Cristina Iglesias, the sculptor of water

By Aina Pomar - Sunday, November 15, 2015
Cristina Iglesias, the sculptor of water

Cristina Iglesias has said on many occasions that she defines her practice as building, rather than as sculpting. Her work has in fact an architectural approach, not only for the technical requirements of her sculptures, but also due to the ambitious challenges she achieves.

Cristina Iglesias, the sculptor of water

Cristina Iglesias has said on many occasions that she defines her practice as building, rather than as sculpting. Her work has in fact an architectural approach, not only for the technical requirements of her sculptures, but also due to the ambitious challenges she achieves.

The link with architecture also stems from the several public permanent installations that the artist has around the planet, the design of which involves not only considering environmental conditions, but also the constant interaction of the pieces with the public.

Between 1993 and 1994 Iglesias created her first site-specific work, ‘Untitled (Laurel leaves – Moskenes)’ on the coast of Lofoten Islands. Other remarkable installations built since then include the bronze doors for the Museo del Prado’s new wing in Madrid, 2006-07, that move six times per day, and ‘Vegetation Room’, 2010-12, the enigmatic and labyrinthine installation in Inhotim, Brasil.

In 1996 she was commissioned her first large-scale public work using water. Deep Fountain, the permanent fountain for the Leopold de Waelplaats in front of the Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, was installed in 2006. After this commission, she has been exploring water and all her possibilities in fountains, small-scale wells or even immersing a structure underwater in her project ‘Estancias Sumergidas (Underwater Dwellings)’, 2010 in Baja California Sur, Mexico.

 Cristina Iglesias. Study III (Bronze), 2015. Mixed media on silkscreen on silk. 51 1/8 x 78 11/16 in. (130 x 200 cm). Courtesy the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery Copyright Cristina Iglesias

 Cristina Iglesias. Study IV (Gold), 2015. Mixed media on silkscreen on silk. 51 1/8 x 78 11/16 in. (130 x 200 cm). Courtesy the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery Copyright Cristina Iglesias

As a new episode in this on-going exploration of water, Cristina Iglesias has completely transformed Marian Goodman Gallery space in London, adapting the rooms and the floor to accommodate three fountains. ‘Phreatic Zones’is Iglesias’ first solo show since her 2003 exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery. The core of the exhibition is the horizontal sculptures with water, with a rectangular design and the aluminium interior emulating organic and root-like forms.

Immersive and captivating, the dynamics of the pieces lead the visitors to be aware of the duration of time. The movement, the sound, the reflection of the water flowing create a unique atmosphere and a profound interaction with the pieces.

Water reflects and absorbs and in the artist’s public installations the pieces capture the light and surroundings, integrating the space in the sculpture. In the gallery, the experience is notably different, more intimate and individual. “I think that it’s important when someone doesn’t expect to see something and suddenly comes across it. Here, by creating this exterior floor I’m winking at a public dimension, but inside a private space.  The difference is that in the gallery there’s a bigger protection, a bigger attention. The audience’s eyes are more informed, although there can be people who come for the first time and get surprised. In the public space you are always exposed to unexpected events, even to indifference” explains Cristina Iglesias.

 Cristina Iglesias. Phreatic Zone I, 2015. Aluminum and water. 200 3/8 x 85 3/8 x 204 5/16 in. (509 x 217 x 519 cm). Courtesy the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery Copyright Cristina Iglesias

 Cristina Iglesias. Pozo XI (in and around the walls) (Version 2), 2014. Bateig stone, aluminum, mechanics and water. 44 1/16 x 102 5/16 x 102 5/16 in. (112 x 260 x 260 cm). Courtesy the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery Copyright Cristina Iglesias

 Cristina Iglesias. Phreatic Zones Installation view. Aluminum and water. Courtesy the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery Copyright Cristina Iglesias

The title of the show points out the subterranean origins of water or, equally, what we can’t see beneath the roots. The phreatic zone is understood in this exhibition from its philosophical dimension, beyond pure forms and the physicality of water. It refers to the multi-layered reality of water and the contradictions that surrounds it, being the source of life and death, of movement and stillness. 

This enigmatic dimension of water, along with other multiple transforming qualities, is explored in one of her most recent works, ‘Tres Aguas(Three waters)’ in Toledo (Spain). Commissioned by Artangel and Fundación El Greco 2014, Cristina Iglesias created a project that involves the installation of three water sculptures in three different points of the city: in an abandoned water tower in the outskirts of the city, inside the Convent of Santa Clara and in the busy town hall square. 

The coexistence for several centuries of Christian, Jewish and Moorish cultures made Toledo a city with a unique artistic and architectural heritage. For Iglesias it was important to address the importance of history, of the memory of these three cultures, and to understand water as a knowledge and dialogue transmitter. 

Researching for this project Iglesias spent hours walking around the city and observing the river Tagus that surrounds Toledo, the movements of the water, the rhythm and intensity. Tres Aguas is “a kind of choreography, a journey through re-imagined spaces that reconnects the lost world of the river to the city above” as stated by James Langwood, co-director of Artangel, in the project’s catalogue. 

Being a cyclical work, the itinerary of the visitors from one sculpture to the other is not the only movement that matters. As in the fountains displayed at Marian Goodman Gallery, the sculptures of Tres Aguas also have water flowing in and out, inviting the visitor to stand still and observe.  

 Cristina Iglesias.  Tres Aguas at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, 2014. Photo by Pedro Salvador Hernández. Courtesy Artangel

 Cristina Iglesias. Tres Aguas at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, 2014. Photo by Pedro Salvador Hernández. Courtesy Artangel

Descending from the main room at Marian Goodman Gallery and going to the terrace gallery, there are three two-dimensional pieces on the walls. These studies represent abstract references to the city of Santander, London and a non-architectural place.

In the front room there’s ‘Pozo XI (in and around the walls) (Version 2)’, 2014, there is a new piece of the series of wells Iglesias has created in the last years. Although also working with water as she does in the fountains, the artist sees in the act of supporting the body on the edge of the well and looking down an essential difference in the audience’s experience. 

In the reflective inner structure, which reminds a volcanic bottom or rocks, there’s a reference to nature, but the artist has also left a wider space for abstraction to imagine multiple plausible possibilities. The artist decided to use less water in this piece allowing the viewer to see the forms of the well as they are, pointing out that water is just one of many elements she uses in her practice.  

Cristina Iglesias is currently working with the architect Renzo Piano on a site-installation for the Fundación Botín in Santander (Spain), for which she is going to work again with wells. “It has been a very enriching experience. These projects involve a lot of debates about possibilities before reaching the solution that you think it’s going to work. You need to consider all kinds of determinants - the city, the building companies, the assessment of possible risks, like someone feeling attracted to jump into the well!” says the artist about her collaboration in this project. “Frankly, I think it is going to be a very interesting project. It is now, and it will see the light of day soon, this 2016. My collaboration is almost finished, but I still need to coordinate some details regarding the finalisation of the building”

 Cristina Iglesias. Tres Aguas at Torre del Agua, 2014. An Artangel & El Greco 2014 commission. Photo by Luis Asin. Courtesy Artangel

This project will see a new addition to Cristina Iglesias’ body of works in public spaces. On the artist’s website one can navigate through a world map containing all her permanent installations. Besides this, the artist and the different commissioners take good care of documenting the installations, making accessible this planetary constellation of works. Cristina Iglesias likes to think that all her pieces are somehow connected, that “when water is drowning down from here [the sculptures at Marian Goodman Gallery], it’s coming out in Inhotim in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest and that something else is happening under the sea and that the doors of El Prado are moving, and all happens simultaneously in different parts of the world”. 

Cristina Iglesias’ exhibition Phreatic Zones runs until 19th December at Marian Goodman Gallery London.

Aina Pomar graduated in Sociology and Photography before completing a Master in New Media Art Curatorship. She has collaborated with Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró in Majorca and with CCCBLab and Fundació Foto Colectania in Barcelona. She moved to London to work at the Cultural Office of the Embassy of Spain, where she coordinated visual arts and exhibition projects with the aim of promoting Spanish culture and artists across the United Kingdom. She currently collaborates with various galleries and art projects in London.

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Museo Jumex (a private art collection based in Mexico City, Mexico) / David Chipperfield. Image © Simon Menges

Museo Jumex (a private art collection based in Mexico City, Mexico) / David Chipperfield. Image © Simon Menges

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