Saturday, December 4, 2010

Eduardo Chillida

Who is Eduardo Chillida, I hear you ask? And I am here to answer - a Basque artist, working principally in monumental sculpture. (Txillida in the Basque language). He lived and worked 1924 to 2002. One of his most well-known sculptures is a great iron monolith sticking out of the rocks on the seaside at San Sebastian - it is called 'The Comb of the Winds'. 
'The Comb of the Winds'

And why a post about Chillida? Because his name has been in the news in the last few days. Both Alex and El Pais, the Madrid newspaper, reported that the sculpture park and art museum known as Chillida Leku, near Hernani in the Basque region of Guipuzcoa, is to close. Here is the Museo's website (if you want to read it in the Basque language, click on 'Euskera' on the left.) Alex took Evan and I to visit this park last month, and I thought it was a wonderful place. The blog entry at the time was fleeting, so I thought it would be appropriate today to tell you a little more about Chillida and his work.

The park is run by Chillida's family, and has been open for almost ten years. In that time it has attracted 810,000 visitors, but apparently numbers have been declining, as has the economic climate in Spain. This will probably not be the only art institution to close in Europe as budgets are savagely cut everywhere. The site includes a 16th century Basque farmhouse which has been wonderfully resorted. It now houses Chillida's smaller sculptures and his 2D works. Apart from simply preserving the past, the Basque house has deep significance for Basque people, and the acquisition and preservation of the house had deep significance for Chillida. From the Museo program:

Inside the 16th century building Zabalaga farmhouse there are about 100 pieces. Its story began once again in 1984, when Eduardo Chillida and his wife Pilar Belzunce decided to rebuild it when they found it almost in ruins. For this task which took almost 14 years, the sculptor was helped by the architect Joaquin Montero. Without deadlines or architectural demands, they would "listen" to the building as if it were a sculpture.
Inside this typically Basque building, they managed to create a feeling of spatiality and peace and quiet. The keys to the restoration of the farmhouse - its apparent simplicity, nature, the way that it integrates Chillida's own conception of construction and space, or the spirituality that you can sense here - are also some of the criteria followed in Eduardo Chillida's work, which basically questioned the boundary between matter and space.

When we were there, the house also featured an exhibition called "Chillida and the challenge of philosophy", which, as you might expect, drew my attention. The exhibition centred around several extraordinary hand-made books, called 'Artists' Books', editions of philosophical works by Gaston Bachelard, Martin Heidegger (with whom Chillida was friends) and Parmenides. Each is illustrated with Chillida drawings or prints, and they are large scale and printed on lovely paper. The Parmenides - 'Le Poeme Parmenides' - is a very beautiful object, published by Art of this Century of New York. The pre-Socratic philosopher's work survives only in the fragments of this poem, over 2500 years old. The edition is accompanied by six monochrome reliefs on thick paper by Chillida.

You will come to know the nature of the (upper) sky and the signs of the sky and the unseen works of the pure bright torch of the sun, and how they came into being. 
You will learn the nature of the round eyed moon, and its wandering works, You shall know also the encompassing heaven whence it arose, and how necessity grasped and chained it to hold the limit of the stars. (Parmenides)
 Chillida used to say that he was simply a person who had been obsessed since childhood with an ongoing enquiry into space. Heidegger resonated with him (and vice versa):
Space is one of those original phenomena and it is in contact with it that man experiences a concern that can even lead to anxiety. (Heidegger)
The Museo Chillida-Leku is a Basque cultural icon and its closing is sad. I have a book from the Museo (thank you, Alex) as a memory of it. Alex's mother, Itzia, read through this when we got home from our excursion, and pointed out to me a quote from Chillida which she said expressed exactly how she felt about the Basque Country:
I'm of the opinion that we should all be from somewhere. Our roots are buried in one place but our arms reach out to the entire world, and the ideas from any culture should be of value to us. Here in the Basque Country I feel like I'm where I belong, like a tree adapted to its environment, whose arms stretch out to the rest of the world. I'm trying to create the work of a person, my work, and since this is where I'm from, my work will have certain hues, our own kind of black light. (Chillida)
Itzia than went on to ask me in  puzzled voice how I could possibly move away from my own home voluntarily for years...ah, a good question. Of course it was not easy. But I guess I'm in my 'reaching out to the entire world' phase. Would I ever have known about Chillida and learnt a little more about the enigmatic Basques if I had stayed on the other side of the world?

And now this morning there is mention of Chillida in The Guardian: a van full of art works, many of them his, has been stolen in Madrid while in transit between museums. It seems Chillida's art is under a bad star at the moment. Time to give him a little air in the blogosphere, and let his arms reach out a little further still. I'll leave you with another Chillida quote - this is definitely "art-meets-philosophy":

...I do not believe so much in experience. I think it is conservative. I believe in perception, which is something else. It is riskier and more progressive. There is something that still wants to progress and grow. Also, this is what I think makes you perceive, and perceiving directly acts upon the present, but with one foot firmly planted in the future. Experience, on the other hand, does the contrary: you are in the present, but with one foot in the past. In other words, I prefer the position of perception. All of my work is the progeny of the question. I am a specialist in asking questions, some without answers. (Chillida)

'A specialist in asking questions, some without answers'...a true philosopher.

'Comb of the Winds' image from  The rest are mine.

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