This website is a companion to the film Tindaya Variations. It is designed to connect it to the larger research project it is part of – an investigation of the controversy surrounding the mountain of Tindaya in Fuerteventura (Canary Islands).
Tindaya is several things at once: a listed indigenous archaeological site, a protected environment, a mining resource and the designated location of a monumental work of public art. Tindaya Variations unpacks this contentious multiplicity.
Each section of this website is built around a combination of text and image. The videos are thematic remixes of parts of Tindaya Variations. The texts are divided into two layers, and you can switch between using the buttons above.
This is the first layer; it is mostly descriptive and uses non-technical language (you may need to scroll within the text area to read it all).
This is the second layer; it explores conceptual and theoretical issues. The texts are based on – they are variations of – the following academic publications: XXX
The mountain of Tindaya (Fuerteventura, Canary Islands) is the inner part of a now eroded volcano, some 20 million years old. In 1979, a local amateur archaeologist discovered hundreds of indigenous engravings near the top. Further studies confirmed the importance of the archeological site, and the centrality of the mountain for the maho people that inhabited the island before it was colonised by Spain in the 15th Century.
As a result, the mountain was listed as an Asset of Cultural Interest in 1985. Soon after it was also listed as a Natural Monument, due to its environmental singularity.
Despite its “protected” status, however, the state also granted mining licenses which resulted in three quarries where the mountain’s rock was extracted.
How is it possible that the state institutions both protected the mountain and allowed rock extraction from it? It could be an instance of institutional incompetence, even negligence. But it could also be the case that this duplicity reflects a logic of separation, or “purification”,1 at the centre of the modern Western State. The latter’s distribution of reality into airtight domains such as culture, economy or nature, each associated to separate and independent administrative bodies working in parallel, made it possible that Tindaya was simultaneously protected and exploited within the law. The resulting “partitioned mountain” is but an instance of the ontology of the “moderns”2; an ontology in which nature, culture, economy, energy, education, security, health, etc. are distinct domains, with their own legal regimes and managed by different teams of experts and/or bureaucrats.
1. Latour, Bruno. We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993.
2. Latour, Bruno, ed. Reset Modernity! Cambridge, MA: MIT Press / ZKM Karlsruhe, 2016.
In 1993, the Governments of Fuerteventura and the Canary Islands set out to address the mountain’s problematic duplicity as a protected site and a mining resource. They commissioned a Special Protection Plan. The team working on it develped the idea of a “Cultural Resort” – an integrated approach built around the mountain’s multiple “values” (ethnographic, archeological, cultural, historical, geological, etc.).1
In order to achieve this vision, it was paramount to stop the quarrying activity. They proposed that the mining rights be compulsory purchased, but the government found the strategy too expensive and encouraged the team to find cheaper alternatives. At that point, the idea of an artistic intervention in the quarries started to take shape. The idea was to invite an artist who could reimagine the rock extraction in a way that was both respectful with the landscape and that honoured the companies’ rights so that the mining could be brought to an end. That person ended up being Eduardo Chillida.
Once he saw the mountain, Chillida abandoned the idea of a restorative intervention in the quarries, and proposed something altogether different. Digging a huge cubic cave inside the mountain, connected to the outside by an entry tunnel and two vertical shafts. Chillida’s proposal radically changed the scenario. Politicians, for one, were deeply seduced by the idea of having “a Chillida”. So much so that they declared the project of “regional interest”, found monies to purchase the mining rights, and abandoned the idea of a Special Protection Plan to concentrate instead in the promotion and planning of the Monument.
This turn of events, however, galvanised environmental and pro-heritage activists, who grouped under the umbrella of the Coordinadora Montaña Tindaya in 1996. Since then, they have argued that the Monument is incompatible with the mountain’s protected status, and have used a range of tactics, from legal cases to direct action, to oppose the construction of the Monument.
1. Proyectos de Rehabilitación Ambiental de Canarias. See https://jmaceytuno.com/
Understanding the lure that Chillida’s Monument exerted over politicians and state officials requires delving into certain processes that were taking place in Spain in the 1990s. After joining the European Economic Community in 1986, the state embarked in an intense period of “modernisation”. Large infrastructures (e.g. the high-speed rail network, airports, new metro and light rail systems, and countless new highways, bridges and tunnels) became the markers of an unequivocal break with the past – that is, with the backward country Franco’s dictatorship had produced.
This was a period characterised by what artist David Bestué1 calls the “monumentalisation of infrastructure” – a phase of technical and budgetary exuberance in which the state’s demand for works of “lasting impact” that would assert the nation’s newfound modernity was met by a group of engineers and architects more than ready to monumentalise public infrastructures, such as Santiago Calatrava or Frank Gehry. Clear and minimalist at times, more often flashy and overconfident, the public works of the time became politico-sensory statements, flagships of Spain’s new democratic, modern condition.2
Within this context, Chillida’s Monument to Tolerance represented, for the region’s politicians, the opportunity to partake in the developmental paroxysm of the time. They regularly referred to the project with expressions such as “a once in a lifetime opportunity”, “a turning point” for the island, or a work of “paramount importance” that “would raise the bar”. It is as if Chillida’s cubic void, the quintessential modernist gesture, created the necessary space for the state’s projections of modernity. The Monument represented not just a new attraction capable of attracting more (and better) tourists, but the very image of a break with the past.
1. Bestué, David. “Formas Libres: La Influencia de La Escultura En La Ingeniería Española Reciente.” El Estado Mental, no. 7 (2015): 132–38.
2. See Larkin, Brian. ‘Promising Forms: The Political Aesthetics of Infrastructure’. In The Promise of Infrastructure, edited by Nikhil Anand, Akhil Gupta, and Hannah Appel, 175–202. Durham: Duke University Press, 2018; Larkin, Brian. ‘The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure’. Annual Review of Anthropology 42, no. 1 (2013): 327–43.