THE NMAC FOUNDATION, CADIZ, SPAIN
This summer, while vacationing with my family on the pristine beaches of Cadiz, I visited the NMAC Foundation, an amazing Natural Park and Contemporary Art Museum located in Dehesa Montenmedio in Vejer de la Frontera. Inaugurated in 2001, this Foundation was created as a point of interaction between the social, cultural and territorial context of this particular geographical region – the South West Coast of Spain, overlooking the straights of Gibraltar, about 30km from Tangiers, and just south of Portugal. The Foundation was conceived of as a mediating museum, committed to supporting contemporary artists on specific projects that promote social dialogue and understanding through art. Artists from all corners of the world have been invited to undertake site-specific projects in the form of installations, sculptures, photography, video, painting, performances and architectural projects including Adel Abdessemed, Marina Abramovic, Maurizio Cattelan, Olafur Eliasson, Jeppe Hein, Sol Lewitt, Michael Lin, Santiago Sierra, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Aleksandra Mir, Ester Partegás, Huang Yong Ping, James Turell and Shen Yuan.
Aleksandra Mir, Love Stories, NMAC
Upon arriving, we received a very warm welcome from what appeared to be the only employee on duty. We also appeared to be the only visitors in sight, so in fact, we had the whole park to ourselves. The docent handed us maps and pointed out the small metallic yellow mushrooms dotting the pathways that would lead us through the forest to discover each successive work. The first project we encountered was in the visitor's office itself, where Michael Lin's instantly recognizable explosion of colored, floral patterned wallpaper covered the interior walls of the barracks. Lin's "Passage Garden" plays with the idea of reutilization and transformation of space through the recreation of a Chinese garden. The philosophy of Chinese gardens lies in the relationship between the interior and the exterior, which was exemplified here with the addition of a back wall of glass, which linked both outdoor and indoor spaces, bringing in light through the circular apertures in each adjoining room.
Michael Lin, Garden Passage, NMAC
Outside my 4-year old son alerted us to the second work, the sound of clapping mysteriously emanating from above. Looking up towards the thick, fragrant canopy of pine, we discovered two "boys," balancing, legs akimbo, on a large tree branch peering down at us, wearing what appeared to be papier maché masks. This was in fact a sculptural work by the Spanish artists and sibling duo MP & MP Rosado. Following the path we took a wrong turn onto the main road where we encountered the work of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan; a large foreboding highway sign that read "En este lugar han ocurrido 81 accidentes 14 muertos 2 lesionados." "Untitled" which Maurizio Cattelan devised for the NMAC Foundation in 2001, is a traffic notice that reads in English: "81 accidents, 14 deaths and 2 serious injuries have occurred on the following spot". The poster was hung on one of the site's most quiet roads where scarcely 20 cars passed a day.
Maurizio Cattelan, Sin titulo, NMAC
Once back on track, away from the "danger" of the road, we followed the trail of yellow magic mushrooms through the lush Mediterranean woodland to discover one amazing work after another. It was like a treasure hunt for contemporary art lovers, set in the most idyllic of natural settings. The next work we came upon was one of Jeppe Hein's eleven "Modified Social Benches," executed in 2006. These 'impossible' benches located throughout the woods acted as jarring elements in an otherwise serene landscape. Due to their modified structures they are impossible to sit down on and thus, created a sense of feeling out of place. Under these circumstances, the public space is reactivated in the face of a conflict of misunderstanding and displacement generated by the viewer's own experience, with the viewer being both witness and protagonist of this marginality. Another work that raised the issue of marginality was Adel Abdessemed's sculpture made of rolls of barbed wire entitled "Salam Europe." Abdessemed's work questions identity and borders, and tests social, political and cultural limits, and this work in particular highlighted the plight of immigrants who try to escape over the barbed-wire fence separating Europe from Africa in the city of Melilla nearby.
On the lighter side of things, Olafur Ellison's concave brick and mirrored wall entitled "Quasi Bricks Wall" focused on the study of sensory perception, the laws of physics and natural conditions. The basic elements of time: water, light, temperature and pressure are the materials that the artist has used throughout his career, introducing natural phenomena in unexpected places. Here, he continues his experiments with the perception of our surroundings through light and materialisation. Through study and research of various mathematic formulae, the artist has invented a geometric figure in the shape of a dodecahedron, which complies with the functions of the "almost perfect" geometric model, constructed in baked clay bricks. With this new type of brick a curved wall was built with the concave side exposed to the light. The bricks, positioned in a random fashion, form a rough, unequal surface on which their mirrored surfaces reflect the suns rays, creating a curtain of light particles, which can be seen from different areas of the woods, attracting the public's eye.
Olafur Ellison, Quasi Brick Wall, NMAC
One of the more spectacular works we discovered was Sol LeWitt's "Cinderblock," a staggered pyramid made of concrete cubes situated within an unusually quiet extension of the forest, that the artist executed in 2001. This work seemed to emerge out of nowhere and once we encountered the massive architectural sculpture up close, it appeared like a strange minimalist Aztec structure from the future. LeWitt is known for his elegant minimalist forms, which evoke the artificial and the natural. To ensure the correct execution of this work he relied on the supervision of an architect due to the fact that it falls between the categories of sculpture and architecture. This construction breaks with the traditional schemes of landscape, drawing us into a structural world of different dimensions and perspectives. His ambitious proportions are adapted perfectly to the environment here, competing with the grandeur of the trees and the landscape.
Sol Lewitt, Cinderblock, NMAC
Throughout the forest Aleksandra Mir's work, entitled "Love Stories," could be found inscribed on the trees themselves. Her work is a compilation of a thousand love stories from every corner of the planet, interwoven within the territorial context of a Mediterranean wood, where each heart with corresponding initials is carved into its own tree as a way of establishing ties between the global and the local. This is an going project and once these hearts are carved in the pine trees, the thousand love stories will be published in a book, presenting a portrait of a multicultural society through emotional experiences exhibited in a public setting, making manifest the sentiments of human nature, beyond geographic, idiomatic, cultural, and traditional constraints.
James Turrell, Second Wind 2005, NMAC
One of the last work's we came upon was James Turrell's "Second Wind 2005" executed in 2009. For this project Turrell wanted to produce a work that enhanced the natural light of the surrounding area. This is typical of the artist who is known internationally for his "sky spaces" that use light as a medium, in order to study and examine perception itself. This incredible architectural structure was actually located underground, and you had to enter the pyramid though a tunnel. Inside was a stone stupa, or dome surrounded by a blue crystalline pool of water. The stupa is in fact, a circular dome used in Buddhist architecture, whose shape and position has the effect of making the cosmos appear closer. A passageway into the stupa leads to a room with a circular hole in the ceiling, open to the sky. Here, like his work at P.S.1 MoMA in New York, one can sit and watch the changes of light "sculpted" by the artist that are always best enjoyed at sunset, when one can see the transformation from day to night through the small aperture. Here, Turrell blurs the viewers perception of the sky as a space, shape and an object and creates the illusion that the sky is just within our reach, blurring the line between matter and emptiness, vision and perception.
James Turell, Second Wind 2005, NMAC
He wrote, "I am not dealing with an object. The object is perception itself." Secondly, I am not dealing with an image because I want to avoid any associative symbolic thought." Thirdly, I am not dealing with a special purpose or focal point, either. With no object, image or purpose, what are you looking at? You are looking at yourself looking." This is apparently one of Turrell's biggest projects after his Roden Crater in Arizona, which I hope to visit one day, but until then, this small celestial observatory surrounded by the beauty of the fragrant Mediterranean pine forest, the pristine beaches of Cadiz and the quaint, white-washed, hilltop village of Vejer de la Frontera was more than enough to edify my mind, body and soul.