An interview with Manuel Arias…

Describe the design of your aquascape from the first round? What inspired it?

The idea of making this aquascape came when I saw a poster advertising the contest in a local shop. I decided to participate in the contest; even the margin of time was tight (three months, if you have not started the aquarium before the advertisement, as it was my case).

One of the concepts I wanted to change in the layout was the effect of tidiness that reminds me so much of a garden instead of the nature itself. Thinking in to the English landscapes, I noticed that there was a big contrast in what nature offers in terms of composition and what we do in a garden. I wanted to keep an eye on the composition, but at the same time break the image of being a highly cultivated garden. From such concept came the idea of mixing Eleocharis acicularis with both Glossostigmata and Hemanthius: Create a gradation of sizes, heights and shapes as well as reflecting how the grasses and bushes grow in nature: mixed, entangled, and fighting for the light and space.

Meanwhile the lower level of the aquarium tries to assemble this behaviour, I added also some cosmetic sand to attract the eyes to the centre of the tank, as well as inducting the sensation of an old path being recovered by the wild nature. Parts of that path are still visible in the horizon, but tall grasses are also threading that part, telling that the path can be consumed by the plants.

The upper level was intended to represent also a forest. Not a typical forest with human intervention but the mix of species, colours and shapes that usually represent wild forests. The spaces are used for different species better adapted to them. The forest grow over the hills, leaving the old path between them. Taller plants grow there projecting their shadows over the bushes and grasses growing below. The forest invites you to think in something dark: hidden spaces in which the eyes cannot penetrate, hiding animals or other mysteries from the casual walkers that prefer to stay in the relative security of the path, where the light is stronger and the spaces are open.

In this landscape imagined in my head, I also thought into the local fauna typical of England: Rabbits (Corydoras) run amongst the grasses and bushes, looking for refuge when the foxes (Trigonostigma) are near to them. Pigeons and other birds (Hemigrammus) move from hill to hill running away from the visitants.

The inspiration did not come from a specific area in the United Kingdom. It came from several walks I have done in West Cornwall in old forests and not very populated areas. I liked the power of the nature there, and I wanted to express that in the aquascape. For that reason I decided to title the aquascape as “Into the wild”.

Tell us some details about your scape in the scape off? Did you have a title/theme for it?

For the scape off event I planned an aquascape with energy and symmetry at the same time, with a concave composition done by soil and rocks disposition as well as convex disposition done by woods and plants. This composition is really difficult to achieve, but I decided to take my chances with it . The idea was to provide the impression of the plants and the Talawa woods just exploding from within the knifestones and the Dennerle Nano Shrimps gravel Black Sulawesi I used. For the plants, I combined a variety of colours grading from red to green in order to strengthen this sensation of explosion. I used species with similar shapes in the leaves, applying a gradation of sizes from some centimeters in Alternanthera reineckii ‘Rosanervig’, one of my favourite plants for aquariums, to the millimeter-sized leaves of Hemianthus callitrichoides ‘Cuba’. The use of Blyxa Japonica broke the full symmetry to increment the feeling of being a natural composition. I am more in the line of using many plants to create the forms and shapes, catching the eye with the plants, more than trying to represent terrestrial landscapes. I also did this in my entry for the UKASC contest. My work in the scape off is entitled ‘Explosion of nature’, which fits with the concept I tried to bring to the live event.

How was your experience of taking part in the first UKASC?  

It was really amazing. I was planning my aquascape for some time, but I had not started the setup when the contest was advertised in my local fish shop. Seeing the contest coming was what decided me to finish the planning, setup the aquarium and participate. It was a really exciting time reading my tank for the contest, prepare the photo shooting and submitting my entry. I think that being part of UKASC 2015 gave to my hobby an additional punch of adrenaline and fun that I strongly recommend. I liked a lot the configuration of the contest with two stages.

What was the live scape off like?

Participating in the first stage was exciting but in the second one, the live scape off event, it was a real experience. I met the lovely staff of J&K and Dennerle, some of the judges, including Alaister Treymaine and lots of fans and experts with whom I exchanged comments about aquascaping, techniques, as well as making new friends with the other finalists, Antoni and Stephen. The atmosphere was very friendly and we had a healthy competition in the scape off. It was really funny and rewarding experience added to the more than generous prizes offered by the organization.

What were your highlights?

I would highlight the professionalism and friendly attitude of all the people involved in the event, from the organization & supporting teams to the finalists. But over all of that is the incredible experience I have lived, which I would like to repeat at some point.

Do you plan to enter next year’s championship?

Definitively, yes. I am already planning my aquascape for the contest in 2016 in which I hope to achieve even better results than this year. I had an invaluable learning in my techniques and style during this time that I intend to put in practice. The UKASC contest is a good opportunity for the UK’s aquascaping community to show some muscles and present the strong ability that the UK’s aquascapers have. Apart from that, the experience itself and the prizes become this participation in a “must”, in my point of view. But for me, the most rewarding point was the fun I got and the people I met, which impels me not to miss UKASC 2016.