Exhibition: Stone and Sky - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum


2019-11-13 • 2020-09-13

Stone and Sky

Video installation by Víctor Erice

Room 32


Video Art and Digital Creation Programme of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum and the BBVA Foundation
Produced by Nautilus Films for the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum Foundation


Stone and Sky is a video installation by Víctor Erice whose motif is the monument dedicated to the composer and musicologist Aita Donostia (José Gonzalo Zulaika; San Sebastián, 1886–Lekaroz, Navarra, 1956). Located at the peak of Mount Agiña (Lesaka, Navarra), it is a work by the sculptor Jorge Oteiza and the architect Luis Vallet. It was made at the request of the Aranzadi Sciences Society and opened on 20 June 1959, and it has two elements: a funerary stele created by Oteiza and a chapel built by Vallet.

Erice himself describes the work in this way: 'Located [the stele and the chapel] across from the video camera [...] in Stone and Sky they have been subjected to a process of cinematisation where light, sound and time play an essential role. The daytime view [...] stands in contrast to the night-time view. The former offers images where nature coexists with the footprints of history [...], while the latter tries to capture something of the metaphysical dimension of the moonlit scene […], in short, the elements of what Oteiza identified as the "Culture of the Sky". The sky was his purpose [...].'

The video installation consists in two large-scale projections (width of the projection: 8 m) called Day Space (11'03'') and Night Space (6'35''). The sound includes an iconic piece by Aita Donostia—Mournful Andante, his last composition for piano, dated from 1954—performed by one of the top connoisseurs of his oeuvre, the pianist Josu Okiñena (San Sebastián, 1971).

Stone and Sky was made thanks to the Video Art and Digital Creation Programme developed jointly by the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum and the BBVA Foundation. For its premiere, the museum has organised a lecture in which Erice himself will explain the process of making this work, along with a film series entitled 'Art and Nature'.


Víctor Erice's Video installation


The motif of Stone and Sky is the Aita Donostia Memorial, located at the peak of Mount Agiña (Lesaka, Navarra) and created by the sculptor Jorge Oteiza (1908–2003) and the architect Luis Vallet de Montano (1894–1982). Made at the request of the Aranzadi Science Society, which chose the location, and opened on 20 June 1959, it consists in a funeral stele and a chapel, the former created by Oteiza and the latter by Luis Vallet.

Beyond the beauty of the landscape, the peak of Mount Agiña (618 m) is an extremely important place. The repository of identity hallmarks, it is part of a megalithic site which has 107 stone circles, eleven dolmens, four mounds and one menhir, landmarks associated with ancestral spaces and rites which make it particularly meaningful. The leading theory on their meaning is that they are burials. However, some studies also suggest that Pyrenean stone circles actually represented stars and constellations, making them the remains of a pre-Christian astral religion. Likewise, it is important to bear in mind that Urtzi, the Basque name for God—which seems to date from the 12th century—meant 'firmament'.

The writer José de Arteche, who accompanied Oteiza on his first visit to Mount Agiña, recounted his friend's reaction when he saw the stone circles there: 'Oteiza knelt with his arms extended out, saying that he wanted to receive the telluric emanations. He looked like a child. Vallet helped him get up. It was cold … Oteiza cast an anxious look over the landscape. He looked like he was in a trance again: "It is essential", he said, "to fill our landscape with funerary stelae, with strategically lit signals arranged in this long night that we do not want to arouse".'

'Our Basque prehistory', wrote Oteiza, 'is our sacred history'. He stated that the specific feature of a Basque stone circle was the fact that it contained nothing inside it; it is not a grave but, more importantly, a protective space for the individual and their solitude, an art form: 'One day, facing all these small stone circles atop Mount Agiña I thought about my disoccupation of space. Any work of art is either a reality of shapes occupying a space or an unoccupied space. This small kind of stone circle is a statue and is one of the most important creations in the artist's creative genius of all times.'

Situated in front of the video camera, observed by it day and night, the stele-sculpture and chapel of the Memorial have been subjected to a cinematisation process in Stone and Sky in which light, sound and time play an essential role. The daytime view, dominated by the sun (Eguzki) from dawn to dusk, contrasts with the night-time view. The former offers images in which nature coexists with the footprints of history (the work of man: the stone circles, Oteiza's decrepit stele, Vallet's chapel); the latter tries to capture something of the metaphysical dimension of the scene lit by the Moon (Ilargi, that is, the light of the dead). In short, they are the elements of what Oteiza identified as the 'Culture of the Sky'.

The sculptor recognised himself as an artist of the sky, as compared to artists of the earth. The sky was his purpose: to evoke it in all its immensity in stone and wrought iron. Through a childhood experience, he recounted how the sky provided him with his first aesthetic understanding of the world. Since that time, the great celestial vault seemed to him a place of rest and protection from the fears of existence.

His second public statue project after his anthropomorphic sculpture of Arantzazu, Jorge Oteiza worked on the stele for Mount Agiña while preparing to participate in the São Paulo Biennial in September 1957 with his Experimental Project. Regarded as one of his most important creations, it is a synthesis between geometric abstraction and the integration of nature, as well as a symbolic projection where the religious and the political coexist. The purpose of this formal deployment was clear; in its creator's words: 'This stone should cause an impression of seriousness, solitude, as well as a distant, irremissible presence, such as that of the stones that have been with it since our prehistory, certainly much longer than us. The geometric symbolism of the circle and the square, slightly off-kilter in this distinguished place, like an anchor rotating incessantly around the landscape, beckons us to clear everything, to ignore us with the indifference of everything that is Good and Eternal, which leads us to pray and feel how little we are.'

With regard to the chapel, perhaps Luis Vallet's most iconic work, it was formally envisioned as a simple tilted paraboloid which represents a vessel run aground on the mountain. According to its author, it is a structure capable 'of giving the sense of condensing and gathering all the sounds and music of Basque nature, just as the great musicologist we are commemorating did; it was designed to be made of reinforced concrete, a material from our era that is as imperishable as Neolithic materials.'

Within this set of sounds which Vallet mentioned in his purpose, Stone and Sky includes a work by the musician and Capuchin brother to whom this Memorial is dedicated: Aita Donostia, the pen name of José Gonzalo Zulaika y Arregi (1886–1956), specifically, his Andante doloroso (Mournful Andante), performed by Josu Okiñena, the last of his compositions for piano dating from 1 March 1954. Likewise, the installation sought to integrate a small testimonial of Jorge Oteiza's most intimate writing, his lesser-known status as a poet, into its images. Indeed, he stated: 'Poetry is what heals me, what rids me of distress and rebalances me. Poetry is my pacemaker.'

It is essential to recall that the stele on Mount Agiña was seriously damaged on 30 November 1992. The attack was attributed to a selfnamedAralar Komando Kulturala (Aralar cultural commando unit). The sculptor Koldo Azpiazu, an Oteiza disciple, was considered its intellectual leader and was condemned by his master. Finally, in a public letter, Oteiza ironically declared himself to be the mastermind of the attack against his own sculpture. Some time later, he went to Mount Agiña and viewed his stele, stating: 'I found my mistreated stone, its edges bruised. I found it afflicted, aged, more whole and beautiful, indestructible, more alive and spiritual than ever.'

Víctor Erice


Víctor Erice (Karrantza, Harana, Bizkaia, 1940)

Víctor Erice lived in San Sebastián as a child and adolescent. At the age of 17, he moved to Madrid to study at the university. In 1960, he enrolled in the Official Cinematography School, where he earned a diploma in the speciality of Film Direction.

In 1968, he made his debut as a professional director by filming one of the three episodes in Los desafíos (The Challenges), in which Claudio Guerín and José Luis Egea also participated. In 1973, he filmed his first feature film, El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive), which won the Golden Shell at the San Sebastián International Film Festival that same year. In 1983, he directed the film, El sur (The South), based on a story of the same name by Adelaida García Morales, a work he has always considered unfinished. In 1992, he made El sol del membrillo (The Quince Tree Sun, or Dream of Light) in conjunction with the painter Antonio López, which they submitted to the Cannes Film Festival, where they won the Jury Prize and the International Critics' Prize. In 2002, he filmed Alumbramiento (Lifeline), one of the episodes in the feature film Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet, in which other prominent international filmmakers also participated, including Aki Kaurismäki, Jim Jarmusch, Win Wenders, Werner Herzog and Spike Lee.

In 2005, in response to a request from the Centre de Cultura Contemporània in Barcelona, and within the context of the exhibition entitled Erice–Kiarostami. Correspondence, he started to direct the series of short films called Letters to Abbas Kiarostami. For that same show, in December 2005 he wrote and directed La Morte Rouge. Simultaneously, he made a video installation based on several Antonio López paintings entitled Fragor del Mundo, Silencio de la Pintura (The Clamour of the World, the Silence of Painting), which was exhibited at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània in Barcelona, La Casa Encendida in Madrid, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) in Melbourne.

He has also worked on the documentary seriesMemoria y sueño (Memory and Dream), three chapters of which have been produced so far: Roma, Città Aperta, Sierra de Teruel and Le Mépris. In 2011, he filmed Ana, tres minutos (Ana, Three Minutes), an episode in the feature film A Sense of Home. In 2012, he filmed Vidros partidos (Broken Windows) in Portugal, which is part of the feature film Centro histórico (Historical Centre), co-directed by Manoel de Oliveira, Pedro Costa and Aki Kaurismäki. Finally, in 2018 he made Plegaria (Prayer), a short film based on photographs he took over the course of several years.

Particularly since the 1990s, Víctor Erice has taught many classes, seminars and workshops. This is how he shares his experience as a director, while also continuing to reflect on cinematography. He has written numerous articles for newspapers, magazines and books and has delivered lectures and lessons in numerous places around Spain and abroad, particularly in Europe but also in Japan and the United States. He has also led workshops targeted at the processes of writing, filming and editing.