spain. It aims to show not only life in these emerging communities, but also the efforts required to live there, often off-grid, and the challenges of the residents to create a utopian mini-society. It connects to the theme of community, since the neo-rural inhabitants believe in the power of the collective as an alternative to urban lifestyles emphasizing individuality. It challenges notions of the city as the arena for endless opportunities and re-values collective rural living in the light of challenging and changing times.
Project funded by Covid-Emergency Funding by Matchingsfonds de Coöperatie and the National Geographic Society
Aguinalíu is located in the desolate province of Aragón and is risking depopulation since decades. The village consists of two parts: on top of the mountain and at the bottom of the valley. The upper part has been abandoned in recent decades, but has been almost completely rebuilt by new residents in recent years. Aguinalíu, December 7th 2020
Hannah Brüderer brings on make-up in a wooden yurt in Matavenero, Spain. Matavenero is one of Spain's oldest repopulated villages, founded in the seventies by a group of German hippies. 50 years later, there are still 50 residents in the off-grid village, that only can be reached by foot. Hannah is among the founders of the village. Part of the project Rutopia, on the repopulation of abandoned villages in rural Spain, funded by the National Geographic Society. Matavenero, 3-4-2021
Guillem Mateu Prat bought a ruin in Aguinalíu for 1000 euros. He recycles the rubble on the ground to construct his house. "In the city I get distracted. In the rural areas I reconnect to the essence of life." Aguinalíu, 11-4-2021
Wash is drying in the sun, close to the solar panels in the backyard of the off-grid community of Barchel. Seven years ago a group of young alternative people started an eco-community in the ruins of a farm that was abandoned for more than forty years. (26-8-2021)
Joseph Nogue Invenon is repairing the cables of his car in the garage under his house in Solanell. Life is more expensive than anticipated. "Things keep breaking, and we don't have the economy to replace them. The cars break down on the dirt mountain road to Solanell. And now the mice have bitten the cables while the car was in the garage under our house." In the project Rutopia, I also focus on the challenges of living a rural utopy. Solanell, 8-9-2020
The current inhabitants of Fraguas community near Madrid enjoy their breakfast in the morning light. Founder Lalo Aracil (right) and several of the previous residents are facing a 2 year and 3 months prison sentence, for violating property rights. Eight years ago they started repopulating an abandoned village (expropiated during the Franco-period) and are involved in a legal procedure with the local municipality since seven years. (Fraguas, 17-8-2021)
Andre Martín Moreno found for the third time in a month one of the chicken dead in the henhouse in Fraguas. She took the chicken to bury it in the community. "Since we do not know the death source, we prefer not to eat it, since it might contain poison. Besides, most of us are vegetarian." (Fraguas, 18-8-2021)
A weekly meeting is held among the residents of the community to discuss the weekly tasks in Barchel. Among the daily tasks are herding the seven goats in the morning and in the afternoon, cooking lunch and dinner, cleaning and vegetable garden. Communication is of crucial importance for a community to function well. ( Barchel -4-5-2021)
Architect Pere Lopez Gausa had built a second home in Solanell, next to his apartment in Barcelona. He has been living there permanently since the start of the pandemic. Every day he walks to the river for a refreshing swim. He finds the biggest challenge living together with different characters in a small village: "If there were more people, you could avoid each other, but now you keep bumping into each other, which causes tension and conflict." (29-11-2020)
Marta Haro López, Sara Vallejo Sarden, Mauricio Noel Strübing and Yule Argüello Navarro have breakfast from a self-constructed wooden house at the self-governed isolated village of Matavenero. Matavenero is a longer-established repopulated village. A community was started by an international group of Rainbow attendants. In the meanwhile it is the fourth generation living here with currently around 50 permanent residents. One of the difficulties is that the place is so remote, that it is very hard to keep a stable job. Self-governed in a horizontal structure, the group is too big to share the same ideas. Some of the older residents accuse the young generation to not take responsibility for the community. 5-4-2021
The village of Solanell in the Pyerenees consists of 43 ruins, of which 6 have been renovated and turned into habitual houses. Architect Saül Garreta bought 70 per cent of the ruins of the previous owners. His dream was to construct a community, but due to communication issues, the project failed. As he prefers to have a coöperative, he refuses to sell houses to individuals. However, the ruins face the danger of collapse. At some ruins little signs are placed to remind visitors of the dangers of the charming village. (9-9-2020)
In Barchel most of the food is home-grown. The group invests enormous amounts of time to grow their ecological vegetables. They are organised in such a way that everybody has a daily task, like preparing dinner, working in the vegetable garden, or herd the goats. Although they all recount to value the unpaid work inside the community more than working outside for money, they cannot be totally independent from money. If people have a paid job, they donate 30 per cent of their salary to the community. With that money the group can buy the food they cannot produce themselves, pay for materials and machines, and to pay for lawyers. (Barchel, 2-5-2021)
Blue water tanks, surrounded by spring blossems, store the water for the village of Solanell. In dry periods there is not enough water. The inhabitants should invest to improve the water system, but three of the four permanent residents do not have any money to invest. It is a source of tension for the residents, as nobody feels responsibile to pay. (Solanell, 25-4-2021)
Almudena Casino Navarra's hair is being shaved by her friend Delia Celada Belda. Both women live in Barchel, a self-governed eco-community in the region Valencia. A group of young people started the project to create an alternavive micro-society about seven years ago. Although they had the verbal permission of the official owners, who migrated and abandoned their houses more than fourty years ago, they are being charged for violating property rights and fear eviction of several houses they reconstructed. (Barchel, 2nd of May 2021)
Didac Costa sits alone in his house, while the neighbouring ruins reflect in the window, at C'al Amat. Didac, sociologist, activist and anarchist, bought four ruins in National Parque La Garroxta with the inheritage of his father. He aims to create a community, but cannot find like-minded people with money. So far, he lives alone. "It is especially difficult to find people you can live with. Most hippies have no money to invest in renovating a ruin. I have run out of money to do it myself. There are also so many movements within anarchism that it always leads to discussions." (C'al Amat, 22-11-2020)
Horses roam the village of Solanell. Though they have an owner, they walk freely around. For the village it is not only problematic for the poo, but also because the horses lick the cement from the stones, what makes the ruins more susceptible to collapse. (Solanell, 23-4-2021)
Felix Franco Escobar is taking a nap in the ruin he is slowly reconstructing in Aguinalíu. He was donated a corral by one of the former residents of the village, as a favour for the work he was carrying out to improve the village. Felix renovated the church' roof and constrcuted a basin for the water well. Though his house is not finished, he enjoys his house to a maximum. Felix does not need luxury and is not materialistic. (Aguinalíu, 11-4-2021)
Jürgen Pluindrich stands next to the San Pedro cactus that he grows in his house and uses for for sweat hat ceremonies he organises in his village Matavenero. He was given the house in exchange for three weeks of labour when helping out another resident, more than 20 years ago. Jürgen tells how he could not find his place in society, beteen all asphalt and concrete. Here, in the mountains, in his minimalist house, he feels he belongs.(Matavenero, 5-4-2021)
Aerial view of Solanell. From above it is clearly visible the entire village has fallen into ruins, showing a labyrint of walls and houses without roofs. The houses with roofs are the ones renovated and reconstructed. An architect from Taragona bought 70 per cent of the ruins in the past 15 years, but so far only 6 houses have been reconstructed. Slow bureaucratic processes, and interpersonal conflicts have failed his dream to create a community. Currently four people reside in the village. (Solanell, 19-11-2020)
The group is sharing a dinner at community Barchel. Every day two communal meals are prepared in a rotating system. Most of the ingredients come from their own vegetable garden. Other ingredients have to be bought in the supermarket. There is a shared economy, divided into 3 boxes: food and supplies, communal tools, and lawyers. If people gain some money, for instance working abroad, they have to give 30 - 50 per cent of their income to the group account. (Barchel, 1-5-2021)
Felix Franco Escobar and Guillem Mateu Prat share a barbeque in the corral that Felix is turning into a house in the village of Aguinalíu. Since Felix does not mind luxury, he uses the ruin like his house is already complete and enjoys his space to the fullest. Felix challenges people's perspectives of materialism as an objective for happiness. (Aguinalíu, 11-04-2021)