The Sireno of Getxo is a temporary installation of the photograph Sireno del Río de la Plata (2002), by Argentinian author Marcos López, on the quayside of the Old Port of Algorta, Getxo (Basque Country). The photograph is installed on the Ereaga wharf so that it can interact with the sea. So the image offers different interpretations depending on the activity of the tide: high tide will only let us see the portrait of a man with a naked torso, while as the tide goes out it is revealed that he is a marine creature, a Sireno. A being that may become a new and enigmatic inhabitant of the bay of Ereaga. A character who pulls at the imagination.

The installation is a metaphor for appearances, and is about what is shown and what is concealed; and takes a new look at migrations from the South to the North.

The installation’s discourse is original too, because it exchanges the customary sculpture for a photograph, and replaces the representation of a hero with an anonymous being. For photography curator Alejandro Castellote, “This is not public art in the way it is generally understood when institutions commission artists to decorate towns and cities. It is art that targets the local community via public spaces and has jettisoned the icon of the hero as an equestrian statue.”

The course taken by the work of Marcos López involves the redefinition of myths, icons and universal works of art, but from the “South”.  In the author’s own words: “I take ideas from popular songs, recycle classics, play with the obvious, invent myths. I transformed the mermaid of Copenhagen into a merman from the River Plate, while I made La última cena (The last supper) at midday, eating a barbecue with friends. (…) And when I finally feel satisfied, where I realise a work has a magnetic quality, is when the guys in the laboratory, who are used to winding metre upon metre of images, pause before one of my pictures and let slip a complementary remark. A subtle kind of praise: That’s one fine specimen of a siren, where did you catch it?”. And he adds: The Sireno del Río de la Plata is a metaphor from the periphery. It turned up one morning half-drowned in the waters of the River Plate. The shoreless river that looks like the sea. The river the conquerors came down in search of the gold that belonged to the immensity of America. The Sireno is an illusion.” Alejandro Castellote points out: “References also coexist simultaneously in Sireno del Río de la Plata (2002): behind the obvious mention of Hans Christian Andersen’s Mermaid, which sits in the harbour of Langelinie in Copenhagen, her gender now transformed and her secluded scenario exchanged for the waste-infested bank of a river, what rises to the surface is the memory of the Argentine military dictatorship which tossed dissidents into these waters that now seem to breathe tranquillity. In the work of Marcos López, tragedy constantly lies in wait for the smile”.

A multidisciplinary project: architecture + gastronomy

This is a multidisciplinary project, bringing together photography, architecture and gastronomy. Bilbao architect Xabier Goikoetxea was responsible for the design and construction of a specific structure for the image of the Sireno. It is a non-rigid support that adapts to the sway of the sea and lends mobility to the picture. The structure comprises a set of 30 rectangular tubes of stainless steel threaded on the inside by various cables that hang from rings on the wharf of the Puerto Viejo.

Meanwhile, bar owners from the Old Port (the Itsas Bide, Portu Zaharra, Arrantzale, Txomin and Usategi) and the Restaurante Etxanobe’s well-known chef Fernando Canales got together and jointly devised a pintxo inspired by the work, the Pintxo Sireno. “Since the Sireno is half man and half fish, we devised a snack that is half meat and half seafood”, explains Canales, “We prepared a mixed brochette of langostine, chicken and the kind of seaweed the Siren is so fond of and, so it can be dipped, we cooked up a tasty Basque ketchup made with garden tomatoes, sun-dried red pepper paste, semi-preserved anchovies, honey and cider vinegar”.