Ibon Aranberri

As if questioning if, or how, context changes content, Ibon Aranberri titled his recent show “Integration.” The minimal installation featured three projects from the past seven years—of which only one has actually been realized in its original context, while the other two exist as relics or project sketches, though ones that the artist now regards as works in and of themselves. Aranberri grew up in the Basque country in the post-Franco era, and most of his work uses this specific geopolitical background to show how the decoding of cultural memory—and forgetting—can be translated into new meaning.

Light over Lemoniz, 2000–, a collaboration between Aranberri and the art-production company Consonni, was conceived initially as a fireworks display mimicking that of the inaugural celebration of the Guggenheim Bilbao in 1997. Situated only about twelve miles from Bilbao, Lemoniz is the site of a nuclear plant built in the early ’70s but never activated; it is the only remnant of a major development plan to construct several such plants along the Basque coast, halted after massive and sometimes violent public protests. Today the structure stands as an ambiguous monument to a dark chapter of history, and to the power of the people’s resistance. Aranberri grew up during the ’70s, and his visual language draws from the logos of protest that were designed by renowned local activists and artists (such as Eduardo Chillida). In Light over Lemoniz, Aranberri seeks to reactivate the memory of this chapter in the troubled history of the Basque country and juxtapose it with the imperialist expansion of the Guggenheim; so far the project exists only as a slide show, mixing contemporary views of the site, historic documents of the protests, and the graphic language that characterized both.

The second work was actually realized and was represented here by an enlarged black-and-white photograph and a descriptive text. The photograph shows the prehistoric cave of Iritegi (in the province of Gipuzkoa)—another ambiguous symbol of Basque identity. Caves in this area have been used frequently as hideouts by ETA fighters and as prisons for their hostages. (The Basque word for “cave,” zuloa, became a synonym for “kidnapping” in Spanish.) Aranberri closed its main portal with a construction of metal panels. Careful not to interfere with the existing ecosystem, he left a circular hole for the colonies of bats that live inside. Building this locked door was a symbolic act, as if closing a chapter of history, and it added another, artificial fetish to the existing primordial one, serving as a kind of chastity belt, arousing desire more than prohibiting it. Cave (Ir. T. no. 513), 2003, works like a materialized black hole, a blacking-out that absorbs and highlights what it aims to hide.

Floating Garden, 2004/2007, was newly realized for the show in Basel. Originally planned as a site-specific work to be installed on the concrete fence surrounding the courtyard of P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, it was canceled for security and bureaucratic reasons and only presented there as a series of prototypes and sketches. Reconceived for the Kunsthalle Basel and laid out in the upper room, concrete battens studded with shards of green glass (from bottles of San Pellegrino) were presented on the kinds of display racks one might find in a workshop. Instead of forming a defensive blockade, they suggested an architectonic garden, simultaneously rigorous and seductive.

Eva Scharrer