The Springs beneath, the flow above, the light within

by Marina Warner


Beneath one water there is always another water — Roni Horn

Toledo still has the reserve and power of a citadel; it stands on a high outcrop, curled in on itself within its historic walls, punctuated by watchtowers and snaking up and over the crags that El Greco painted in his storm-struck View of Toledo. Few people notice, as Cristina Iglesias has done, that the city’s most celebrated artist also pays tribute, in another image of the city, to the complex machinery that lifted water from the river up the rock face to the city and its inhabitants.[1] The Torre del Agua, the water tower, the site of one of the three works which together form Tres Aguas, belongs in this long history of the city’s vital relationship with its encircling river, the Tagus. The ancient structures that connected the town with its water source (bridges, mills, bathing places, laundries) give few signs of use or frequentation today, even when they have been restored. The city has turned its back on the river in recent decades but with Tres Aguas, Cristina Iglesias has given Toledo back its living link with water, and with the river that has supplied its lifeline over centuries. 
        Tres Aguas, as the name suggests, is a work realised in three different sites. Its threefold character invokes the period of convivencia, the living together of creeds, cultures, forms of worship, and aesthetic values in the medieval past. , when Toledo Both the Moors and then the was the capital of Spain, first under the Moors and then, after 1085, when the city passed into Spanish hands, under Christian rulers who accepted – encouraged – the mix of peoples and faiths, languages and skills. But in l492, los Reyes catolicos, as the Castilian monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella came to be known, took the calamitous step of expelling the Jews and the Moors or demanding their conversion; In 1563 Philip IIthey also moved the capital to Madrid (where the water supply proved much less steady and abundant). Historians differ – as they generally do – over the nature of the harmony and multi-cultural success of al-Andaluz, the considerable area of the peninsula under Moorish rule, which at its largest extent ranged from Granada and Malaga in the south to Zaragoza in the north, but it was certainly the case that tolerance was enshrined by law and by custom, and that the later Catholic kings overturned this tradition, and promoted a philosophy of intolerance grounded in ethnic division, which announces so many of the most terrifying features of the modern era.[2]
         Tres Aguas performs quiet and powerful variations on convicencia in different parts of the city; the trio of works are linked by the common flow of the river underneath joining them, but they manifest themselves in different moods and stir different meanings. Each of them enters deeply into the metaphor of water as life force, as biological blood and breath, and issues an invitation to remember where we come from and how we survive. 


To reach the water tower at the former Arms Factory of Toledo, Cristina Iglesias has mapped a way around the walls of the city, above the ravine where the Tagus flows. Down the slope past the medieval gate, the ground soon turns to scrub, here and there blooming with oleander, acanthus and citrus, mostly parched and neglected. The river winds below, greeny-brown and opaque; it looks lethargic, even viscous, until it pours itself over the transverse ridges of the weirs, where the speed and energy of the current rushes the water sheer over the stone into a roiling dirty froth. The path the artist has identified skirts the city, giving views of it dramatically perched above on its rocky pinnacle as it leads deeper into the Toledan edgelands and into a zone of slightly alarming solitude. Passing underneath the main bridge across the river, painted by hopeful graffiti artists and scattered with rubbish, the mood darkens; the path continues past a large cemetery, and then, in the last stretch before reaching the water tower, it passes close by a tall water mill. Though the building is no longer in use, the Tagus still swells the millrace that gushes through its rusted girders and brick foundations, and as we move around the side of the building on wrought iron bridges and platforms, it can be seen foaming furiously under our feet.
         The river once powered the arms factory where the water tower stands. Toledo steel, tempered in its waters, was famed for special qualities that gave the weaponry of the Spanish empire a deadly reputation: the dagger, the rapier, and the poignard (in 
Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio describes how Queen Mab can make a sleeper dream

 ‘of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades…’ (Act 1, sc. 4). 

Spanish armourers learned their skills from the Arabs, and they continued the tradition of fantastic, ornamental metalwork on swords and body armour, pistols, scabbards and cannon. The effect is called ‘damascened’ because, as with damask cloth, it originated in Damascus. But it was the legendary properties of Toledo’s waters that gave Spanish steel its reputation.  


At the edge of the old arms factory, on the side closest to the river, Cristina Iglesias picked out an abandoned brick tower – a kind of ‘tour abolie’, as in the Tarot card of a ruined tower which inspired Baudelaire’s melancholy poem, as the site for the most  architectural of her sculptural installations. 
         External stairs, reconstructed for Iglesias’s work take the visitor to the top of the tower. There, in huge steel tanks on the roof, water from the Tagus was stored, to be released to rush downwards into the channels below in the factory with the force necessary for tempering steel. They now stand empty, while far below - twelve metres down - at the bottom of the building, the entire floor and footings of the tower open onto a cistern, where a dark pool gathers at a slow and steady pace. The water’s flow is barely visible or audible, yet the waterline gently rises, as in a tide pool, running into the cracks and fissures and welling in the dips and hollows of Iglesias’s cast basin, gradually forming a surface dark as an iris in which the building stands upside down. Light is filtered through several translucent alabaster windows the artist has installed in the tower, and illuminate softly the depths of the basin where lies an irregular, moonscape-like mass of vegetation. The steady ebb and flow of the water, filling and draining slowly in a constant cycle, establishes a quiet music; the pool fills and empties to a gentle rhythm like the sea’s long tidal intake and exhalation of breath as it is tugged and let go by the moon. Now and then, the water prinks or gives a small, rather animal cry, but on the whole the pulsing life of the pool is subtle, and calls for the viewer’s full attention in order to experience its cyclical transformations.  
         A second staircase – conceived by Iglesias to mirror the one outside - leads down inside the tower to ground level and to the edge of the basin, which is framed by an openwork grid on which the visitor can walk to watch the pool.  It has the dark and almost dangerous mysteriousness of a water hole in a thick forest that a wanderer comes upon unexpectedly.  By bringing such a supply of water into an interior space, and enclosing it in the four tall walls of a kind of watchtower, the artist has deepened the quiet authority of the pool’s presence, and performed a variation on ancient methods of conserving and managing water: it is a cistern, a well, and a reservoir. But the artwork is also a fountain, a construction that Iglesias has explored before, an artifact of superlative metallurgy-cum-architecture, highly wrought as in a princely baroque villa, but reticent, keeping its counsel. 
         The play of water in Renaissance gardens was brilliantly contrived, an example of human playfulness exciting the most ingenious scientific inventions: homo ludens, in the historian J. H. Huizinga’s telling phrase, spurring on homo sapiens to create spouting dolphins, and water nymphs with spurting breasts.[3] At the Villa Lante, in Bagnaia, Italy, the water gardens were secretly automated so that a visiting pope or prelate would be suddenly splashed by a frolicsome Nereid or Triton as he strolled by.  The spectacular effects at the palace of St.Germain near Paris even inspired René Descartes to compare such fountains to consciousness itself, to the invisible processes by which the mind transmits messages to its bodily host, through what the seventeen-century philosopher called ‘animal spirits’: 

 ‘As the animal spirits flow, thus, into the cavities of the brain, they pass from there into the pores of its substance, and from these pores into the nerves... In the same way, in the grottoes and fountains of the royal gardens, you may have observed that the force with which the water is expelled from its source is alone sufficient to move various machines, and even to make them play instruments or speak a few words, according to the way in which the pipes have been arranged.’[4] 

While Iglesias clearly does not indulge in baroque spectacle, and has taken the fountain tradition far beyond mere lavish ornament, her uses of water seem to me to resonate with the deeper implications of Descartes’s analogy, for the regular pulse of Tres Aguas evokes the mind-body symbiosis of every living organism as well as the reciprocity that needs to exist between nature and society, individual and community. The Toledo works - and other fountains and pools Iglesias has made - awaken a city’s inhabitants to the natural forces circulating under our feet and sustaining our existence. The sculptures open the senses of passers-by - citizens and visitors - to the ravine beneath the citadel and to the water flowing there, as blood stream, as oxygen, as river of life. The fountains move to that ‘come and go’, as Beckett calls it in one of his short plays, that is the rhythm of life and a promise of eternal recurrence. 
         The pool that lies in a wing of the convent of Santa Clara, inside the city walls to the north, issues the most metaphysical call of the three installations.  It’s enclosed in a cool, dark space, lit only by small apertures in the thick stone walls, and separated from the main convent building by screens constructed from wood by Iglesias in the tradition of masharabiyeh, the lattices of turned wood through which sequestered women in the middle east used to look out on the world without being seen. These intricate shuttered embrasures act as architectural equivalents of the veil; they filter vision much in the same way as the perforated visors of a burka.  
         While the three fountains of Tres Aguas bring back to mind the concealed movement of the Tagus beneath the city, the sculpture in the convent of the Poor Clares stands witness to another form of concealment, but without exposing its subjects to view. The Poor Clares are an enclosed order, founded by St Francis’s beloved friend St Clare, and the few nuns remaining in the cloister in Toledo live behind the Catholic and religious version of a screen to maintain their isolation from the world and its pollution.  This interior part of Tres Aguas has a feeling of intense privacy and serenity; it strikes up resonances to water as purificatory, restorative, and healing, and recalls the pool at Bethesda in Jerusalem, for example, which also forms part of an architectural ensemble around the Church of St Anne, where the sick or maimed were lowered once an angel had passed over and agitated the water. 
         The inside of the basin here, as in the water tower, also forms a mysterious relief landscape, of small abysses and chasms, peaks and ridges, defined and then flooded by the springs and rills which run into them. Composed of amassed, ribbed vegetation cast in metal, this pool is less deeply scooped; the shuttered light inside the convent darkens the surface of the water into a taut mirror and intensifies the convent interior’s feeling of tranquillity. The effect is not unlike a Japanese Zen garden, a space for solitary recollection and silence. 
         Interestingly, in Spanish and several other Romance languages, the word for screen ‘celosia’ is the same as the word for ‘jealousy’– sharing a root with the verb for concealment (in French, for example, ‘jalousie’ is both a blind and the passion of jealousy). Does this connection arise because the women behind a screen are being kept from view by fathers and brothers andhusbands who are jealous of their very existence?  Or does the association with jealousy imply blindness – that the woman behind the screen may fall victim to false perceptions, as in the fatal case of Desdemona?  Or are both the one who looks in and the one who looks out, unseen by each other, jealous of their own space, their own thoughts?  Confidentiality, even secrecy becomes the aim, as in the confessional, or dark box, where the two confessors – the priest and the sinner – only see each other through a pierced screen like a miniature night sky; it heightens the whole aura of the exchange, as anyone remembers who was or is a Catholic. 
         In an essay on Iglesias, the art historian Giuliana Bruno has drawn attention to the memories of Spain and its layered history stirred by these celosias.[5] Bruno discusses how they record past partitions of power, public and private, male and female, and express ‘the relation of outer and inner space at a deep level … and the dimension of time and the flow of memory.’[6] Iglesias has mined the ambiguities of the tradition, drawing out its more tender meanings, so that a screen becomes less of a barrier than a conduit, through which perception flows, like water through a filter, like whispered admissions and prayers in the confessional: ‘the screen is a medium that renders porous the relationship between the world and us…emotional partitions to be crossed, affective refuges in which to dwell, mnemonic shelters in which to be enveloped, or even sentimental material from which to shield oneself.’[7] The analogy with consciousness that Descartes found in relation to fountains in his time could be made again in connection to the masharabieh and celosias in Iglesias’s interiors, which recognize the fragmentary and subjective nature of all our perceptions, and guide us towards its pleasures rather than its frustrations. Experiences will always be inflected and framed and contingent, they suggest; the concept of total vision arises from hubris and will only lead to disappointment.  
         The fountain in the main square of Toledo is the largest in extent of the Tres Aguas.  Dug into the stone of the Plaza del Ayuntamiento outside the Town Hall, it looks deceptively simple, an authoritative summa of the entire project. Its calm, steady coming and going cools the air in the broad, exposed, public space where visitors and inhabitants stroll and linger; when the basin is full, the long sheet of water dizzily reflects the sky above, and, as you walk round it, gives plunging visions of the arcaded classical Town Hall in one direction. In the other Toledo’s cathedral and its magnificent Gothic spire are reflected deep down, bristling finials and pinnacles shifting and splintering in the mirror of the pool as it fills.  This elegant, rectilinear basin exhibits the most complex geometry of the project, lying in relation to the trapezoid shape of the plaza at an angle that gives it a dynamic quality. That dynamic character is intrinsic to the vegetal and aquatic cycles to which the work keeps pulsing; it is not a Euclidian piece of classical proportion, but an opening to the underworld, a cleft in the polite and civilised surface of a great city’s main square that owns up to what lies beneath (in El Transito, one of the two surviving synagogues in the Judería, the old Jewish quarter of Toledo, a similar opening has been made in the floor, to show the earlier, original floor, in an archaeologist’s act of bringing time up to the surface again).[8]
         With Tres Aguas, Cristina Iglesias actively reawakens this lost aesthetic relation to water.  As if the sculptural installations were awakening my unknown potential as a dowser, I found my senses now tuned to its underground presence. The waters of the Tagus surge underneath the paving stones of the plazas and the streets of Toledo: numerous, varied metal covers, some with classical images of the Tagus as a river god pouring water from an urn, mark the access to outlets and hydrants, connection points to standpipes and mains water supply; the stone pavements conceal differently shaped mouths where waste water drains back into the system. Iglesias’s sculptures concentrate the mind on our fragility and, in Toledo, the citizens’ interdependence with the river as its waters are controlled and raised from far down below. 


Karl Wittfogel’s study, Oriental Despotism, first published in l957, is a vast and original synthesis by a former Marxist, who for his subject takes not capital but water: the book explores the intertwining of water management and political power in the great empires of the ancient and modern worlds. ‘Hydraulic despotism’, he argues, characterizes the reigns of the Pharaohs, the Persians, and the Chinese dynasties –Wittfogel’s narrative includes Mao Tse-tung, who succeeded in controlling the perennial flooding of the Yellow River, and anticipates the policies of Gamel Abdel Nasser, who built the high dam at Aswan over the Nile. 
         Wittfogel singles out the era of Moorish power in Europe for its knowledge and innovations: ‘In sharp contrast to the Romans…’, he writes, ‘the Arab conquerors of Spain were entirely familiar with hydraulic agriculture, and in their new habitat they eagerly employed devices that had been extremely profitable in the countries of their origin.’[9] Dowsers discovered subterranean reserves, concealed at very deep levels below the arid surface; engineers would then drill down to these aquifers, and bring their treasure to the surface in wells and cisterns, connected by aqueducts or open channels - this system is called falaj in the Arabian Gulf – so that the flow could be held and conserved to be sluiced off on to the fields and orchards when needed.  
         The savants in Napoleon’s expedition of 1798, when they set out to compile the Description d’Egypte, started with the ruined monuments of the ancient Egyptians, which they hugely admired; but they were also awed by the noria, the large water wheels that raised water from the Nile up steep banks to the fields alongside.[10] The French engineers on the team made meticulously detailed accounts of such achievements of the ‘Modern State’, as they saw it (though the systems went back to antiquity), and prominent among theme were the waterworks: apart from the wheels, there were pumps, sprinklers, drains, pipes, culverts, and other elaborate but efficient devices.[11]
         Traces of such irrigation channels can still be seen in the orange and lemon groves of Sicily, once also under Arab rule, and in the vast oasis of Al Ayn (fountain or spring in Arabic) in Abu Dhabi, which was the source of the ruling families’ wealth before the discovery of oil on their land, the system of water distribution called the falaj still conducts water through the date palm groves. 
         ‘Moorish Spain,’ writes Wittfogel, ‘became more than marginally Oriental. It became a genuine hydraulic society … A protoscientific system of irrigation and gardening was supplemented by an extraordinary advance in the typically hydraulic sciences of astronomy and mathematics. Contemporary feudal Europe could boast of no comparable development.’[12] Wittfogel goes on to state that the Reconquista, or the end of the Moorish rule in Spain, ‘transformed a great hydraulic civilisation into a late feudal society.’ 
         The term ‘hydraulic despotism’ has a harsh ring and the tyrants of history, many of whom Wittfogel invokes, do not conjure the sweets of civilisation. But the focus on connections between forms of government, the quest for knowledge, and the management of essential resources remains no less relevant today. The ‘politics of verticality’ is Eyal Weizman’s powerful term for hydraulic despotism in our time, and he analyses the control of territory lying underground by the Israeli government – the sewers as well as the water pipes of Gaza and the West Bank of Palestine. [13]
         In Islamic culture water figures as the symbol of everything that is most precious and life-giving; it is associated with happiness, sexual fulfillment, the joy of children playing. The Qur’anic pictures of the afterlife intermingle with the enraptured love scenes of Sufi poetry, as they tap the imagery of water’s sustaining and cooling flow. Heaven itself figures as a well-watered enclave – indeed the word ‘paradise’ comes, via French and ancient Greek, from the Old Persian for a walled garden (paridayda, itself derived from the Indo-European Avestan pairi-daêza). This imagery suffuses Biblical metaphors of bliss as well as the Qur’anic concept of lasting rewards: the Virgin Mary is prefigured in Catholic symbolism by paradisal metaphors from the Song of Songs, her miraculous body evoked as the ‘hortus conclusus’ or enclosed garden.  In the Qur’an, the heavenly springs, like rivers, are given names of their own: Salsabil, Kafoor, Tasnim and, at Mecca, the miraculous fountain of ‘zim–zim’ from which all pilgrims must drink.[14] The Arabs in Sicily built retreats that were in effect shady pavilions set among fountains and pools: in Palermo, two of these pleasances, La Zisa and La Cuba, have recently been restored, while at La Favara, the castle of Maredolce (the name means ‘sweet sea’), the Norman kings also took over a Moorish fortified summer palace, standing in extensive orchards that stretched from the shore to the Monte Grifone; the neglected groves still flourish there in a dense tangle concealed behind the streets and housing of the city’s western district, their vivid luxuriance giving evidence of plentiful ground water still springing in the valley.   These palatial pavilions, half shelters, half open-air dwellings, are ancient traces of a practical, yet also profoundly aesthetic, relation to the heat and dryness of the Mediterranean. 


‘Any place not feminised should be rejected,’ wrote the Sufi thinker, Ibn Arabi of al-Andalus;[15] he was commenting on the interrelationship of ethical and aesthetic ideals, not on women’s actual presence, but it is striking how engaged powerful women in the Muslim world have been with questions of the civil environment. The caliph, Haroun al-Rashid, and his most famous favourite wife, Zubaida, daughter of his vizier Jafar, are historical figures who have passed into legend through the Tales of a Thousand and One Nights and numerous film variations, but it is not often remembered that Zubaida, when she travelled to Mecca around 802, saw the ever present danger to pilgrims of dying of thirst, and determined to bring supplies of fresh water along the route; as a result she had a huge underground aqueduct built - at her own lavish expense - running all the way from Baghdad to Mecca.[16]  In the thirteenth century, a court historian, Ibn al-Sāʿī, compiled a tribute to the women of the Abbasid court, which provides a rare record of the mothers, wives, and concubines of the rulers of Baghdad in the city’s heyday. He singles out several of them for their visionary urbanism: for example, Banafsha (her name means amethyst), a favourite of the caliph al-Mustadi and famous for her generosity and good works, was given a palace on the banks of the Tigris, with marvelous water gardens, supplied by an intricate system of water-wheels. She also had ‘a stone bridge built over the ʿĪsā Canal and a pontoon bridge fixed across the Tigris’ which she opened to the public. Sāʿī quotes a poem he heard circulating about her: 

Nothing measures up to the bridge’s beauty:
              a beauty unparalleled, without compare.
Banafsha has embroidered her name on the Tigris
              like tiraz on a carpet of azure.[17]

In the Divine Comedy, Dante seems to show some contact with this aspect of Arab culture when, at the end of Purgatorio, he conjures the earthly paradise, and names two rivers that flow through it: one is Lethe, forgetfulness, which has classical antecedents; the other is Dante’s own invention, and is called Eunôe (literally ‘good mind’); a sip from its flow fills you with good memories only. This ‘dolce ber’ is so delicious, writes Dante, that it defeats all his powers of expression; he could never have enough of it.  Presiding over this enchanted garden is one of Dante’s most mysterious female presences, a beautiful woman called Matilda. [18]
         The bas-reliefs that line the three basins of Iglesias’s sculptures have been cast from an accumulation of organic debris - foliage, branches, twigs, grasses - a heap of vegetation such as gathers after an autumn storm has torn into the trees, or a compost heap before it has composted, with ribs of roots arching above the pile, or a tidal river bank. They give a glimpse of primordial matter, decaying and fermenting and germinating according to the natural life cycle. In the closing chapter of his passionate study of the elements, The Periodic Table, Primo Levi, imagining the passage of a single atom through different forms and phenomena, evokes this mystery of origins and endless organic metamorphosis. The story he tells focuses in particular on the wonder of photosynthesis, the essential process by which an atom of carbon from the air (carbon dioxide) turns into a vine that produces wine, or a cedar of Lebanon where a chrysalis hatches. If carbon is ‘the key element of living substance...’ photosynthesis is the ‘the narrow door’, or again, ’the sole path by which carbon becomes living matter… [and] the sun’s energy becomes chemically usable.’[19] Levi ends by declaring, ‘If the elaboration of carbon were not a common daily occurrence… whenever the green of a leaf appears, it would by full right deserve to be called a miracle.’[20]  
         Cristina Iglesias’s sculptures fathom the depths of time in an analogous way, by drawing up from the earth its treasure and its vitality and picturing the process in action in the debris at the bottom of her pools. She allows us to glimpse the deep past of emergence and creation, the stuff of origin.[21] The patina gleams here and there on the encrusted sculptural surfaces of these basins, restlessly various, 
complex and active as the famous shield of Achilles, the earliest work of cast bronze evoked in detail in literature. An expert botanist might be able to identify the plant species present, but an ordinary viewer is obliged to yield to a vision of bare material life, nameless, beyond language, or rather before language, before the garden of Eden bloomed with shrubs and flowers that Adam could give a name to. Iglesias concedes no punctum-like points of orientation. This dark coracle is a made thing that hovers on the edge of abstraction, where organic growth has been captured in a form that is near formlessness and near monochrome and near eternity. It sets in metal as permanently as any work of art can the necessary process which returns a single flower to slime and turns a living plant into featureless, deliquescing, primordial matter. The sculptor has gathered together materials as they make this journey, and captured the first stuff that, together with water, makes up earthly life. Carbon and water: the primal ingredients. 
         The restless fabric of the reliefs extends Iglesias’s absorption in the mingled cultures of the Andalusian past; their luxuriance fulfills an aesthetic of plenitude developed in Moorish art and architecture and found, carved in stone and wood and plaster, everywhere in Toledo. Like a current, the twists and curls of arabesque effloresce over walls, arches and doorways, up pillars and around embrasures and eaves. Vines and racemes scroll and curve and loop over and under one another, flowing together. This currency of art was common to the Jewish artists who lavished their imaginations on the adornment of Toledo: the marvelous Sinagoga di Santa Maria la Blanca has horseshoe arched colonnades with capitols bursting with arborescent and vegetable forms, which are not reproduced mimetically as to species, but symbolised through swelling shapes and perforated textures. This arboreal imagery also inspired the vernacular of the Moorish artists who built, for example, the Church of San Salvador, a mosque until it became Christian in 1148; the fabric of the building is clothed in this form of drapery, a sculptured carpet or tapestry. The Christian architects and builders of Toledo patterned the revetment of their churches and palaces in stone tendrils and rills and branches, the language of Mudéjar decoration. The art critic Adrian Stokes coined the term ‘stone blossom’ in his studies of later Italian architecture, and although he meant another kind of ornament, the phrase suits the Mudéjar patterns found in Toledo. Stokes wrote against the idea that stone was inert or, to use his word, ‘barren’, and he related the flowering encrustations erupting from the surface and the restless dynamic rhythms that he loved to oriental art and writing.[22] 
         Stone and metal capture and set in durable form the myriad natural materials - clay, vegetable and insect pigments, oils and fats and glues – which artists have used for their work, subjecting them to chemical or other organic processes of transformation – including casting, firing, blending, glazing, setting. Iglesias’s casts arrest the natural cycle in a state that implies what it was before and what it will become.  It is very pertinent to the meaning of Tres Aguas that the basins have been created by the ancient and complex method of lost wax casting; it involves a sequence of material transformations that offer the artist-artificer’s closest equivalent to the natural metamorphoses of the life cycle. 
         In l944, the poet Paul Valéry wrote a meditation on creativity, called ‘Eupalinos ou l’architecte’, which takes the form of an intense – and often obscure - dialogue between the ghosts of Socrates and Phaedrus (one of Plato’s interlocutors) in the underworld. Phaedrus tells Socrates about his encounter with the architect, Eupalinos, who, as someone who constructs lasting things that take their place in the world of matter, emerges as the ideal figure of the artist/creator. At one point, Phaedrus describes how this ideal artificer declared: 

‘It matters to me above all else, to obtain what is to be, that it should satisfy, with all the vigour of novelty, the demands of what has been.’ [23] 

In other words, in the work of construction that is a work of art, the potential of what is to come must cohere with what it was – the futurity of what is made was there in its vanished past. 
         To illustrate more closely what he means, the architect then describes how he once took a bunch of roses and made a wax cast of them, buried the cast in the sand until the roses had perished, then dissolved the wax by pouring molten bronze into the sand, until ‘the dazzling liquor of the bronze comes to unite, in the hardened sand, with the hollow identity of the least petal…’ [24] The roses are life itself, he goes on to expound, they are moving, changeable, fading and then blooming again in another form, while the wax mould taken from them acts like the artist’s faculties, observing and modeling in direct engagement with the flowers. Finally, Phaedrus draws out an analogy between the molten metal and human consciousness: 

‘As for the liquid bronze, it does indeed signify the exceptional powers of your soul, and the tumultuous state of something that wishes to be born. This incandescent richness would be lost in useless heat and infinite reverberations and would leave nothing behind it apart from lingots or irregular pourings, if you did not know to conduct it, by mysterious channels, to cool down and spread through the tidy matrices of your wisdom.’ [25] 

Cristina Iglesias’s sculptures bring about an epiphany of a comparable process, and her threefold installation in Toledo ignites a fresh awareness of the precious, necessary conditions for creating and sustaining life.  Whereas Homer describes, on the bronze shield of Achilles, the tumults of passion and war, Iglesias has used the ancient tradition of casting to reproduce an inscrutable and unadorned natural cycle, conceived to elude symmetry or aesthetic traditions of order and proportion, arranged in such fidelity to organic messiness that its limbs and relations cannot possibly be committed to memory. Her pools look like the bed of a lake, or a mangrove swamp, or a creek, where lies a seemingly waterlogged thatch of branches, sticks, leaves, grasses, breaking down on their way to becoming carbon, to being reduced to the bones of themselves, and from that mess of water and matter, in the future that the sculpture foreshadows, this condition will begin to produce oxygenated vitality again – growth, organisms, living things. 


1 The map unfurled for the viewer in Plan and View of Toledo (1610-14) includes a note on the famous waterworks, built by the Spanish-Italian clockmaker, Juanelo Turriano, in the first half of the sixteenth century. 
2 Menocal, Maria Rosa, The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (New York: Back Bay Books/Little Brown, 2002). See especially locations 1990-2010, 3871, 3938-3955.
3  J. Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, l949)
4 Michel Baridon, A History of the Gardens of Versailles (Philadelphia: University of Penn Press, 2008), p. 161.
5 Giuliana Bruno, ‘The Thickness of Surface: Projections on a Screen-Wall’, in Cristina Iglesias, Metonymy (Madrid: Museo Nacional Central de Arte Reina Sofia), pp. 67-81.
6 Bruno, op cit., p. 70. 
7 Bruno, op. cit., pp. 70-1.
8  See the excellent guidebook to the synagogue and its restoration: Ana María López Álvarez, Santiago Palomero Plaza, and M. Luisa Menéndez Robles, Guia del Museo Sefardí (Madrid: Ministry of Culture, n.d.). 
9 Karl August Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power (New Haven: Yale University Press, l957), p. 215.
10  Mohammed El Faïz, Les Maîtres de l’eau: Histoire de l’hydraulique arabe (Paris/ Arles: Actes Sud), 2005, pp. 183-190, 251-263.
11 See section of plates called ‘Arts et Métiers’, in Description de l’Égypte: ou recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant l’expédition de l’armée française, vol. 2, État moderne, ed. E.F. Jomard, preface by M. Fourier, (Paris: Imprimérie impériale, 1809–28). <
12 Wittfogel, op.cit., p. 215.
13 Eyal Weizman, The Politics of Verticality: The Architecture of Israeli Occupation in the West Bank (Birkbeck College, University of London, PhD thesis, 2008); see also Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation (London: Verso, 2007).
14  See Qur’an, trans. Tarif  Khalidi (Penguin Classics, India: Penguin, 2009), see Suras 47, 78 and 83 for description of waters of paradise.
15 Ibn Arabi, ‘Treatise on What Is To Be Rejected’, quoted in José Miguel Puerta Vílchez, La Poética del agua en el islam/The Poetics of Water in Islam, trans. Jeremy Rogers (Sabaris/Baiona: Ediciones Trea, 2011), p. 105.
16  El Faïz, op.cit., pp. 110-114.
17 Ibn al-Sai, Consorts of the Caliphs Women and the Court of Baghdad, ed. Shawkat M. Toorawa, trans. editors of Library of Arabic Literature (New York: New York University Press, 2015), pp. 86-88. Tiraz are ‘embroidered or woven bands bearing the name and regnal title of the ruler, that were set into the sleeves of the robes of honour that the ruler bestowed.’ I am grateful to Julia Bray for this explanation. See glossary, p. xx.
18 Dante, Purgatorio, Canto VVVIII, lines 130-133; Canto XXXIII, lines 136-145, The Divine Comedy, ed. and trans. John D. Sinclair  (London: The Bodley Head, l957), 3 vols., pp. 364-371, 440-1.
19 Primo Levi, The Periodic Table, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (London: Michael Joseph, l985),, p.231.
20 Levi, op.cit., p. 227.
21 In August 2014 the spacecraft Rosetta succeeded in coming alongside the comet it had been chasing for ten years; by November, Philae, as the landing craft is called, had landed on the jagged, desolate frozen surface of the meteor and sent back the first  information of its kind into the origins of life on earth. ‘Comets are fragments from the time when the planets exploded into existence,’ commented one of the astronomers involved, ‘and they might have brought the water and carbon that catalyzed life on earth…These are the veritable ingredients of life, and by going to the comet, we are going back in time, to four and a half billion years ago, to study the frozen remnants of that, staring at the ancestral ingredients, at the stuff that existed before life existed.’  
22 ‘I am not thinking of the swags and foliage of classical ornamentation but of the lovely arabesques of the local marble jambs of the Porta dei Borsari, Verona’ writes Adrian Stokes, in ‘The Quattro Cento’ in The Critical Writings (London: Thames and Hudson, 3 vols., Vol.1 (1930-1937), p. 53.
23 ‘ C’est qu’il m’importe sur toute chose, d’obtenir ce qui va etre, qu’il satisfasse, avec toute la vigueur de la nouveauté, aux exigencies de ce qui a été.’ My translation from Paul Valéry, ‘Eupalinos ou l’architecte’, in Eupalinos L’Ame et la danse, Dialogue de l’arbre  (Paris: Gallimard, l944), p. 42.
24 ‘la liqueur éblouissante vient épouser, dans le sable durci, la creuse identité du moindre pétale…’ Valéry, op.cit., p. 43. 
25 ‘Quant à l’airain liquide, certes, ce sont les puissances exceptionelles de ton âme qu’il signifie, et le tumultueux état de quelque chose qui va naître. Cette foison incandescente se perdrait en vaine chaleur et en réverbérations infinies, et ne laisserait après soi que des lingots ou d’irrégulières coulées, si tu ne savais la conduire, par des canaux mystérieux, se refroidir et se répandre dans les nettes matrices de ta sagesse.’ Valéry, op.cit., pp. 43-44.