In his essay ‘The Dialectics of Outside and Inside’ (1958), Gaston Bachelard makes the point that outside and inside, despite their linguistic suggestion of oppositional balance, are in fact always deeply asymmetrical – an asymmetry that begins in the quantitative but extends to the qualitative. Outside is immeasurable, yes, but inside is always a charged place, as becomes sharply clear whenever issues of shelter are involved. One need only think of the specific and unique charge of the sanctuary, of the sacred grove, of the clearing in the woods, of the safe haven.
A sort of phenomenology of shelter informs nearly all the work in ‘Metonymy’, the largest retrospective of Cristina Iglesias’s work to date, curated by Lynne Cooke. The employment of empty space is very much part of the Basque sculptural tradition – a distinct tradition to which Iglesias, who is Basque, clearly belongs, and which is exemplified by the work of 20th-century sculptors such as Jorge Oteiza and Eduardo Chillida. Iglesias, however, assimilates these traditional spatial concerns while infusing her deceptively ‘empty’ spaces with a more emotional and psychic intensity, often deriving from hints of aperture combined with restriction of entry, as well as by the use of light-filtering materials that mark but do not demarcate space. The external viewpoint finds itself empowered and the imagination and the body simultaneously inhabit the dual space that has been created – including the fictional space of Iglesias’s enlarged serigraphs of architectural maquettes, with their disorienting play of visual and physical scale.
In the late 1990s, Iglesias began working with panels of lattices – jalousies or celosías – in which the component screens are formed of texts, often from otherworldly writers such as Raymond Roussel and J.G. Ballard. Here again (although on a different level) the dialectic of outside and inside comes into play, with the word-screens allowing partial visual access but denying complete physical entry. The haunting suggestion of language as a communicatory screen that both reveals and conceals – and does so asymmetrically between speaker and listener, between writer and reader – is powerfully conveyed in these works, which often take the form of twisting three-dimensional architectural structures such as her 2002 work Impressions d’Afrique (Impressions of Africa, titled after Roussel’s 1910 book of the same name).
‘Metonymy’ (which is expertly installed in labyrinthine fashion in the museum’s large exhibition spaces) also includes material references – such as maquettes, photographs and drawings – to Iglesias’s formidable public projects such as Estancias Sumergidas (Underwater Rooms, 2010) – an underwater structure in the Sea of Cortes in Baja California – and Belo Horizonte (2012), a structure assembled of mirrors and landscaping at Inhotim in Brazil. Many of these – such as Antwerp’s Deep Fountain (2006) one of Iglesias’s best-known works, and an ambitious in-progress project scheduled to open in Toledo in 2014 – incorporate water as a sculptural element, as does much of Iglesias’s recent sculpture. Thus the show includes a number of works entitled Pozos (or ‘Wells’), large black cubes through which water runs quickly, rising and receding in tide-like cycles. As a result, this quietly powerful and at times even muscular body of work is accompanied by an almost eerie aural component – the gurgling and splashing of unseen running water – that yet again seems to conjure up a not-quite-named elsewhere, bringing to mind the 13th-century Japanese Buddhist text ‘An Account of My Hut’ that describes the search for true shelter in an unforgiving world: ‘The bubbles that float in the pools, now vanishing, now forming, are not of long duration: so in the world are man and his dwellings.’