Category: Basque design

February 19, 1999: Inauguration of Euskalduna Conference Centre

Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbera.

On February 19, 1999, the newly completed Euskalduna Conference Centre was inaugurated in Bilbao. Designed by architects Federico Soriano and Dolores Palacios to resemble a ship under construction, because it stands on the site formerly occupied by the Euskalduna shipyard, the building won the Enric Miralles award for architecture at the 6th Spanish Architecture Biennial in 2001 and in 2003 the International Congress Palace Association declared it to be the world’s best congress center. It is without doubt one of the key emblematic sites–historical, cultural, and architectural–of Bilbao and a “must see” building for any visitor to the capital of Bizkaia.

Photo by Tim Tregenza.

The Euskalduna was a shipyard located in the heart of Bilbao that also came to specialize in the construction of rail and road vehicles. It operated between 1900 and 1988, when it closed in controversial circumstances due to downsizing. The famous “Carola” Crane, a symbol of the shipyard in its heyday, still stands and now forms part of the Ria de Bilbao Maritime Museum, which is located alongside the Euskalduna Conference Centre.

Photo by Tim Tregenza.

The Euskalduna is today home to both the city’s opera season and the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, as well as serving as a multipurpose conference and event center with a 2000-seat auditorium, a 600-seat theater, conference rooms, meeting rooms, a press room, restaurants, an exhibition hall, an a commercial gallery.

Photo by Asier Sarasua Aranberri.

Check out the Euskalduna website here.

The Center has published several books on the transformation of Bilbao (and the Basque Country in general), a story in which the Euskalduna is prominent. See, for example, Joseba Zulaika’s award-winning That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of  a City as well as Transforming Cities: Opportunities and Challenges of Urban Regeneration in the Basque Country, edited by Arantxa Rodríguez and Joseba Juaristi and Building the Basque City: The Political Economy of Nation Building, by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

Basque traditional musical instrument in the US: Interview with alboka player Joe Memeo

“As soon as I heard about the alboka I became interested in it, and have been learning and researching the instrument and its history ever since.”

Interview with alboka player Joe Memeo by Xavier Irujo.

The alboka is a traditional Basque musical instrument. Its sound is similar to the pipe, and it is also played using circular breathing, that is, the alboka player does not take a break from blowing into the instrument, and inhales while simultaneously exhaling when a breath is needed. This creates continuous, uninterrupted sound.

 

      

Joe is probably one of the very few alboka players in the U.S. and the sole manufacturer of albokas in the country. He has played the alboka for several years now and has participated in events and festivals over the last year with the Elko dance group Ardi Baltza.

How did you get immersed in the Basque culture?

I was able to get involved through my wife, Kiaya Memeo. She grew up within the local Basque community and spent many years Basque dancing and participating in the local festivals. About six years ago she started her own Basque cultural group in the Elko community called Ardi Baltza. Throughout the years I have become more and more involved with the group. I have enjoyed traveling and serving as an Ardi Baltza ambassador to other clubs, such as the Basque Club in Lima, Peru. In addition to this I have also had the opportunity to work with Anamarie and Mikel Lopategui at Ogi, the Basque Pintxo Bar in Elko. I have been able to meet wonderful people all over the US, Basque Country and South America and have been exposed to many facets of this wonderful culture.

How did you become interested in the alboka?

What first attracted me to the alboka was the uniqueness of the instrument. It is unique in almost every aspect: the sound, the build, the playing style, and the limited scale. There is a good metaphor applied to the alboka by Alan Griffin that highlights this: The alboka is like a hedgehog. It is small, spiky, and low on fancy and finesse, but full of individuality. As soon as I heard the alboka I became interested and have been learning and researching the instrument and its history ever since.

How did you learn to play it and, especially, how did you learn to manufacture them?

I bought my first alboka which was made by the incredibly talented alboka luthier Jose Osses and started to learn to play it. I am self-taught by researching music and watching videos of others playing the instrument to learn techniques. Mostly it was a lot of very loud practice (which my wife can attest to) and trying different methods to determine what works and what doesn’t. One of the difficulties was there are only a couple of people in the US that play the alboka, so there were no local resources. There are a few people in Argentina that actively play the alboka that I was able to connect with and they were very helpful with any questions that I had.

Learning to make them started out of necessity. Because the main sources for replacement reeds and expertise for the alboka is in the Basque Country. It took a long time and was expensive to get anything to the US. I was able to get information on the construction of the instrument and purchased the required equipment. One of the appeals of the alboka is its simplicity and simple construction materials. All the parts are made of wood and the horn is a steer horn. Once constructed, the instrument is sealed with bee’s wax. This meant that I can make every part of the alboka by hand. Recently I have been trying out different designs and tunings for the new albokas I have been making.

Besides the instrument itself, I also make and have available accessories and learning aids for the alboka. One of the learning aids I have made is the “Circular Breathing Aid”. The alboka is played using circular breathing (this is where the player does not take a break from blowing into the instrument and inhales while simultaneously exhaling when a breath is needed, this creates a continuous, uninterrupted sound). This can be a very difficult technique to master. The tool I have created mimics the mouthpiece of the alboka and lets the player practice circular breathing while adjusting the air resistance depending on the player’s skill. If you are like me and live with (or around) other people, the most important aspect of this tool is that it is silent and can be used for practice anywhere.

For how long have you participated in cultural events, concerts or celebrations with the alboka?

I have been playing the alboka for several years now but have only been participating in events and festivals over the last year. I have been participating and playing with Ardi Baltza in local festivals and most recently the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko that featured many Basque performers. In the coming year I plan to travel with Ardi Baltza to events and gatherings across the US and to have a booth at many more events with informational material and albokas for sale.

What is the response of the American public to this unique Basque instrument?

The response from Americans has been great. The alboka has not had a lot a representation in the US, so people have been very excited to see it growing, but for a lot of people it is still very new. There has also been a lot of interest in this instrument in the US outside of the Basque communities. Quite a few of the albokas I have made went to people that do not have big ties to Basque communities.  I think this shows the wider appeal and appreciation of the alboka.

My goal is to be a resource for individuals and clubs that are interested in learning to play the instrument or that just want to know more about it. My hope is to connect everybody who is interested in the alboka and to spread knowledge about it as much as I can. I have also started the website Albokak.com (https://www.albokak.com) that has many links to good information and learning material on the internet, as well as all the albokas and accessories I have available.

 

 

Basque couture designer Cristóbal Balenciaga inspires lush new psychosexual drama Phantom Thread

Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a renowned couturier of the 1950s, who designs clothes for the European aristocracy and socialite. Below and beyond the glamour of visiting dames and princesses, whose garderobe he designs from their first communion through first season as debutante to wedding gown, he lives a monkish life. His passion can only thrive in his dogged insistence on routine, whose disruption sends him into rants and rages. Unsurprisingly, women wither away into oblivion by his side, until he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a few decades his junior, who becomes his lover and muse. Phantom Thread is a luxurious, yet menacing story of two strong-willed personalities who find their own, predictably bizarre solution to how to maintain their relationship before the divisive and isolating tendencies of creativity.

The movie`s Reynolds Woodcock is

“a control freak with a monomaniacal zeal for dressmaking largely based on the real-life fashion forefather Cristóbal Balenciaga,”

the The New York Times writes. Director Paul Thomas Anderson was searching for the most cinematographic artist type for his main character when, debating between writer and painter, he picked up a biography of Balenciaga at an airport. “I generally didn’t have that much knowledge or interest in the fashion world until I started finding out a little bit about a guy named Cristóbal Balenciaga,” Anderson said. “He led a very monastic life, completely consumed with his work — sometimes at the expense of other things in his life. Our characters become something very different. Our story focuses on if you have a character like that, what would it take to disrupt his life. Usually, it’s love that does that.”

Balenciaga in 1950, and a cocktail dress designed in 1951.

Phantom Thread indeed diverges liberally from Balenciaga`s life in some ways (for one, Balenciaga was homosexual), but it keeps some of the core elements of the Basque designer`s personality, lifestyle and art. Known as “the King” in the fashion world in general, Christian Dior called Balenciaga “the master of us all,” and Coco Chanel once said he was “the only couturier in the truest sense of the word.” The formal purity, sobriety and sculptural design of his work reflected Balenciaga`s aversion to extravagance. He was reclusive, and prayed daily in a nearby church. He was a true misfit in his environment; as Joseba Zulaika quotes Roland Barthes, “the idea of fashion is antithetic to the idea of sainthood” (That Old Bilbao Moon, 184). In the only interview he ever granted, in his characteristic spirit of brooding melancholy Balenciaga said this about the most opulent of professions:

“Nobody knows what a hard métier it is, how killing is the work. Under all this luxury and glamour. Now c`est la vie d`un chien [it`s a dog`s life].”

Balenciaga was born in Getaria in 1895, and before he designed for the world`s elite, he would first dress Neguri`s and San Sebastian`s upper class through his exhibitions in Bilbao. His designs incorporated elements of Basque traditional costumes. The 1949 December issue of Harper`s Bazaar featured on its cover a Balenciaga dress inspired by the azpiko gona, a long gathered wool underskirt, generally red, decorated with horizontal bands. “Much of Balenciaga`s creation was nourished by the tension between Spanish and Basque traditional designs and European high modernism,” Zulaika writes in his Old Bilbao Moon (185).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balenciaga dress inspired by the azpiko gona, 1949.

 

The Balenciaga Museum in Getaria.

 

 

 

 

The movie received 6 Academy Award nominations for 2018. For an article about Balenciaga`s person behind the movie in Spanish, see the review in El País: https://elpais.com/elpais/2018/01/23/estilo/1516726594_429501.html

For Phantom Thread, see the trailer here:

 

The Academy of Urbanism names Bilbao as the 2018 Best European City

Earlier this month, the Academy of Urbanism named Bilbao the 2018 European City of the Year. The other finalists were Ljubljana and Vienna, but Bilbao won the coveted position. Two years ago, another Basque city, Donostia-San Sebastian, was also recognized by the academy. As a Bilbotarra, I’m not surprised, we’ve known Bilbao is the best city in the world for a long time.

Th chair of the Academy, David Rudlin, described the city as follows:

 

Bilbao is a great example of the wholesale transformation of a former industrial city – not just physically, but socially, economically and culturally. The rejuvenation it has achieved over the past 30 years is nothing short of remarkable. All of this has been achieved through bold and effective leadership, the likes of which has seen the city run debt-free since 2010.

To read more, visit the About Basque Country website as follows:

https://aboutbasquecountry.eus/en/2017/11/08/bilbao-chosen-as-the-2018-best-european-city-by-the-academy-of-urbanism/

February 18, 1934: Fashion icon Paco Rabanne born

On February 18, 1934, Francisco “Paco” Rabaneda Cuervo was born in Pasaia, Gipuzkoa. He would go on to become Paco Rabanne, the enfant terrible of the French fashion world in the 1960s and one of the most illustrious names in the history of fashion design.

Not long after his birth, the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936 and that part of Gipukoa where he was from, close to France, witnessed an early invasion by rebel troops in an attempt to cut off access to the border. Indeed, his father, a colonel in the Spanish army who remained loyal to the democratically elected government of the Second Republic, was executed by the insurgent forces. The family subsequently fled to France, first to Morlaix (Montroulez in Breton) in Brittany and then to Les Sables-d’Olonne, a coastal town in the western Department of Vendée.

Iconic metal and plastic dress designed by Paco Rabanne (1967). Worn by Baroness Helen Bachofen von Echt at New York party at which she danced with Frank Sinatra. Image by Nadia Priestly, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Rabanne would have been aware of the fashion industry from an early age as his mother had been chief seamstress at the Balenciaga salon, owned by the other great Basque fashion icon, Cristóbal Balenciaga (see an earlier post here). Although he originally studied architecture at the French National Fine Arts School in Paris in the 1950s, by the end of his studies he was already designing jewelry for Givenchy, Dior, and of course Balenciaga. He founded his own fashion house in 1966 and gained a reputation for his radical and striking designs, often incorporating a diversity of colors and unconventional materials such as metal, paper, and plastic, and with more than a hint of a futurist or post-industrial elements. Indeed, he was responsible for the costume design in the iconic science fiction movie Barbarella (1968), starring Jane Fonda.  In the late 1960s he began a collaboration with Barcelona-based fragrance company Puig, which resulted in the launch of the Rabanne perfume line, one of the best-known brands in the world. More recently, from the 1990s on, he began exhibiting his drawings and paintings, but he remains one of the great fashion icons of the world today.

Check out the official Paco Rabanne website here.

 

Cross of Gorbeia 115-years-old

On Saturday, November 12, the emblematic Cross of Gorbeia, one of the most distinct features in the Basque Country, will be 115-years-old. Mount Gorbeia, straddling the border between Bizkaia and Araba, is 1,482 meters (4,862 feet) high. It remains an important symbol, especially for Bizkaians, for whom it is their highest mountain. It is equally known for the imposing metal cross that stands at the summit, measuring around 17 meters (56 feet) high.

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The third cross of Gorbeia, erected some time around 1910. Photo of Indalecio Ojanguren by Ojanguren himself, c. early-20th century. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1899 Pope Leo XIII ordered that crosses be erected on the highest Christian mountains to herald the coming of a new century. As a consequence, a work commission was established in Zeanuri, Bizkaia, organized by the town priest, Juan Bartolomé de Alcibar, and presided over by the archpriest of Zigoitia, Araba, José María de Urratxa, to implement the pope’s orders by erecting a cross on the peak of Gorbeia. The construction project was headed by the architect Casto de Zavala y Ellacuriaga and had a budget of 50,000 pesetas. The original cross was 33 meters (108 feet) high. Delays to the project, however, mean that the cross was not installed in 1900, as originally planned, but a year later, on November 12, 1901. What’s more, the original cross only lasted a month and half, before collapsing as a result of the notoriously strong winds that are common on Gorbeia (local shepherds are reputed to have warned of this possibility from the outset). A second cross was then put up in 1903, although it, too, succumbed to gale-force winds in 1906. A third and final cross, which took much of its inspiration from the Eiffel Tower and was designed by Serapio de Goikoetxea and Alberto de Palacio y Elissague, was erected some time around 1910, this time measuring much less than the first two attempts.

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Mount Gorbeia, as seen from Vitoria-Gasteiz. Photo by Zarateman, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Shortly afterward, on October 13, 1912, following the recent creation of the Sporting Club of Bilbao, it organized a hiking excursion to the top of Gorbeia attended by 145 hardy individuals. This set in motion a tradition, that lasts to this day, for Bizkaians of all ages to make at least one visit to the emblematic summit of Gorbeia. This excursion is especially popular on both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Information sourced from: http://www.deia.com/2016/11/05/bizkaia/costa/la-cruz-de-gorbea-115-anos-guiando-a-los-montaneros

Two Designers Unite the Basque Country

The New York Times recently reported on the efforts of a Basque industrial designer from Iparralde, Jean Louis Iratzoki, to collaborate with another Basque designer from Hegoalde, Ander Lizaso (see some of his creations here), with the aim of creating a multipurpose design studio inspired by the Basque Country on both sides of the border.

The two of them have already made waves with a table collection that subtly combines solid oak and iron forged at a historic ironworks in Navarre. Iratzoki is known for his signature of the world’s first bioplastic chairs made of a biodegradable plant-based polymer. Iratzoki was born in Donibane lohitzune (St. Jean-de-Luz) and recently designed the interiors of a luxurious eco-lodge in Saubion, north of Biarritz. For both Iratzoki and Lizaso, their collaboration will connect both the French and Spanish side of Basque Country:  “For both my partner Ander and me, that border doesn’t exist. We cross it everyday. We speak Basque, but also Spanish and French. We work in both southern and northern sides of the Basque country. And of course the products that we design travel much further; they can be exhibited in Milan, Cologne or Chicago.”

See the original report here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/10/arts/international/a-designer-unites-the-basque-country.html?_r=0

If you’re interested aspcets of design in the Basque Country, check out a couple of publications that are free to download courtesy of the Etxepare Basque Institute:

Architecture and Design, by Peio Aguirre, free to download here; and A Collection of Prints, by Miren Jaio, free to download here.