Cristina Iglesias: ‘I don’t try to recreate nature’

Cristina Iglesias’ radical public sculpture: ‘I don’t try to recreate nature’

With projects in London and New York, including an installation at the Royal Academy, it’s a big moment for Cristina Iglesias. We speak with the Spanish artist about her explorations of public space

Spanish sculptor Cristina Iglesias is having a Mayfair moment this summer, with a large-scale commission for the Annenberg Courtyard of the Royal Academy and her first solo exhibition with Gagosian, showcasing new and recent work. As the first non-architect to receive the Royal Academy Architecture Prize in 2020, Iglesias has created site-specific installations and immersive environments that engage in dialogue with buildings by some of the world’s most renowned architects – including the Renzo Piano-designed Centro Botín in Santander and the Norman Foster’s Bloomberg headquarters in London. Her organic formations are made in perfect medleys of metals such as bronze and steel, stone, ceramics and concrete, often combined with flowing water.

Ahead of the unveiling of her site-specific installation for the Royal Academy and the commission for Madison Square Park in New York, we spoke with the Madrid-based artist about how the pandemic has changed the perception of public spaces, the parallels between art and architecture, and creating refuges in cities.

Portrait of artist Cristina Iglesias. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris Copyright: Cristina Iglesias Photo credit: José Luis López de Zubiría

Wallpaper*: How has the pandemic changed your relationship with public space and the work you create for it?

Christina Iglesias: The experience of the past two years has not changed, but has strengthened my belief in the need to create public places where people can meet people they know or meet strangers and have different experiences. Some public places where my works are installed have become more than ever an integral part of the daily social life of cities, such as a square, a park or an island. Consequently, the ways in which the works influence people’s interactions with each other are just as important as the ways in which individuals react to the works.

During the pandemic, many people moved from their physical work environments to remote conditions – sometimes permanently – so the areas where my public works are located became less populated for a while, such as the Square Mile in the City of London, where the Bloomberg committee is headquartered. established. The fact that my work was seen by far fewer people at the time probably caused a very different resonance.

W*: What parallels do you see between the way artists and architects create?

CI: We all share a sense of proportion, we all think about space and some of us think about time. Our practices are rooted in aesthetics combined with a consideration of human behavior and response. But while architects need to think more about being physically functional – for example, handling protocols and processes related to safety and usability – artists can approach questions from every perspective and art can function psychologically and poetically.

Christina Iglesias, I grow, 2018, Die-cast aluminum and solid glass with pigments. © Luis Asin for Cristina Iglesias Studio. Thanks to the artist and Gagosian

W*: How do you approach the creation of work for the public space and ensure harmony between your installation and its environment?

CI: Well, that’s always the biggest challenge. That’s where the sense of proportion has to work – at every level. The command is of utmost importance because it determines certain initial parameters. One should listen carefully to the assignment given, look closely at how the space is currently being used and imagine how it could be transformed by the presence of sculpture. An active dialogue with the site and the parties involved – local people, urban planners, architects, engineers – is crucial.

As an artist I try to create a counterpoint between what exists and what I want to put there. I don’t try to imitate nature.

W*: Tell us about your site-specific assignment for the Royal Academy

CI: Wet labyrinth (with spontaneous landscape) is a game with perception. It creates an experience for the viewer who enters where the real (the structure and the outside world), the fiction (the cast walls) and the reflection (the mirrored panels) are intertwined in an intense way. The sense of dampness in the structure along with the sound of water falling to the ground adds other dimensions: even in the heart of a bustling city, these visual, sonic and textural qualities can provide the viewer with a sense of refuge and tranquility. And the idea of ​​flowing water has been used throughout the ages to create a sense of transcendence, the embodiment of the feeling of being transported to a place beyond the real. Around the wet labyrinth with its mineral (slate) outer skin, the ‘spontaneous landscape’ adds a vivid image of nature.

In general, my artistic language is about the interplay between inside and outside, hiding and revealing through visually porous structures, controlling sightlines and introducing eerie or unfamiliar elements into a particular environment to indicate the presence of art. And since many of my works can be installed both indoors and outdoors, I think it’s a good idea that viewers find their own way of interacting with it.

Installation view of Gagosian Davies Street, London, 2022. © Cristina Iglesias. Photography: Prudence Cuming Associates. Courtesy Gagosian

Similarly, the space appealed to me for the Gagosian Davies Street exhibition, designed to complement the Royal Academy’s commission, as the very wide plate glass facade in the center of Mayfair reveals the work at street level, creating a dynamic between interior and exterior and allowing public engagement at any time. Even when the gallery closes in the evening, it remains illuminated and thus visually accessible to passers-by – like a film frame.

W*: What did it mean to you to win the Royal Academy Architecture Prize 2020?

CI: It was a lovely surprise! It evoked in me a sense of complicity with architecture, which was always there, but it was essential for me to know that the architects felt the same.

W*: How do you bring the experience of intimacy and refuge to a public space, especially in a city?

CI: wet labyrinth should have been presented two years ago, before the pandemic and the social distancing mandate. I work with panels and screens to enclose the space and make it interior and intimate. Now intimacy is an issue and so we had to seriously consider this when designing the work. Of wet labyrinthI ask the viewer to spend time experiencing it as they go from one end to the other.

Christina Iglesias, Scenery and Memory at Madison Square Park, 2022. Photography: Rashmi Gil

W*: What role do texture and materiality play in your practice?

CI: I’m very interested in all the nuances that occur in the view, both up close and from a distance – the details, the evolving patinas and organisms that time adds are essential. I’m a sculptor, so texture and materiality are key. I mold with wax and pour from life and from my imagination to create hybrid surfaces and shapes. The look and feel of my work is very important, what the sculptures represent and how the environment around them reacts. For example in the case of my underwater installation Garden in the seain Baja, California, we have spent years working closely with marine scientists to ensure that the materials and structure positively encourage coral growth and biodiversity.

W*: At the same time as your London moment, you have another great public artwork in New York

CI: I made Scenery and Memory working with the knowledge of the old Cedar Creek that flowed under what is now Madison Park. It is a project that speaks of geology and landscape: water runs – via a hydraulic mechanism – through the cast bronze elements embedded like a trail in specifically excavated areas and grasses grow higher along the line that the underground river follows. Hopefully, this scenography creates a connection and fluidity that will make visitors to the park reflect on the importance of the life and history that exists beneath our feet and the cities we build. I

Christina Iglesias, Scenery and Memory at Madison Square Park, 2022. Photography: Rashmi Gil

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