Artist’s utopian project threatens ancient carvings
Archaeologists warn that creating Eduardo Chillida’s cave endangers site of historic importance
By The Art Newspaper. Conservation, Issue 222, March 2011
Published online: 08 March 2011
FUERTEVENTURA, CANARY ISLANDS. Spanish authorities have revived plans to construct the late artist Eduardo Chillida’s vast, artificial cave in a Canary Island mountain, despite concerns over potential damage to ancient engravings on the mountain’s summit. The €75m Tindaya mountain project on the island of Fuerteventura has been the subject of fierce debate for almost two decades.
The mountain is home to more than 200 indigenous carvings, including “podomorphs” or sacred etchings resembling footprints. They were created by the isolated Guanche people, also known as the “Majos”, who are thought to have migrated from North Africa. Intended to ward off evil spirits, the carvings may date to as early as the first century BC.
To the dismay of cultural, environmental and archaeological campaigners, the project has received a green light following a recent meeting between Chillida’s family and the president of the Canary Islands, Paulino Rivero, and his environment minister Domingo Berriel. Chillida’s widow, Pilar Belzunce, has signed over the intellectual rights to her late husband’s plans so that a foundation can be established to manage and instigate the excavation work.
Around 64,000 cubic metres of rock will be removed to create a massive cave, taller than a ten storey building. Chillida’s hope was for individuals “of every colour and every race” to experience “utopia” and the immensity of space.
José de León, from the environmental group Ben Magec-Ecologists in Action, says the project presents a significant threat to these etchings which he described as “exceptional archaeological treasures”. He warns that the carvings—located only 70 metres from the proposed site—could be affected by vibrations from the building work.
Last month, Ben Magec organised a three-day protest, with archaeologists conducting group visits to Tindaya to show visitors the carvings.
Manuel Ramírez, a professor of history at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, agreed with the opposition campaign. He stressed that Tindaya is a site of national interest and should be protected by the Spanish heritage law of 1985. “I am with those who oppose the Tindaya project. This was a sacred place for the pre-Hispanic inhabitants of Fuerteventura,” he said.
Margarita Díaz-Andreu, an archaeologist from Durham University who specialises in prehistory, also expressed her concerns: “These carvings are not particularly pretty, but their value resides in their ancient, holy nature,” adding: “It was by marking the mountain that the indigenous inhabitants endowed Tindaya with meaning. Cultural landscapes such as this have a universal value and should be protected, particularly in areas like the Canary Islands which have already experienced such a high degree of destruction due to the tourist industry.”
Opponents are also concerned about the Chillida project’s economic impact—particularly after the recent financial struggles of the Chillida-Leku Museum in mainland Spain, which closed in January owing to a “recurring” and “unsustainable” deficit (The Art Newspaper, January, p18).
“What worries me is that [the Canarian government] will continue to waste huge amounts of public money if they go ahead with this convoluted enterprise,” said De León, adding: “They have already spent €30m, without a single rock being touched.”
“If you ask the government, they say the plan is for a private company to fund the €75m construction costs, manage the installation, and recover their investment via future ticket sales to visitors,” said De León, adding: “But knowing the Canarian government, it is highly likely that more public money will go into the project.”
The Canarian government declined to comment, but in a statement released on his website, President Rivero celebrated the initiative and insisted that the public would not face the financial brunt of the project: “I want to reiterate that the project does not presuppose any loss of public money since it will be financed by future admission charges.”
Chillida, who died in 2002, first outlined his plans for a mountain cave in 1985 but only settled on Tindaya in 1994, after considering and abandoning sites in Sicily, Finland and Switzerland. He referred to the project, regarded by many as his most ambitious, as a “monument to tolerance” but later admitted that the controversy it provoked had caused his insomnia.
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