Review of Cristina Iglesias: Phreatic Zones at Marian Goodman Gallery, London

Spanish-born artist Cristina Iglesias has the talent to metamorphose spaces in her own unique way. Phreatic Zones is her first solo exhibition at Marian Goodman gallery in London since her 2003 show at the Whitechapel Gallery.

The floor of the central gallery space is covered with large grey paving slabs interrupted by three rectangular ditches that appear sporadically in the area. Aluminium cast tree roots and other organic looking forms create a micro-environment with the addition of water that runs through them and drains on rotation. Two smaller adjacent galleries compliment the show; the first features Pozo XI (in and around the walls) (Version 2), 2014, a 112cm high square-shaped well that encapsulates organic or volcanic formations cast in aluminium and enhanced with flowing water. The second side gallery presents a series of mixed media on silkscreen in silk works (Study I, II, III and IV, 2015) echoing the artist’s sculptural pieces as well as her deep interest in architecture and her recent collaborations with Renzo Piano and Foster & Partners.

Iglesias’s site-specific intervention signifies the urgency of contemporary society to re-establish connection with the natural environment. The emergence of the concealed natural world after the desurfacing of the grey paving manifests not only a call for unearthing our past and divulging our roots, but also a sense of regret towards the termination and eradication of nature.

The three floor sculptural works could be considered a continuation of Iglesias’s installations in Toledo, a series of three monumental public pieces commissioned by Artangel in 2014. Tres Aguas appear in carefully selected historical districts of the city engaging three different periods of time in conversation with the river Tagus, an omnipresent symbol of Toledo associated with its existence since antiquity. The objective hypostasis of the river is transformed into a cross and inter-cultural metaphor interlinking all different parts of the city and its society, whose constituents belong to diverse religious and cultural backgrounds.

Back in London, Iglesias observed the immediate proximity of the gallery to nearby Golden Square, dominated by large trees. Her floor sculptures as well as the wall works on display reference a vibrant correspondence with the neighbouring natural habitat. They evoke notions of co-existence and, to some extent, compromise and reconciliation, while simultaneously accentuating the human struggle to live with nature, and the suppression of wildlife by urban architecture.

As in her Toledo series, the artist visualises a connection between the gallery environment and the river Thames, its canals and other river basins. The emergence of a network of visible and non-visible streams and waterways in Iglesias’s work highlights aspects of geomorphology that guided humans when planning the configuration of their settlements followed by their continuous developing topographies. The paving is utilised to remind viewers not just of the concealment of the memory of the past, but also of the restrained withdrawal of nature as a process of socio-economic progress and growth.

Iglesias’s work is not lacking spiritual connotations either. Ancient Greek sanctuaries and oracles such as Delphi are now known to have been built over volcanic faults and streams, which were accessible only by the high priests and priestesses through the temple’s most sacred area, the adyton. This was the place where prophecies were issued with the help of the spirits, deities and gods of nature or the underworld. In unveiling the respect that bygone civilisations showed towards the supremacy of nature, Iglesias’s artistic output conveys a visual language that rigorously confronts our contemporary reality.

The multiple readings of Iglesias’s work signify the topical character of her practice and the ongoing need to mediate the impulse and desire for interchange and continuity between the past, present and future.

Kostas Prapoglou

Cristina Iglesias: Phreatic Zones, until 19 December, Marian Goodman Gallery, London.

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1. Cristina Iglesias, Pozo XI (in and around the walls) (Version 2), 2014. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery.