I wrote about the Basque Sculptor Eduardo Chillida some time ago.
The first time was on freedom, quoting what my friend Manolis wrote commenting on a photograph I took when I visited the Museum – Estate Chillida near San Sebastian.
The second time it was in reference to his homage to the German philosopher Martin Heidegger.
Today, after my second visit to the monumental installation “Comb of the Winds”, I want to write about it. This was my second visit, the first being in 2010. The weather was windy and cloudy both times. The sea was rough, foamy waves all over. Something tells me this is the best weather to appreciate the installation.
Before I proceed, it is important that we look at the map and locate the installation in the San Sebastian area. You can see the installation on the left hand side, inside the red ellipse, which is the western edge of the bay, the foot of Igueldo hill. The Santa Clara island is in the middle, and the Urgull hill on the right, the eastern side. Visitors will need to follow the signs to “Ondarreta Beach”. Interestingly enough, there are no public signs for “El Peine del Viento”.
I call the “Comb of the Winds” an installation, because it comprises three sculptures mounted on rocks.
Formally, it is more than that, it is a project, comprising the installation and the plaza (square) in front.
The plaza in front of the installation was designed by the architect Luis Peña Ganchegui, who worked with Chillida for the first time in this project.
The project started in 1966 and took eleven years to complete in 1976.
The initial idea was to place one sculpture on the main rock.
But soon after they started working on the designs, Chillida realized that the sculpture was going to attract all the attention, and this was contrary to what he wanted to achieve, which was to use the sculpture as a means to highlight the space around it and the environment.
Chillida loved this edge of the San Sebastian coastline, at the foot of the Igueldo hill. He retreated there often, to enjoy the sea, the wind, the rocks. It was this atmosphere that he wanted to enhance and promote with his work, rather than have his work dominate the natural setting and in this sense, distort it.
This is why he came up with the idea of three sculptures instead of one.
Luis Chillida, son of sculptor Eduardo Chillida, suggested in an interview (1) that the three sculptures represent the three domains of time: past, present, future.
The sculptor’s son claims that the sculpture mounted on the left side and the one on the rock right opposite to it are the past and the present, whereas the thirs sculpture that appears to be far away is the future, a future that blends in the horizon.
In his writings, the sculptor speaks for himself (2, p.61):
“I want for the space in my work to be like the grease that allows a machine to function properly. Masses that slip and engage with each other, but I do not want to start any machine. I want my pieces to be quiet and silent, the only way to partially escape the influence of time.”
All three sculptures are made of steel. Each weighs approximately 13 tonnes and is anchored to the rock in two pIaces. They were made at Patricio Echeverria’s industrial forge in Legazpia.
Chillida “worked” the material directly, he did not use a model or a mold. As the sculptures were big and complex, he built them in two parts each, and then connected the pieces. Chillida learned from a local blacksmith the demanding labour of the forge, from stoking a fire and handling a bellows to pounding the malleable metal to achieve a desired form. “A piece of iron is an idea itself,” he said. “I must gain complete mastery over it and force it to take on the tension which I feel within myself.” (3)
Interestingly, after the mid 1960’s Chillida transitioned from working with steel to working with marble.
Moving the sculptures and installing them was not an easy operation. They had to set up supporting structures for moving and lifting the heavy sculptures. One must note that the cranes of today were not available back then.
Today the three sculptures occupy their place anchored on the three rocks, day and night, be it sunny or rainy. The people of San Sebastian visit the Comb of the Winds on every possible occasion and they love it. There is something deeply egalitarian about the installation. It brings all people together to enjoy the sea landscape and their heritage. It is like part of this heritage are the strange metal structures hanging from the rocks.
Are they anchors?
Are they letters?
We do not know, and we do not need to know.
But what I know is that like the temples in the valley of Paestum in Italy, they exist in harmony with the landscape. It is like they belong there, like the landscape cannot exist without them and they cannot exist without the landscape.
Whereas in Paestum the temples are in a valley, in the Comb of the Winds is literally submerged in the foam of the sea waves. But in both cases the resplendent harmony is there.
Like the temples of Ancient Greece, Chillida’s sculptures are open. Space makes sense only when you make sense of the vacuum, of emptiness.
The analogy with temples is not limited to the harmony and the integration with the landscape, or the use of emptiness to denote space.
In a sense the “Comb of the Winds” is an open temple where you can pray to whoever and whatever you believe in, or contemplate life, or…
“In a certain way I am a disciple of the sea and, consequently, also of Bach because Bach is very similar to the sea. I do not know if Bach ever saw the ocean, but his work has a very impressive relationship to it. And he is among my mentors.” Eduardo Chillida (2, pg.30)
“…I have found that time exists in my sculpture. It exists in a version that is not the standard temporal one. Rather, this version is time’s brother: space. Space is the twin brother of time. They are two concepts that are absolutely parallel and similar. And because I am so conditioned by space, I have always been interested in time. In fact, my time is very slow:traditional time – that of the clock – does not interest me. I am interested in a concept of time that is about harmony, rythm and dimensions.” Eduardo Chillida (2, pg. 32)
1. El Peine del Viento. Mas Context.
2. Eduardo Chillida, Writings. Richter Verlag, 2009.
3. Eduardo Chillida. Obituary. The Telegraph.