The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum presents Zulo beltzen geometria (Geometry of Black Holes) (2019), a work by one of the Basque artists with the greatest international outreach, Ibon Aranberri (Itziar, Gipuzkoa, 1969), which was recently acquired by the museum and is now being shown in public for the first time.
Made of up steel modules, the piece originated from the intervention which the artist carried out in a prehistoric cave almost three decades ago after meeting the requirements of the organisations with authority on such matters.
The project, which kindled Ibon Aranberri's career with the critical recognition it garnered, was called (Ir. T. no. 513) zuloa, a name that corresponds to the scientific code assigned to this cave in the archaeological reports. It was a work related to the Land Art movement which consisted in sealing the entrance to the cave with a flat, opaque modular structure around 6 metres in diameter as the last consequence of a long process in which Aranberri temporarily left city life to explore the prehistoric caves near him. The silhouette of this enclosure reproduced the exact morphology of the mouth of the cave, and its surface was pocked with orifices and holes that allowed the species living or taking refuge in the cave to come and go.
This steel contraption prevented people from entering the caveand therefore from entering its symbolic meaningexcept through a system on the lower part created just for that purpose in case of need. All the metal components were then given a surface treatment to prevent corrosion, causing an anti-reflective opaque effect which blended into the installation.
Thus, Aranberri's work did the opposite of what was expected, which was to monumentalise a site with strong connotations. Instead, it transformed the cave into a sealed, inaccessible, hidden space.
The intervention in this significant sought not to preserve the landscape but to "recode" it. The artist himself explained at the time that this artistic action "connects with the imaginary archetypes of local culture, where the Romantic tradition continues to represent prehistory as the great originating myth. The definition of collective identity has been heavily upheld on the idea of territory, where the landscape is the symbolic backdrop".
Almost two decades later, Aranberri suggested disassembling the construction and restoring the cave entrance to its natural state in a kind of "liberation". He did so without forewarning, concluding the cycle after noticing first that in today's information society it is practically impossible to "preserve the inaccessibility of a given physical space", and secondly that the anthropological and social issues affected by the alteration of the physical space caused by his piece had mutated from 2003 until today towards a mediatised cultural gaze.
The modules that used to be part of the enclosure of the prehistoric cave are now part of an independent work, a post-minimalist installation weighing approximately 1,000 kg which conserves the marks of the passage of time like a shipwreck and now join the museum's contemporary art collection.
Ibon Aranberri (Itziar, Gipuzkoa, 1969) studied in the Fine Arts Faculty at the University of the Basque Country and at the Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti in Milan. In the mid-1990s, he was part of the Arteleku workshops, and at the end of that same decade he furthered his training in different study programmes and in residencies in Japan, New York and Stockholm. In 2003, he was awarded the Velázquez grant, in 2004 he secured a Gure Artea award and that same year he won the Altadis award. He has combined his artistic practice with different collaborations and teaching and is one of the driving forces behind theJAI Artistic Practices which was launched this year by Tabalakera and Artium.
His work is represented in the collections of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, the Contemporary Art Museum of Barcelona (MACBA), ARTIUM in Vitoria-Gasteiz and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. His work is difficult to classify and pigeonhole in the usual circuits where art is sold and marketed because it goes beyond the usual artistic formats, and it often alludes to human intervention in the environment, as seen in civil engineering projects, cultural transformation and artworks. Aranberri subjects these devices and their forms of observation to an intense process of analysis and resignification, which culminates in an examination of the complex layers of history, culture, aesthetics and politics in the world around us in the guise of his own objects and installations. A good example of this is the artist's 2003 intervention, in which he sealed a prehistoric cave, the origin of the work we are presenting today.