Elena Cue

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Author: Marina Valcárcel
Art Historian





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The execution of 25 Syrian soldiers by ISIS, Amphitheatre at Palmyra, July 2015


Palmyra after ISIS: The destruction of World Heritage sites and other forms of terror 


Rarely have spectacles been the protagonists of an execution. But those of Khaled al Assad had seen too much. Worn for over four decades by the Head of Antiquities for the ancient city of Palmyra, they had overseen the care and upkeep of every pillar of the great colonnade and every sphinx at the temple of Bel.  

In the spring of 2015, Al Assad was living a peaceful life in retirement but still fully committed to 'his' ruins. At the beginning of the Syrian conflict, Palmyra had seemed safe behind combat lines. However, in May of that year, ISIS militants were drawing closer. While the entire city emptied of its inhabitants and its resident Syrian army fled,  the 82 year old Khaled al Assad came up with a plan.  Mere hours before Jihadists entered the city, he summoned his son, Walid, and his son-in-law and together they selected 900 of Palmyra museum's most valuable pieces and organised their evacuation to Damascus by lorry. These are immediately followed behind by Walid and Assad's son-in-law, married to Assad's daughter whose birth coincided with the setting up of Palmyra's sentinel and who was named Xenobia after the Great Queen of the "pearl of the desert" herself.

The rest of the story is well-documented. Jihadists take the city, explosions are heard coming from beneath the temples of  Bel and Baalshamim as well as the Arch of Triumph and the funeral buildings are riddled with mines. Images flood the newsreels and internet.  Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, calls the events a war crime. With the amphitheatre behind them, 25 beaten and bloodied Syrian soldiers are shot at point-blank range by the 25 sons of Jihad fanatics standing behind them, the oldest of whom appeared to be around 12 years of age. The backdrop is a huge black Caliphate flag. ISIS mobs waste no time getting into the museum where, to their astonishment, they find the walls bare and the showcases and pedestals empty. All that is left is an elderly man, in his office, waiting patiently for them.  Al Assad is arrested and tortured daily for a month. On the 18th of August, his body appears in the city square, hung from a lampost by the wrists, a placard around his waist listing "the sins of he who directed the site of idols". At his feet is his severed head with the black-rimmed glasses put carefully back in place. The most macabre of images.

The Koran contains various verses dealing with decapitation: “When you encounter an infidel, direct your blows at his neck until death occurs." [47:4]. We are by now well familiar with the idea that for a Muslim this is the most humiliating way to die. Resurrection, or an afterlife, is not possible if the victim's head has been forcibly removed.  

This brutal story is barely 2 years old yet only a week ago, the Director-General of the Ministry of Antiquities for Syria confirmed: “Since then, we have buried 15 civil servants here:  four were decapitated by ISIS and the rest were killed by either snipers or explosions." Extremist executioners are creating a new category of Syrian cultural heritage hero.  




Palmyra before May 2015


In a small Italian city 

Recently, in the sleepy Italian city of  Aquilea 90 km east of Venice,  there was a notable little exhibition: Portraits of Palmyra in Aquilea that deserves mention. It was the first ever in Europe dedicated to the ancient Syrian site since its destruction. Some 30 sculptures, photographs and mosaics were on display with a view to  underlining and spreading the importance of a cultural heritage that is in danger. And all of it, from the inscription at the entrance to the walls painted the same shade of blue as Palmyra museum's, is in homage to Professor Al Assad. Aquilea, known as "the mother of Venice", could be said to have hosted, in its own right, an exhibition showcasing the 'Venice of the Desert'. Two cities, both declared World Heritage sites by UNESCO, who interact with each other despite geographical distances via these masterpieces of art. Perhaps this should be the mirror through which other projects or start-ups or groundswells should see themselves in a Europe that, for some time, has been losing and then refinding itself incessantly. Art as a unifying influence. Or a sticking plaster.




Tomb bas-relief with portraits of Batmalkû and Hairan, Palmiya, 3rd Century AD


Irreplaceable Treasure 

Resonating amongst the works on display at the exhibition could be heard two intersecting voices: that of Paul Veyne and the 127 pages of voyage into the past in his Palmyra: The Irreplaceable Treasure (Ed. Ariel, 2017) followed by the muted voice of Al Assad: “The oasis of Palmyra - he wrote - appears in the distance, protected on the west and north sides by a mountain range with Jebel Haian as its summit. In the east and south, the city opens out into infinity. A garden of half a million olive, palm and pomegranate trees surround the ruins like a crown of laurel leaves. Golden columns, tombs and, especially, the imposing mass of the sanctuary of Bel ..." This city, whose arquaeological richness is comparable only to that of Pompeii or Epheseus, was a settlement from 2000 BC onwards and a melting pot for many civilisations before being annexed to the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD. It later reached its maximum expansion during the reign of the great Queen Xenobia. Palmyra was the crossroads on the old Silk Route. In the second century AD, Aramaic and Greek were spoken by merchants, travelling or resident, as commerce thrived ~ the Romans bought incense, pepper, ivory pearls and silks from Persia, India and Arabia in exchange for wheat, wine and oil.  And it was certainly the case when examining the faces engraved on the tombs of Palmyra's most powerful families that there existed a certain analogy with other parts of the Roman Empire, as well as shades of the Oriental.  A modernity similar to the eclecticism we see today on any Manhatten or Barcelona street, the one Veyne called "faces of the citizens of the world".



Explosions in Palmyra, May 2015 - March 2016


Palmyra, that fertile queen of the desert, represents everything the fanatics hate: openness, cultural interchange, the notion of a patrimony for all humankind ... With its eternal beauty, it challenged the dark ages of brutality and ignorance. It was in the hands of ISIS between May 2015 and March 2016. The Spanish artist Goya had already painted the destruction of art in a series drawing from 1814. Captioned "He knows not what he does", it shows an absurd-looking, bare-chested man, arrogant, his eyes closed, brick hammer in hand. He has just smashed a statue to pieces. It could be a contemporary image. Although iconoclasm has always existed, from Byzantium to the Reformation, from the Russian Revolution to Nazi Entartete Kunst 'degenerate art', we are nevertheless now witnessing a new type of terrorism. Jihad by media. The Taliban produced images whose global impact had been exceeded only by footage of planes hitting the Twin Towers. Since then, there has been no let-up in the internet spread of Islamic propoganda which goes to show just how difficult it is to control what is posted and the impact of electronic images such as the destruction of ancient manuscripts in Mali, heritage sites in  Jorsabad, the Great Mosque Of Damascus and the Krak des Chevaliers in Syria, not to mention the van attack on the Ramblas in Barcelona and the threats concerning the Sagrada Familia cathedral there. Some days ago, leaders from the UK, France and Italy spearheaded a proposal that internet giants remove extremist ISIS content in less than 2 hours.  Urgent measures are required. As Veyne so rightly said: "To know only one culture, one's own, means condemning oneself to living just one life, isolated form the world that surrounds us."


 (Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

- Palmyra after ISIS -                                - Alejandra de Argos -

 Author: Elena Cué



Underwater sculptures. 

The sublime is something that moves up profoundly, that lifts us. There is no sublimation without passion. This experience full of beauty, exalts the viewer to unusual levels of aesthetic or moral shock. The MUSA (Underwater Museum of Art) is submerged off the coast of Cancun, Mexico and is the largest museum under the sea, with over 500 sculptures done by Jason Taylor deCaires. It's one of those experiences that raises us by its greatness.

Jason DeCaires Taylor (1974) is an English sculptor, with over 18 years of experience as a diver. He has received awards for his underwater photographs, which capture how his sculptures become something organic, living a continuous transformation by the effects of ocean.



 Photos: Jason deCaires Taylor


The microorganisms that inhabit the oceans, colonize the surfaces of these sculptures creating coral reefs. The sculptures are formed using a special cement mixture, sand and micro quartz concrete, producing a neutral Ph which helps these microorganisms colonize its surface, enriching his work and helping to sustain the environment. The creation of coral serves as breeding and nursery grounds for many species that form the ecosystem. In this case, aesthetics and utility come together in this sublime composition, as these sculptures are the ideal substrate for coral to grow on and eventually create a reef that sustains a richer marine biomass and foster the reproduction of the species.


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 Photos: Jason deCaires Taylor. Silent Evolution


Enmanuel Kant, in his essay "Observations of the feeling of the beautiful and the sublime", linked the feeling of the sublime with the idea of infinity, that which impresses us by the grandeur of the embodiments to which it leads (the mathematically sublime). To admire the composition of more than 500 life-size sculptures, each with its own personal face, as it was done thousands of years ago with The warriors of Xian, is a grand experience. The dynamically sublime would be all that shows its immeasurable power, as are the wonders of nature. The unlimited, mysterious, awesome, beautiful, majestic, magnificent and terrifying nature of the sea, enhances this effect on the disturbing sculptures. Therefore, the relationship developed between our understanding and our imagination, causes in us a sublime feeling towards what we observe.


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 Photos: Jason deCaires Taylor. Silent Evolution


What makes these artworks singular is the interaction between man and nature in a living creative process. For Aristotle, nature (natural) and art (artificial) had nothing in common, they are two different realities, since the laws that govern them are totally different. Therefore, is fascinating to be able to make these two realities merge into a whole. The man-made artificial work of art, undergoes a constant metamorphosis leading to something natural until the primal is hidden.


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 Photos: Jason deCaires Taylor 

Jason DeCaires Taylor creates this synthesis between man and nature, art and science, where sculptures, with the sea as a metaphor for infinity are individualized as Apollonian forms immersed in the ebb and flow of the Dionysian.


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 Photos: Jason deCaires Taylor. Reclamation.



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 Photos: Jason deCaires Taylor 
















Jason deCaires Taylor's official page: www.underwatersculpture.com 


- Jason deCaires Taylor and the sublime. Cancun. -                                  - Alejandra de Argos -



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I was greeted by warm sunshine when I visited the wonderful gardens of the Zabalaga house, home to the artistic legacy of one of the 20th century’s most important sculptors, Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002). The Museo Chillida-Leku (Gipuzkoa) project was initiated by the artist himself as a place to house a large part of his work. It consists of large and small scale sculptures, drawings, graphical work and his well-known Gravitaciones, also known as reliefs on paper. The archives are located in the old 16th century shed, lovingly restored by Eduardo and his wife Pilar Belzunce: by juxtaposing in this way, an interesting dialogue is created beween his older work and his contemporary work.


“I once dreamed of a utopia: to find myself in a place where my sculptures could rest and where people could stroll among them as if in a forest”.

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Eduardo Chillida’s son, Luis, is today head of the Marketing and Communication department. Together we walked through the gardens and the parts of the grounds that were thick with trees, all full of the Basque artist’s sculptures. He told me about the huge effort required to keep the project going — a task which the entire family is devoted to, and which seems to be carried out professionally and responsibly. The grounds measure 13 hectares and are extremely well looked-after; it was lovely to be able to walk at leisure, admiring one beautiful sculpture after another.


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Chillida’s unique artistic language, which he has written about in a number of texts, helps us better understand his thought process and his work. Space, time, limits, scale, emptiness, matter and horizon are all ideas which are heavily present in his visual language and which form the basis of his work. Light is another crucial element, one that is especially evident in the alabasters, as well as the idea of limitation. Chillida explores both space and emptiness: he sees both as necessary tools in the making of his sculptures.

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Chillida’s philosophy is pure spatial metaphysics, which links him intellectually to Martin Heidegger. The philosopher’s thoughts in “Art and Space” (1968) are so closely aligned to Chillida’s idea of space that he actually asked the artist to illustrate his thoughts for him. According to the philosopher, sculptures create places — without them, places do not exist. I could really sense this philosophy coming alive while we were walking through the grounds.


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I believe that we all come from somewhere. Ideally, we should come from a certain place, we should have our roots somewhere, so that our arms may reach all parts of the world, and so that we may benefit from any culture, no matter where it may come from. Any place can be ideal for those who open their minds; here in my Basque Country I feel at home, like a tree with its roots in the earth beneath it, grounded in one place but with arms open to the world. I am trying to create the work of a man, my own work, and since I come from the Basque Country, my work will have a certain essence to it, a black light, which is uniquely ours.” Eduardo Chillida.


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After the visit, I couldn’t help going to see the Ondarreta beach and the Peine del Viento sculpture. Chillida has created a whole new space in this beautiful beach, where one can lose oneself in contemplation of the sky, the sea and the earth among architecture that literally “combs the wind”. 


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My visit to the area was a great excuse to go on a gastronomic tour in San Sebastián, to please the palate rather than the eyes. This world-class tour is one of the best one can find in this region, where the Michelin stars per resident ratio is the highest in the world.

My food tour started at the Rekondo restaurant and dinner in Zuberoa (1 Michelin star). The following day, lunch at the Asador Etxebarri (1 Michelin star) and dinner at Arzak (3 Michelin stars). We finished off with a trip to Martin Berasategui (3 Michelin stars).

One of my favourite restaurants was the Asador Etxebarri, where Bittor Arginzoniz’s cooking is entirely charcoal-grilled (be it fish, seafood, vegetables or meat). The ingredients were all of the highest quality, full of a delightful charcoal and smoke taste and smell.


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My other favourite was Martin Berasategui, where the menu is very light and creative, each dish an exceptional, innovative cooking experience.

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In Rekondo I tasted typical home-made Basque food together with a first-rate selection of wines, which I am told is among the best in the world.


Yet another top restaurant is Zuberoa, located in a 15th century Basque country house. The head chef is Hilario Arbelaitz and it boasts a tasting menu that definitely deserves its 1 Michelin star.


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To round things up, Arzak was a continuous flow of highly creative sculpture-like dishes. This is avant-garde cuisine which is constantly evolving, very different to what I experienced when I last came here many years ago.

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"One must look for the untrodden paths." Eduardo Chillida. Something these chefs have certainly done...

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Constantin Brancusi (Romania, 1876-1957) moved to Paris in 1904, where he created the majority of his work in two studios near Montparnasse. In 1956, he donated his studio and its contents to the French State, on the condition that it would be kept exactly as he'd left it after his death.

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Atelier Brancusi. Foto: Alejandra de Argos. Atelier Brancusi. Foto: Alejandra de Argos.


I'd been wanting to visit the Brancusi Atelier for years but I'd never been able to do so due to the limited opening hours (2pm to 6pm, closed on Tuesdays). Eventually I found the opportunity to visit, and without a doubt it exceeded my expectations. The Italian architect Renzo Piano was commissioned to design the space in which the studio was to be recreated, the aim being to capture the original spirit of the Atelier. For Brancusi, the exact positioning of the sculptures in the space around them was a crucial element - this is certainly something that can be appreciated when visiting, as all the sculptures seem to fit perfectly, as if they were all parts of a whole. By 1920, the studio became for Brancusi the most effective way to express the meaning of his work


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 Atelier Brancusi. Foto: Alejandra de Argos.


In order to fully understand an artwork, care must be taken in its correct positioning in an appropriate space; at the studio, I got the feeling that all the works had been displayed with great precision and harmony. This relationship between artwork and its position in space was so important to Brancusi that he would replace a sold item with a copy in plaster, in order to not upset the balance he had created.


 “Constantin Brancusi and Richard Serra” at the Fondation Beyeler,
© 2011, ProLitteris, Zurich. Photo: © 2011, Tom Fecht


I'm reminded of the exhibition in Basilea, at the Beyeler Foundation (2011). There, Richard Serra's sculptures cohabited with those by Brancusi, both encapsulating the same philosophy: the search for a purity of form towards the utmost simplicity, which for Serra was the basis of minimalism. Serra visited Brancusi's Paris studio when the Romanian artist was already quite old, and was heavily influenced by his key artistic principles, most notably the importance of finding a balance between volume and space.





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 Atelier Brancusi. Foto: Alejandra de Argos.


tumblr lmdnjdi5V41qzjl0k    The studio also includes photographs, some of them mounted upon wooden frames probably made by Brancusi himself. He took photography very seriously: he would take photos of his work as a way of documenting it, and he also had a strong relationship with Man Ray. The positioning of his work in space with appropriate lighting created a whole new way of perceiving his work.
Atelieri. Foto: Alejandra de Argos. Brancus   



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 "Noire et Blanche" 1926. Man Ray


Visiting the Atelier is essential to anyone wanting to understand the artistic principles of the artist, who was a major exponent of modern sculpture. In his beginnings, his work was influenced by Cézanne, Impressionism, and Rodin's sculptures, until he started to develop his own style towards abstraction and simplicity of form and shape, at times reminding us of primitive African and prehistoric art.


I left the studio with images of Brancusi's balanced, harmonious oval heads still in my mind...

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 Atelier Brancusi. Foto: Alejandra de Argos.





Carlos Cruz-Diez, born in Caracas in 1923, is one of the great exponents of kinetic art. He moved to Paris on October 12, 1960 with a view to making it his permanent base. He set up a studio on rue Pierre Sémard and gradually went about expanding it to include other spaces on the same street.







Today his workshop is spread out across a number of properties interestingly, one of his studios still has the same façade from when it used to be a butcher’s shop. Cruz-Diez has assigned a specific purpose to each space: a documentation centre (which holds part of the documentation, the rest being found in his Panama studio), a meeting room, and a space dedicated to restoration work which also contains his work archives. His work area, or experimentation studio, is quite fascinating: so full is it with all manner of tools and equipment that it could well be mistaken for a goldsmith’s workshop instead of a painter’s studio. It was precisely this variety that made the visit so informative and engaging.






 His family has continually worked together towards the long-term conservation and organization of the work and legacy of an artist who can only be described as one of the great scientists of colour.

Here we can see the artist posing in front of one of his later paintings (one which I particularly liked), displaying surprising charm and energy for a 90-year-old.






I was able to follow the great artist’s extensive exploration in colour and movement through time, appreciating how Cruz-Diez’s artistic experimentation had evolved, from the use of cardboard and wood at the beginning to numerical technology and aluminium in his later work. He has engaged in a lifelong exploration into the use of his materials, always with the aim of finding the best possible method of expressing his ideas. The one constant in his work is the perception of colour, and the feelings that colour generates in the viewer. He wants us to see colour as having a life of its own.




But the materials and the technique are not at the centre of his work — rather, his main interest lies in making the viewer reflect on the art. The physical painting is nothing but an instrument through which Cruz-Diez expresses his ideas to us. The gloss, the brush-strokes, the style: these are not the focal point of his art. Much like an architect, he designs his blueprint for others to reflect on it and make sense of it. A rational, almost conceptual approach.



Carlos Cruz-Diez. Fisicromía 3. Caracas, Venezuela, 1959


10He began his artistic career as a figurative painter but quickly moved on to geometric art in the 50s. In those days he would be painting strips of colour, a particularly difficult technique since the colours would mix into one another. He would then use the sides of cardboard, wood and plastic as lines, which he would paint using different colours, until he was forced to stop due to the OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries)’s oil price crisis, and the subsequent skyrocketing of prices of derivatives. Naturally, the artist took this as an opportunity to completely reinvent himself, evolving his techniques and simplifying his workflow by using aluminium. His aluminium-made profiles allowed him the freedom to explore colour in new ways. Since the 70s he’s been working with the physichromie technique, painting on top of aluminium with serigraph. This technique, however, was found to be toxic and work-intensive, and was abandoned in 2000 in favour of numerical technology.



Carlos Cruz-Diez. Physichromie 625. Paris, Francia 1973


His son, Carlos Cruz Delgado, told me that a book has been put together containing photographs of the artist’s childhood in New York in the 40s, Venezuela’s marginalized neighbourhoods and its landscapes, etc. There are also photos of the artist together with his colleagues of the time, such as Calder, Soto or Tinguely, exhibitions of which are planned for next Tuesday, February 4th, in New York, and after that in Buenos Aires and next in Paris — certainly something not to be missed!



His interventions in the urban space and in public architecture have given us a whole new way of looking at art, where changes in the viewer’s position or light of day afford a completely different perception of colour and, therefore, a different emotional state. His works are highly acclaimed across the world.



Carlos Cruz-Diez. Homenaje a Don Andres Bello 1982. Caracas, Venezuela


Carlos Cruz-Diez. Cromovela 2001, Santo Tirso, Portugal.


Carlos Cruz-Diez. Parque Olímpico, 1988. Seúl, Corea del Sur.


Carlos Cruz-Diez, Aeropuerto Internacional Simón Bolivar, 1974. Maiquetía, Venezuela


Carlos Cruz-Diez, Intervención cromática en accesos al Miami Marlins Ballpark Stadium

To find out more about his work and research, the Carlos Cruz Diez Foundation’s website has plenty of information on his full range of works.



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Foto: Alejandra de Argos


The Terracotta Army (or "Terracotta Warriors and Horses") is considered the Eighth Wonder of the World and was ordered to be built by the first Emperor of unified China, Qin Shihuang, who began the construction of the mausoleum at the tender age of 13.

Qin Shihuang (259 BC - 210 BC) was responsible for bringing an end to the feuds, achieving the unification of China, building the Great Wall as a defence against the Huns and unifying Chinese thought and culture of the time into a coherent system.



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Foto: Alejandra de Argos


Upon arriving at Xian I was greeted by a great fog, probably similar to London’s Great Smog of 1952. Outdoor visibility was extremely low due to China’s reliance on high-pollution energy sources such as carbon.

Just after landing, I drove for about an hour to visit this large museum, which is made up of three large pavilions, or pits, containing the remains of the army, and a hall containing two bronze carriages, together with information on the museum’s history.

I began my visit at the pit named N1, the largest of the three measuring 230m in length. It was certainly an impressive sight upon entering the space: a vast number of lifesize soldiers perfectly lined up, each with its own personality (their facial expressions are all different). This pit holds the infantry and war chariots.

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 Foto: Alejandra de Argos  Foto: Alejandra de Argos


The N2 pit houses over 1,300 warrior figures, horses and chariots. N3 is the smallest and it is believed to represent the army’s General Staff.


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What I found interesting was that even before the construction of the Emperor’s mausoleum, there was already a tradition in place among the feudal lords of burying lifesize terracotta figures near their tombs or mausoleums. Unlike these figures, however, those of the Emperor Qin Shihuang were made to a much higher standard, thanks to better quality clay mix and the use of high-temperature ovens. Coloured pigments would then be added at a later stage. What is most fascinating, however, is that the bronze weapons were covered in a chrome coating to preserve the metal from corrosion, a technique not seen in Europe until as recently as 1930.

As our guide explained, the Emperor Qin Shihuang sent 700,000 workers into forced labour for the construction of the mausoleum. On the day of his burial, upon order of the new Emperor, over 10,000 people were also buried, as well as all non-childbearing concubines and a large number of construction workers.



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In 1974, purely by accident, a group of farmers happened upon some broken remains of the figures while digging a well, and a team of archaeologists was brought in immediately to begin the excavation work. It is thought that there are still around 8,000 figures buried in the earth.

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Foto: Alejandra de Argos


Specialists are currently at work to recover the soldiers, so that new restoration work can be carried out. There are still thousands left to be unearthed, including the Emperor’s main tomb.

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Foto: Alejandra de Argos



The museum contains these two bronze carriages decorated in gold and silver, which together made up the Emperor’s funeral procession. The first carriage’s driver would be travelling on foot, and its role in the procession was to clear the way ahead, whereas the second carriage was used to carry the Emperor’s soul. The two carriages are beautifully displayed here, two precious jewels buried under ground for over 2,000 years (the restoration work alone took eight years). The horses were painted in white in order to protect the bronze from rust.



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Foto: Alejandra de Argos


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Foto: Alejandra de Argos



For those who cannot travel to see the Xian warriors, Madrid’s Fernán Gómez-Centro Cultural de la Villa is hosting the exhibition 'Terracotta Army' until March 2, 2014. A part of the N1 pit has been reproduced here and can be visited; the centre is also showing an informative documentary about the terracotta army, which may well be the same that is shown to visitors in Xian.


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Foto: Alejandra de Argos





 Foto: Alejandra de Argos


"One Night Stand: Explosion Event for Nuit Blanche" was the title of the spectacular event organized by one of China’s best-known artists today, Cai Guo-Quiang. It consisted of a conceptual fireworks display on the waters of the river Seine and was part of the “Nuit Blanche” annual event in Paris. Sex and explosives in the city of love were brought together in a night of pure magic.


       Foto: Alejandra de Argos

The night began on a steamboat, where the artist explained the experience we were about to witness - a momentary, fleeting art installation in three phases. The setting was the banks of the Seine, between the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre, and the idea was to create a romantic experience for the viewers, an homage to Eros in the capital of love. Thousands of people could be seen congregating along the riverbank.

"Nuit Blanche" (Sleepless Night), now in its 12th year, is the name of the contemporary art event taking place every year on the first weekend in October in Paris.




After the explanation of what we were about to see, we started the journey along the Seine. I was part of a group of about 20 people, all following Lulu who was carrying a red lantern and was taking us up some steps to a point from where we could enjoy the show. The performance was delayed by about half an hour, until the arrival of the event’s patron, the mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë. Thus began the first act, whose duration of 12 minutes was chosen to match the average amount time it takes the French to make love. Music was provided by Tan Dun, a Chinese conceptual composer and director, and by his creation The Pink, a paper ritual in sound and dance. The fusion of music and the spectacular fireworks was superb, dutifully expressing the process of lovemaking and its metaphorical climax/explosion.


      Foto: Alejandra de Argos



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A French Love Encounter in Cai Guo-Qiang’s One Night Stand: Explosion Event for Nuit Blanche, realized on October 5 on the Seine River, Paris, France, 2013. Photo by Thierry Nava, courtesy Cai Studio.




The second act was all about the lovers: two steamboats carried 50 red tents with a total of 100 people from all over the world in an act of multicultural unity. Each tent contained a couple in the throes of lovemaking - they could decide whether or not to share their moment with the public by switching on a light, thus making their shadows visible from the outside. As it turns out, all lights were on.



Lovers’ Time in Cai Guo-Qiang’s One Night Stand: Explosion Event for Nuit Blanche, realized on October 5 on the Seine River, Paris, France, 2013. Photo by Lin Yi, courtesy Cai Studio.



Lovers’ Time in Cai Guo-Qiang’s One Night Stand: Explosion Event for Nuit Blanche, realized on October 5 on the Seine River, Paris, France, 2013. Photo by Lin Yi, courtesy Cai Studio.




  Foto: Alejandra de Argos

The steamboats were surrounded by a number of smaller boats, on which two men, dressed in suits of white lights, would launch fireworks for 15 seconds each time one of the couples in the tents reached a climax, creating an emotional connection between the couples and the audience.



paris8Foto: Alejandra de Argos


And finally, the third act consisted of a spectacular stand-alone fireworks display to end the night. By the end of the show the emotional state of the audience was palpable - an intense collective experience in the most appropriate of settings, the banks of the river Seine, witness to the history of France and right in the middle of two of the greatest owners of art history, the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre.


IMG 1654

Lovers’ Time in Cai Guo-Qiang’s One Night Stand: Explosion Event for Nuit Blanche, realized on October 5 on the Seine River, Paris, France, 2013. Photo by Lin Yi, courtesy Cai Studio.



Simultaneous to “Nuit Blanche” in Paris was “Blanche Nuit” in Toronto, where Ai Weiwei, one of China’s most important conceptual artists of our time, created a massive installation that is well worth seeing.


For more information on Cai Guo–Quiang, I recommend the following blog:







  • Ai Weiwei: Biography, works, exhibitions
  • Cindy Sherman: Biography, works, exhibitions
  • Miguel Barceló: Biography, Works & Exhibitions
  • Marlene Dumas: Biography, works, exhibitions
  • Peter Doig: Biography, works, exhibitions
  • John Currin: Biography, works, exhibitions
  • Anselm Kiefer: Biography, works, exhibitions
  • Elizabeth Peyton: Biography, works, exhibitions