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Art.es #16 - What’s happening in…Puerto del Rosario?


Public Art in Puerto del Rosario. Courtesy of the City Council.

Puerto del Rosario, small city on the remote periphery with enormous plans

Fernando Galán

During the three years of the magazine's existence, this section has always been dedicated to informing and reflecting about what's happening in the world's great cities, often as different in their physiognomy and socio-cultural circumstances as the ways in which their art finds expression. Every city has its own personality which conditions and sometimes even determines the art produced there, and the way its exhibited or distributed. Ortega y Gasset affirmed "I'm me as well as my circumstances." In the same manner, each city is itself and its circumstances, and art is itself and its circumstances.

However, this time I've chosen a small city that I know well. It's located in what's its own inhabitants call 'the remote periphery.' Puerto del Rosario, with its 35,000 inhabitants, is the capital of Fuerteventura, the eastern-most and geologically oldest of the volcanic Canary Islands; it's among those with the least population density, and maintains an equitable tourist industry, stable and sustainable. If bits of paradise survived in this vale of tears, then Fuerteventura is one of them. It lays just 100 kilometers from the Saharan coast, from whose shores the expanding drama of illegal immigration arrives in diminutive and fragile craft. Fuerteventura is the periphery in relation to the capital of its province, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. And the Canary Islands are more than the periphery in relation to Spain, separated as they are by 1,050 kilometers (652 miles) of Atlantic Ocean. We shouldn't forget that Spain, in its own right, is the southern-most country of the European Union. Despite all this, relative to its physical dimensions, Puerto enjoys a density of artistic activity and (what's even more important) initiative and enthusiasm that exceeds that of many of the world's large cities.



Exhibition at the CAJI (Centro de Arte Juan Ismael): Carmela García, El hueco en el espacio, sept. 2005. Courtesy of CAJI

I've decided to make another exception to the rules of this section, which is limited to what is happening in a particular city. In the case of Puerto del Rosario I'm going to include the whole island because of its exceptional conditions of insularity and size. Five governing bodies coincide on the island. The three largest exceed its geographical limits: the European Union (where all the Canary Islands receive special fiscal privileges) Spain's national government and the regional government of the Canary Islands. The other two are local and exclusive, the Cabildo (the organ which governs the island as a whole, as occurs in each of the seven Canary Islands), and the City Hall. Puerto del Rosario is practically the island's only City Hall with its own arts policy, as what takes place in the others is almost exclusively the province of the Cabildo.

My first visit to the city for reasons related to art was to undertake a commission to curate the inaugural exhibition of the Juan Ismael Center for Art (CAJI) a 2,500 m2 space that could be the envy of many of the world's great capitals, and which opened its doors in October of 2003. The plan was to recuperate an abandoned movie theater for the promotion, research and production of art, and is due to the determination and enthusiasm f two people: the current president of the Cabildo, Mario Cabrera, and the Center's director since then, Horacio Oumpierrez. Besides the exhibition areas, the Center features a conference hall, cinema, department of artistic activities, a workshop and a center of documentation. Since that first trip, I've closely followed what's happening in the city and the rest of the island, driven by the stimulating bond of having participated in the Center's opening. And I continue to admire the political will that the public administrations display in embracing contemporary art. Especially if we take into account that until just several years ago, there was practically no artistic tradition at all besides local folklore and handicrafts.



Sculptors working during one of the yearly editions of the International Sculpture Symposium of Puerto del Rosario. Courtesy of the City Council.


Do you know many cases in which the City Hall's Secretary of Culture is an artist? That's the case of Toño Patallo in Puerto del Rosario. We're not talking about a politician who later became an artist, but of an artist that wished to enter local politics in order to contribute his own vision to what the great Jovellanos called, more than 200 years ago, "public happiness." The small city can claim more than a hundred sculptures scattered throughout its streets and plazas. Patallo was the promoter, back in 2001, of the International Sculpture Symposium, which is celebrated every year with eight or ten sculptors from all over the world. During an entire month, the invited artists work outdoors, beside the sea, materials are supplied by the Symposium, and at the end their pieces end up enriching the artistic patrimony of Puerto del Rosario. The children grow up accustomed to seeing that these sometimes "strange" forms of contemporary art, don't come from outer space, but instead are the result of the work of people of flesh and bone that labor in full view of everyone with the same assurance of the gardeners who water the plants.

The enterprising and enthusiastic collaboration of the city and Cabildo, means that the cultural on offer in Puerto is, in relative terms, the highest I know anywhere. Apart from the pertinent Municipal Cultural Center, there's an Insular Auditorium, which presents an active schedule of music, theater and dance. Outside the capital, Gran Tarajal, with a population of 12,000, has another auditorium with 360 seats. In the village of Antigua, and also managed by the Cabildo there's another exhibition space installed in an ancient mill, the same as was done with La Molina in Corralero. And in the tiny fishing port of El Cotillo, there's one in an old watch tower that for centuries was used as protection against English pirates. There are numerous other projects brewing on the island, but it's too early to speak about them just yet.



Artis Tirma (talleres para artistas en residencia y galería de arte), iniciativa de la artista Elvira Isasi

After many years of delays because of controversy and the very magnitude of its aims, the Tindaya Mountain Project has just received what appears to be a definitive green light from the Canary Island's regional government. Conceived by the sculptor Eduardo Chillida in 1996, its ambitious aim consists in creating an enormous space inside Tindaya Mountain by hollowing out its interior. "Years ago I had a presentiment that frankly I thought was utopian. To create a space inside a mountain that would offer a grand sculpture dedicated to tolerance to peoples of all races and colors…Tindaya, where utopia could be come reality. The sculpture would help protect the sacred mountain. The large hollow created in its interior wouldn't be visible from outside, but those who penetrated into its heart would see the light of the sun and the moon inside a mountain facing the sea, the horizon, unreachable, necessary, nonexistent."

While awaiting the obligatory geo-technical studies (the majority of which have already been completed) Chillida envisioned the gigantic work as consisting of three parts: the central hall, a cavity in the form of a cube but without strict angles, that would eventually measure 50 meters to a side; the horizontal entrance way, oriented toward the west and facing the sea, with a longitude of approximately 70-80 meters and a width and height of 15, located at a lower level than the central hall, so that those who were moving through it wouldn't enter into the field of vision of those contemplating the horizon from inside; and finally, the vertical openings, with an altitude of some 50 meters from the upper part of the hall until a spot near the mountaintop. These are the sun and moon shafts; their purpose is to illuminate the central hall with natural light (solar and lunar) and they open to the sky at the surface of the mountain, with no external element which discloses their presence from a distance, nor modifies the landscape.

Fuerteventura, known as the serene isle, has long attracted numerous artists, Spanish as well as foreign, who move their captivated by the its unusual beauty and inspiration. The painter Elvira Isasi, has just launched a completely private space, Artis Tirma, featuring an art gallery and studios for artists, perfectly integrated into the surroundings and based on a philosophy of nature (www.elvira-isasi.com). And just a month ago the Tindaya Gallery opened in Puerto del Rosario, also the result of private initiative. So sometimes it's public initiative that gets things moving…and private which follows.

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