Alejandra de Argos by Elena Cué

that God granted the world ten measures of beauty (yofi), nine for Jerusalem and just one for the rest of the world. The Holy City has no rivers, no sea view, no gardens. It is, rather, an ochre-hued stoney plateau set amongst valleys and dry riverbeds in the mountains of Judea. So what then is Jerusalem? Is it a concept, a wound, a state of mind? Jerusalem is two rocks and a wall. It's the custodian of the three symbolic stones of the three religions that derive from the same book: the Wailing Wall for Jews, the Holy Sepulchre for Christians and the Dome of the Rock for Muslims. One could say that its power resides in its promise of the cosmic, or its being the epicentre of stories about creation. According to Enrich Klein's 2005 account, Jerusalem has been destroyed 12 times, sieged 23 times, captured 52 times and recaptured 44 times. It is the only city in the world where history is both the past and also the future. Whatever our particular faith or whether we even have one or not, here is where its chaotic, propulsive energy is to be found.

Author: Marina Valcárcel
Art Historian
 Marina

 

 

 

 

 Jerusalen  

 

 

It says in the Talmud that God granted the world ten measures of beauty (yofi), nine for Jerusalem and just one for the rest of the world. The Holy City has no rivers, no sea view, no gardens. It is, rather, an ochre-hued stoney plateau set amongst valleys and dry riverbeds in the mountains of Judea. So what then is Jerusalem? Is it a concept, a wound, a state of mind? Jerusalem is two rocks and a wall. It's the custodian of the three symbolic stones of the three religions that derive from the same book: the Wailing Wall for Jews, the Holy Sepulchre for Christians and the Dome of the Rock for Muslims. One could say that its power resides in its promise of the cosmic, or its being the epicentre of stories about creation. According to Enrich Klein's 2005 account, Jerusalem has been destroyed 12 times, sieged 23 times, captured 52 times and recaptured 44 times. It is the only city in the world where history is both the past and also the future. Whatever our particular faith or whether we even have one or not, here is where its chaotic, propulsive energy is to be found.

Throughout history, a number of places have been venerated for their holiness: the Ganges and its passage through Benares in India, the Valley Of The Kings in Egypt or the tomb of the poet Hajez in Iran. They are all realities. Nobody is denying this.  But Jerusalem poses myriad questions. Was it the Garden of Eden? Was it the cornerstone on which the Arc of the Covenant would be built? According to Hebrew legend, the temple was erected on the exact spot where the waters of the Great Flood sprang. The rock was called Ebhen Shetiyyah, the Foundation Stone, and the first solid body in Creation as God separated the Earth from the  primitive bodies of water.  It may have been here where King David watched Bethsheba as she bathed, which led to him marrying her.  David's mortal works and personal failings left God with no choice but to instruct him to not build the temple himself but leave the task to Solomon, his son with Bethsheba. In the Book of Chronicles, David confesses: “God told me: You will not build a house in my name because you are a man of war." The Wailing Wall, where Jews still pray to this day, is believed to have formed part of the temple wall.

 

 Jerusalen 1 

Jewish Cemetery, as seen from the Kidron Valley

 

Awaiting The Redemption 

The future can be guessed at by looking down on the city from the top of Kidron Valley or Josafat where the 3,000 year-old and largest Jewish cemetery in the world stretches out below. There is precious little space left among the 150,000 tombstones for new burials. For this reason, the last remaining outer rows have long been bought up, at unimaginable prices, by grand Jewish banking families now living in Manhattan. They want to be assured of their future place for the day when, according to the prophets, God will initiate the Redemption there. All are buried with their feet towards Temple Mount, in identical 120cm plots. On Judgement Day, God must find them all facing the right way.  

Kidron Valley spreads beneath the cemetery and seperates the city from the three hills to the west of Mount Scopus, seat of Hebrew University, the Mount of Olives and Mount Scandal. Inside its walls, commissioned by King Soloman the Magnificent of his arquitect Mimar Sinan, the same architect who festooned Istambul with its most beautiful mosques, the Old Town is divided into four sections: Armenian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. Four separate worlds sharing the same sun and the same God. Each one of them smells different - cardamom coffee, hookah tobacco, sweet breads, dried lamb's blood. From the Damascus Gate, one can see women laying out spinach leaves on rags in the street; flags with the Star of David (Palestinian never, they're banned); young girls selling peaches and cherries from wooden carts; monks calling the faithful to prayer at the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque; young women wearing veils; nuns in blue and white habits, priests in black, Orthodox Jews in kaftans and black hats, Israeli soldiers with their UZI rifles cocked, stray dogs. And rubbish. A lot of rubbish. Shells exploding, ambulances wailing, remnants of barbed wire.


The rest of the Old Town encompasses a constellation of holy places. Stringent visiting restrictions at the two most significant non-Jewish monuments, namely the Dome of the Rock and the Holy Sepulchre, were introduced in 2017, perhaps in anticipation of the tension about to escalate around them.

 

 Jerusalen 2 

 

 

Restoration work

At the time of writing (January 2018), King Abdullah of Jordan is on a visit to the Vatican. He calls the Pope “My dear friend and brother” and gifts him a painting representing Rome, the Eternal City. The Hashemite dynasty are custodians of Jerusalem's holy Muslim sites. Also happening around this time is the culmination of seven years' restoration work on the 1,525 square metres of mosaics at the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque. Out on the esplanade, Jordanian and Palestinian restorers worked away in silence, at a time when rage was making its comeback. The restored mosaics, which decorate the walls and vault of this famous octagonal building, consist of over 2 million coloured glass tiles with gold, silver and mother-of-pearl. Contained within the gilt ones, in their crystal soul, is a fine layer of real gold.   

The Dome of the Rock is the oldest Muslim building in the world. It guards the stone of Mohammed who, because of his affinity with the Jewish faith, also held Jerusalem as the Holy City. According to a tradition heavily steeped in poetry, Mohammed received here the first of his revelations from the Angel Gabriel, who told him he was to be Allah's messenger. Years later, Gabriel was to appear again, bringing the white horse, Buraq, which carried Mohammed at lightening speed to a sacred rock on  the top of Mount Moriah. This was a key place in Hebraic faith for being the stone upon which Abraham offered his son Isaac to God as a sacrifice. From there, Mohammed ascended a staircase of bright light to the Seventh Heaven where he was proclaimed superior to the Old Testament prophets. This journey to heaven is remembered in Sura 17 of the Koran entitled: "The Children of Israel". When Caliph Omar arrived in Jerusalem in 638 AD CE, six years after Mohammed's death, he built a wooden mosque that would later become Al-Aqsa. Mohammed's heirs established their capital in Damascus and decided to make Jerusalem a place  of pilgrimage as important as Mecca and Medina. They confided in Byzantine, Greek and Egyptian architects to build a stone cupola for over the sacred rock of Mount Moria; an octagon with  with twelve interior columns and four piers supporting the golden hemisphere. These were the sacred shapes and numbers of Eastern religions. The smaller Al-Aqsa mosque, at the extreme southern end of the platform, was given a silver dome and gold and silver doors. These two sanctified structures were to become magnets for the faithful.

 

 

 Jerusalen 3 

Interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

 

Renovation of the Holy Sepulchre, which was completed in March 2018, freed the edicule from its corset of iron girders, a scaffolding that had constricted it since 1934. It can now be seen exactly as it was conceived in 1810. A team, led by the Athenian Antonia Moropolou, are unanimous in describing the most exciting moment of the nine months the restoration work lasted, as the removal of the marble cladding protecting the rock bench where Christian tradition believes the body of Jesus Christ lay. Through a tiny door in the Chapel of the Angel, antechamber to the tomb, a glass panel covers the marble slab, leaving the original rock of the tomb inside exposed.   

 

 

 Jerusalen 4 

The "Day of Rage”, December 2017. Streets of Ramallah.

 

The "Day of Rage"

The front pages of newspapers across the world went with various different analyses of the same photograph. A young man hurls a stone with his sling as a battle rages on around him. These were the streets of Ramallah on the "Day of Rage", so named by Hamas in order to fire up Palestinians against Trump's decision, the previous December 6th, to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his decision to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. The young man in the photo has his face covered by the keffiyeh of a new intifada and his gesture is one of hate. He's the present-day Discobolus, a discus thrower of the Instagram era. The expansive curve of his stone throw is already turning into a spiral of violence. Neither side wants to lose their children again. 

Seventy years ago, the United Nations agreed a plan to partition Palestine, which had been under British mandate since the end of the First World War. A little over half the territory was assigned to the Jewish state, as proclaimed officially in May of 1948, and the remainder was envisioned for a future Arab state. Jerusalem would be accorded corpus separatum status, a separate entity under international jurisdiction. But the war waged between the Jewish forces and Arab countries, until the armistice of July 1949 was signed, put paid to the UN's plans. The west of the city was occupied by Israel, establishing its capital there, and the east remained under Jordanian jurisdiction, as well as the West Bank. The Green Line of ceasefire dividing the city with barbed wire and barricades lasted until Israel's victory in the Six Day War of 1967. Since then, even her closest allies have maintained their embassies at a distance of 70 km.     

Jerusalem is simultaneously glory and sin. Many are the writers who have left their mark on the palimpsest that is Jerusalem. From the 16th century travel guides, now decorating the display cases of the National Library in its Urbs Beata Hierusalem exhibition, to the words of Chateaubriand; "I stood, staring at Jerusalem, measuring the heights of its walls, memories from history all the while coming to me ..... Even if I lived to be a thousand years, never could I forget this desert that seems still to breathe the greatness of Jehovah and the terrors of death".   

 

Measures of sorrow

However, claims The Economist, that aforementioned distribution of measures of beauty (yofi) from the Talmud might at times seem erroneous. And what if it were instead measures of sorrow that God gave the world? Nine for Jerusalem and one for the rest?

There are two instances of this in the city today. Yad Vashem is one of the most impressive museums in the world. Its objects, photographs and videos underline Man's capacity for creating destruction among his counterparts. One is Jerusalem's Holocaust Museum, 180 square metres of passageways and galleries charting the history of the extermination of six million Jews during WWII. Located on the Hill Of Remembrance, Yad Vashem was founded in 1953 by an act of the Israeli parliament. Moshe Safdie's building is astounding. A triangular prism seen to penetrate one side of the mountain and come out the other. The visual sensation is unique: a base in almost darkness but a sky lightly illuminated. Physical death but also spiritual life. "And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial (Yad) and a name (Shem) that will never be cut off." Isaiah 56:5. Yad Vashem won the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord in 2007.

 

 Jerusalen 5 

Yad Vashem Museum

 

A few metres away, and as if a continuation of the message, is Hadassah Hospital housing the world's largest skin bank. It has existed since the days of the years-long Second Intifada when the casualty figures screamed nearly a hundred suicide bombers, 5,000 dead and tens of thousands wounded, many of them burns victims. Here are kept, frozen in liquid nitrogen, 170 square metres of human skin, which is enough to treat about 100 people with 50% burns to their body. Jerusalem is all divisory lines, Vias Dolorosas, border posts and walls ~ much like Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth, a 546 foot-long crack in the cement floor of the Tate Modern, its 'scar' still visible today.  

 

And its writers

Finally, Jerusalem today is also its writers. Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, books such as To The End Of The Land  and real lived experiences, too. The eulogy that David Grossman read out at the funeral for his son Uri, 21, killed in combat by friendly fire in August 2006 when his jeep got hit by a Hezbollah missile, explains one way of living with a kind of severe serenity when surrounded by a sea of enemies. "For three days, every thought began with: "He/we won't". He won't come, we won't talk, we won't laugh ... Israel will have its own reckoning ... and we will act against the gravity of grief."  

 

 Jerusalen 6 

View from inside Yad Vashem Museum

 

Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin

 

 

- Jerusalem a historical enigma -                        - Alejandra de Argos -

Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, Venice now finds itself at death's door, not drowning in the Adriatic's high tides but suffocated by mass tourism. UNESCO has extended until December 2018 its deadline for Venice to meet twelve criteria, to the letter, that might spare it being added to the World Heritage in Danger List alongside Aleppo, Damascus and the historic centre of Vienna. Around 9.30 in the morning, crossing the Campo Santa Maria Formosa towards San Zaccaria, there is still a real feel of authentic Vienna with children on their way to school, kiosks piled high with bundles of Corriere della Sera and Il Gazzettino and the local dialect of young Venetians stepping off gondolas and vaporettos en route to the Plaza's fresh vegetable stalls piled high with basil, chicory, vine tomatoes and aubergines.

Author: Marina Valcárcel
Art Historian
 Marina

 

 

 

 

 Venecia 

Grand Canal, Venice

 

Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, Venice now finds itself at death's door, not drowning in the Adriatic's high tides but suffocated by mass tourism. UNESCO has extended until December 2018 its deadline for Venice to meet twelve criteria, to the letter, that might spare it being added to the World Heritage in Danger List alongside Aleppo, Damascus and the historic centre of Vienna.

Around 9.30 in the morning, crossing the Campo Santa Maria Formosa towards San Zaccaria, there is still a real feel of authentic Vienna with children on their way to school, kiosks piled high with bundles of Corriere della Sera and Il Gazzettino and the local dialect of young Venetians stepping off gondolas and vaporettos en route to the Plaza's fresh vegetable stalls piled high with basil, chicory, vine tomatoes and aubergines. A short distance away, a woman in her 70s sticks up for one of the few bookshops still trading: "We are afraid our city will become the Las Vegas of the Adriatic" she says, pointing to a single book that seems to be crying out from the window display ~ If Venice Dies by Salvatore Settis. It's to the voice of this former professor and director of the Getty Centre of Arts in the 90's that Venetians cling. Settis implores and challenges us with the urgent question: "How much longer can La Serenissima survive tourism?"  

 

 Venecia 1 

Campo Santa Maria Formosa, Canaletto (1735)

 

Three ways to fall

Cities, according to Settis, die in one of three ways. By enemy destruction (see Carthage, razed to the ground by Rome in 146 BC); by an invader force ousting the indigenous people and their gods (see Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, annihilated by the Spanish in 1521); or because the inhabitants of that city gradually lose their memory and their dignity and abandon themselves to a slow amnesia (as happened in Athens). After the glory of the classical polis, that of Pericles, Phidias, Sophocles and Aeschylus, Athens first lost its political autonomy, then its cultural initiative and then, little by little, having sleepwalked through centuries in its marble whiteness, saw itself devoured by darkness until nothing at all remained of its identity. Only in 1827 did it awaken again by dint of a coup of independence. 

The facts should mobilise us against such oblivion. Venice hosts 28 million tourists a year. That's four visitors per day per resident. The toll of this has been the systematic depopulation of the city. Only once before has Venice suffered a decline comparable to the current one and that was during the bubonic plague of 1630. The number of inhabitants has gone down from 174,808 in 1951 to 55,000 today. Compare that to the 66,000 tourists per day.  

 

 Venecia 2 
 
Riva degli Schiavoni promenade, Venice

 

Venetians no longer want to live in Venice. Around 1,000 residents a year leave the city, a city with "the finest parlour in the world" according to Stendhal but which is becoming increasingly wilted and stagnant. Houses have become hotels. The proliferation of AirBnBs has meant a steep rise in rents. WiFi hotspots now outnumber the delicatessens that once sold prosciutto; the trattorias on the lively banks of the Zattere have closed down while young tourists in shorts and a rucksack crowd the bridges eating take-away spaghetti carbonara with chopsticks. Twenty years ago in the Rialto district, Venetians made their living selling each other fresh fish and artichokes. There was also a plethora of workshops making and selling Murano glass and masks to travellers who knew what they were buying and what it was worth. That Venice no longer exists. Nowadays, Chinese merchants sell Venetian masks made in China to Chinese tourists for one euro a pop.   

Also now, while tourists queue for hours to go sightseeing at the Doge's Palace, the fascinating gallery exhibitions rekindling the glory of the city sit empty of visitors. John Ruskin's The Stones of Venice (Doge's Palace), Bellini/Mantenga (Querini Stampalia Foundation), Dancing With Myself (Punta della Dorada) and the 16th Architecture Biennial, to name but a few. 

 

Monsters Of Steel 

Venice, once the seat of great maritime and trading power, is in grave danger of being inundated by sea monsters weighing over 55,000 tonnes making their way up the Giudecca channel spewing out 1,500,000 passengers each and every year. The MSC Divina cruiser, for instance, is 67 metres high, twice that of the Doge's Palace. Every time one of these floating cities squeezes itself between the river banks, darkness obscures the alleyways and bridges of the Dorsoduro district, as if they were under a total eclipse of the sun. In June, some 25,000 residents took part in a local referendum, albeit without legal import, calling for a ban on these ships entering the waterways. Something quite unthinkable for the powerful lobby group of hotels, shops and rental agencies. In Venice, tourism essentially provides a living to 30,000 Venetians.

The debate has intensified since Prague, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Dubrovnik, Seville and Granada were likewise invaded by hordes of tourists. “Tourism-phobia is a cry of desperation by residents" insists the journalist Pedro Bravo in his 2018 book Excess Baggage. "We assume that the sum total of all tourist expenditure goes straight to the city in question but this is not the case. The tour operators keep between 40% and 50% of the money involved so the destinations hardly benefit at all but it is these latter who, nevertheless, are lumbered with the extra costs of policing, cleaning, hospitals and infrastructures". In the case of Venice, the situation is exacerbated by its island status and its size. 

 

 Venecia 3 

Dorsoduro, Venice

 

Head-to-head confrontation

The Venetian lagoon is the result of fifteen centuries of human intervention in the search for a balance between its needs and those of nature. It is forced to defend itself against the tides that flood through the three entry points and sink it lower time and time again. Venice has been at times Byzantine, Austrian and Napoleonic. The Doge's betrothals were played out from the sea in a procession of gondolas and sailboats to the Lido on the Feast of the Assumption. He brought the body of St Mark all the way from Alexandria, buried it under the Pala d'Oro of the Basilica and established the lion as state symbol.

 

 Venecia 4 

View of St Mark's Basilica from the Doge's Palace, Venice

 

“The city that baffles the world" is an interdependent, organic set of buildings, communication systems and structures. A tapestry of logical threads connecting art, history and tradition and that is how we should view it.  

In his famous Plan of Venice of 1500, Jacopo De' Barbari was already mapping the latticework of secrets under the current of canals and the division of the city into six sestieri neighbourhoods, representing the six teeth of the "ferro", the iron fixtures adorning the black prow of gondolas. But La Serenissima is not just synonymous with beauty. Behind the so-called "Glory of Venice", there was a power without which we Europeans would not be the same people we are today. Venice is the syncretism of East and West, it's Marco Polo, it's the island that ignored feudalism, it's commerce, music, the Arsenal heart of the naval industry, the boats and ships, the saviour of the classics since the time of Plato and Aristotle. It's Petrarch, the Marciana Library, the Aldo Manucio press. It's also the Battle of Lepanto, the architecture of the Palladium, the paintings of Carpaccio and of Bellini and Titian, the San Rocco monastery decorated with Tintoretto's most celebrated pictorial cycle of paintings.

And so, Venice appears to us as an insistent set of reflections. Marcel Brion wrote of it ~ "Beauty doesn't make its entrance until that moment when one has nothing left to fear in one's life".

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

 

- And if Venice dies? -                                   - Alejandra de Argos -

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.

Author: Marina Valcárcel
Art Historian
 Marina

 

 

 

 

 IMG 6082 

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.  

 

 

 Palmira 

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.

 

 Palmiras 

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".

 

 Palmirass 

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 -

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.

 Author: Elena Cué

 

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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.

 

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 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 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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 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.

 

 

  

 

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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.

 
 

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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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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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.

 

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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!

 
 
 

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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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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

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

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

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

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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

 

 

Recommendations:
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

 

 

 
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