“The Comb of the Wind” by Eduardo Chillida, “Empty Construction” by Jorge Oteiza, “Dove of Peace” by Nestor Basterretxea: the dialog between the art of great Basque creators and the coast has shaped the landscape of San Sebastián for decades, thus honoring local culture and also the sea. In the past, the city was in debt to one of the most internationally renowned artists, Cristina Iglesias, who had not acted upon the urban landscape of her hometown until now.
Iglesias’ work, which provides a renewed look at the discipline that is sculpture, is found in important public and private collections around the world, like that of the Reina Sofía of Madrid, Centre Georges Pompidou of Paris, Tate Modern of London, MOCA of Los Angeles, the Guggenheim of Bilbao, and the MACBA of Barcelona, among others.
In the case of San Sebastián, Cristina Iglesias has chosen the lighthouse of Santa Clara Island for her recently inaugurated installation, where she has created a group of sculptures that she has baptized as “Hondalea” and which recreate –artistically and through a large glass cast in bronze– the geological forms typical of the Basque coast. “This is a project that ties in with the defense of nature and of the seas and their coasts; a space for reflection where the water flows at a pace inspired by the changes of the tides and the forces of the waves acting upon the ocean’s cavities,” says the creator.
The visit is designed as an experience that includes a trip to a “remote place” in the city. Reaching the island by boat and contemplating the rocks and waves from the trails that lead to the lighthouse is, for the artist, an essential part of the experience. Santa Clara is a place of unparalleled beauty, located at the point where land and sea converge and where great natural wealth becomes concentrated over a small area. Walking along the paths that meander through meadows and small woods, you can see tree species that are typical of the area (adapted to the salinity of the soil and strong ocean winds) coexisting with trees and plants that have been introduced by humans in their quest to tame the environment. On the coastal cliffs, colored by the yellow of the sea fennel and the pale pink of the heather, seabirds stir from their nests. In the sandbanks and atop the wave-cut platforms that surround the island, sometimes submerged and other times exposed to the open air depending upon the whims of the tides, an intoxicating ecosystem unfolds in which a great variety of algae and aquatic animals coexist. Geology, responsible for the formation of the rocks that make up the island’s substrate, has helped to make this place something different from the rest of the coastal terrain.
Inspired by the “wild nature” of the island –so close to the city– and by the remarkable geology of the Basque coast, Iglesias has transformed the inside of the lighthouse, restoring it and turning it into a staggering sculptural environment. The fused geological strata and water sequences transport the visitor to a deep time experience. Her work brings out the idea of art as a refuge, as a meeting place – an idea that is always present in her pieces.
As for its name, Hondalea takes it from the Basque language, being a word that has a clear maritime connotation. It means marine abyss, abyssal depth, and seabed. It transmits the concepts of the sea and its depths, which are two main themes in the artist’s work. Although it is not a word in widespread use today, the term has a long literary tradition and can be found in texts by the poet Arnaud Oihenart from the seventeenth century.
The chosen name aims to synthesize the idea that the sculptor has embodied in her installation – the inner depths of the island, represented through the grotto built inside the lighthouse. The island is, likewise, the opposite of an abyss. Iglesias feels that this antithesis fits perfectly with her piece’s aims. The result is an inspiring work of art, the most important of the artist’s career; a gift for the city and for the citizens who have witnessed the transformation of a secluded place within the municipality to become a symbol of the defense of ecological causes and environmental conservation. Cristina Iglesias’s quest for a certain poetic and symbolic engagement between the piece of art and the space has most certainly materialized in an aesthetic, visual, and dynamic display.
Photographs: Idoia Unzurrunzaga and Sara Santos.