Cristina Iglesias turns derelict lighthouse into staggering geological sculpture

Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias has transformed a lighthouse on Donostia-San Sebastián’s Santa Clara Island into a kinetic water sculpture

Cristina Iglesias, Hondolea (Marine Abyss), a work of public art inside a lighthouse on Santa Clara Island
Cristina Iglesias, Hondolea (Marine Abyss), a work of public art inside a lighthouse on Santa Clara Island
(Image credit: Sara Santos)

The wild waters of the Basque coast, a lighthouse in critical condition, the peculiar geology of Santa Clara Island: these are ambitious ingredients for a sculptural recipe, but one that Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias (who won the 2020 Royal Academy Architecture Prize) has combined to staggering effect. 

For the location of Hondolea (Marine Abyss), Iglesias chose a lighthouse on the cusp of dereliction in which she created vertiginous sculptural environment deep in the island’s rock. Now open to the public, the sculpture is set to become part art, part site of pilgrimage – a recurring combination in Iglesias’ work. 

The Lighthouse of Santa Clara Island by Cristina Iglesias

(Image credit: Photography: José Luis López de Zubiria)

The Lighthouse of Santa Clara Island Photography by Cristina Iglesias

Top: The Lighthouse of Santa Clara Island , Above: Santa Clara Island

(Image credit: Photography: Sara Santos)

Found everywhere from inner cities to remote landscapes, the artist's horizontal fountains, submerged rooms and tropical mazes bring together literature, architecture, geology and botany to create immersive spaces that meditate on the relationship between humans, nature and how the two intersect.

Hondolea is no exception, but what can intrepid visitors expect? Iglesias has excavated the entire floor of the lighthouse. Below, cascading rock-like formations in bronze resemble the geology of the bay and surrounding coastline. Rhythmic, mesmerising water flows create the illusion of crashing waves. Aside from its artistic merits, the work is a feat of engineering and logistics, using a complex system of hydraulic machinery. 

Exterior view of the Lighthouse of Santa Clara Island, which contains a sculpture by Cristina Iglesias

(Image credit: Photography: Sara Santos)

Inside the bronze sculpture in the The Lighthouse of Santa Clara Island by Cristina Iglesias

(Image credit: Photography: Sara Santos)

From its conception, Iglesias had planned to donate Hondolea to Donostia-San Sebastián and has worked closely with the City Hall over the last four years to create a striking work that incorporates the distinctive geology of the Basque coast and its rough waters. Iglesias explained on Instagram: ‘The piece is a place that represents the remoteness within the city, a meeting point for citizens to observe, think and reflect on nature and the importance of its conservation.’

In conjunction with the Donostia-San Sebastián commission, a new book, Liquid Sculpture: The Public Art of Cristina Iglesias, edited by Iwona Blazwick and Richard Noble, has been published by Hatje Cantz. The text sees an international roster of curators, art critics, philosophers, architects and scientists weigh in on the social and ecological potential of art in urban and rural space, informed by the themes in Iglesias’ work. 

Estancias Sumergidas, 2010 Reinforced concrete with a neutral PH by Cristinia Iglesias

(Image credit: Photography: Jose Luis López de Zubiria.)

orgotten Streams, (South-West Side), 2017 Bronze, stone, hydraulic mechanism and water 10,1 x 25,6 x 10 x 15,75 m Photo: Jose Luis López de Zubiria

Top: Estancias Sumergidas, 2010, reinforced concrete with a neutral PH; Above: Forgotten Streams, (South-West Side), 2017, bronze, stone, hydraulic mechanism and water.  Both feature in the book Liquid Sculpture: The Public Art of Cristina Iglesias, published by Hatje Cantz

(Image credit: Photography: Jose Luis López de Zubiria.)


Harriet Lloyd-Smith was the Arts Editor of Wallpaper*, responsible for the art pages across digital and print, including profiles, exhibition reviews, and contemporary art collaborations. She started at Wallpaper* in 2017 and has written for leading contemporary art publications, auction houses and arts charities, and lectured on review writing and art journalism. When she’s not writing about art, she’s making her own.