“Aqua unum ex quatuor est elementis sine quibus vivere nullus potest.” In the statutes of Siena dated 1360 two underlying reasons are invoked for the idea of a fountain in the city piazza: water is one of the four elements necessary to life, and a fountain in the campo is not only useful for the whole city but also renders it more beautiful. Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, water now also flows abundantly from showers and bathroom taps, but the fountain – just as the government of Siena wanted it way back in the 14th century – has lost none of its symbolic force. The fountain, and with it the presence of water, is still a symbol of abundance. Baptisms are performed at fonts, and the fascination of the religious, mythological and literary symbology of the “fons vitae” has remained unaltered through to the present day, because water is the blood of the earth.
These are the images and associations evoked by the Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias with her fountain-sculpture. Situated in one of the most secluded courtyards of the Castello di Ama, this sculpture, whose presence is very discreet, natural, almost casual, seems always to have been here. In the middle of the small courtyard, open on one side to the surrounding landscape, a square has been cut into the paving. Beneath ground level, on the bottom, is a bronze sculptural relief – in actual fact it is resin – with slender, tidily arranged branches that almost seem to form a carpet. The relief, which makes up the bottom of the fountain’s basin, lies oblique to the paving of the courtyard, giving the impression that the surface of the water continues and extends beneath the paving stones and hence beneath our feet: the opening makes it possible to cast a glance down into the earth.
Given that Iglesias is seeking to render visible the difference between the natural environment and the built space, the relationship between work and context becomes one of the key themes of the work itself. In fact, the fountain, besides providing a centrepiece for the small courtyard and transforming it into a place of retreat and meditation, also establishes a dialogue with the work of the French artist Daniel Buren (situated at the point where the courtyard gives onto the landscape), acquiring new meaning. Indeed, while Buren’s work multiplies the gaze horizontally, in the breadth of the landscape, Iglesias’ fountain directs it in a vertical direction, into the depths of the earth.
Besides place and space, Cristina Iglesias also adds a third central theme to her work: time. “Time is fast, and space is slow,” the American artist Vito Acconci once said, and added: “Space is an attempt to place time, and understand time!” In the presence of a fountain one expects to hear the cheerful, splashing sound of water. The basin of Iglesias’ fountain, on the other hand, fills up slowly, silently and cyclically. In the space of a little over an hour, the water level rises as far as the edge of the basin, at ground level, remains there for several minutes and then slowly begins to drop as the basin empties. Depending on the level of the water, the viewer’s reception of the relief on the bottom, and even the depth of the basin itself, appears to change. Anyone stopping to look is forced to swap the frenetic pace of everyday life with slow consideration of the fountain: the brief moment of the gaze dilates into the long temporal phase of a meditation, and the movement of the water becomes, like the high and low tide of the sea, a symbol of the breathing of the whole earth.
“Illusionism and the use of certain subjects or motifs that were found in painting ceased to be the exclusive territory of painting and were extended to other disciplines such as sculpture and even architecture. My vision draws on a combination of influences that range from film and the way it uses montage and sequence to structure looking, to the experience of walking in a maze.” These are the words used by Cristina Iglesias a few years ago to describe the conceptual approach she adopts to her work, an approach that can also be seen in the fountain – as discreet as it is deep – of the Castello di Ama. In the last twenty years the artist has worked on the creation of usable spaces, pavilions, architectural sculptures, in which the virtual and the real on the one hand and past and present on the other – hence space and time – give life to new and different experiences of objectivity. Iglesias also quite naturally erases the boundaries between the rigidity of an installation and the transience of an intervention. It is what Umberto Eco describes with the concept of the “open work”, where the addressee or viewer is ascribed the active role of completing the work through its reception. This theme is in any case common to many of the works realized at the Castello di Ama in recent years, works which win over viewers with their quality and the rich dialogue they create between different nations and generations. We are caught up by these enchanting interventions in a labyrinth of stories and motifs, where lived experience and what is imagined blend in quite naturally with each other, and where what existed in the past speaks in a non-traumatic way to the present day. It is a place where it becomes easy to believe in the transformation of water into wine...