go back

File: The La Engaña Tunnel. 2014-2016

This tunnel is a deep hole in the body of history, the inside of a belly emptied of its organs, a cave, a dark abyss, a wound, but also the door that leads us to the unknown and an entrance to advance from, in spite of the warning.

Project for three screens

Two synchronized screens. 24:50 minutes, color, stereo. Music by Gordon Monahan.
One vertical screen. 21:52 minutes, color, stereo. Interviews with survivors of the tunnel, Manolo Pelayo and Manolo López, and journalist Teresa Cobo from the Diario Montañes newspaper.

Production: Fundación BBVA, Multiverso 2015 Grants.

Exhibitions: Fundación BBVA, Madrid; MUSAC, León.

This project is an attempt at a residual image of the construction of the La Engaña tunnel. It is a fabric made from the threads of various intertwined stories expressed in fragments of memory, identity and history, inviting re-readings of an unfinished tale somewhere between fact and fiction.

The La Engaña tunnel, with its 6,976 meters length, was at the time the longest tunnel ever built in the Iberian Peninsula. This giant railway infrastructure lies between Burgos and Cantabria, and was the last stretch of an ambitious project to create a train link between the city of Santander and the Mediterranean coast. In 1941, the office in charge of public works deployed squads of political prisoners to the area. There they began building workers’ settlements, together with other laborers from all over Spain. The tunnel was completed in 1961, but the project was put on hold until 1985 when the government decided to abandon it.

Inside the room, one screen shows the historic trepanning of a mountain and its interior bracing, rivalling in proficiency with a team of operatives who hollow out a pachyderm before mounting its inner frame. On the other screen, an elephant advances through the ruined remains of platforms, a station and the former workers’ homes before ending up inside the tunnel. The animal’s state connects with the accounts of survivors in terms of physicality, emotional charge and feelings of grief. On both screens, the actions of digging and emptying draw on the poems Digging by Seamus Heaney and The Hollow Men by T. S. Eliot, as if each were stationed metaphorically at one of the tunnel’s extremes.

A third screen in the hall depicts a recent action performed at the southern mouth of the La Engaña tunnel, now sealed off by a wall. A worker is engaged in restoring the missing letter “E”. Lodged inside the new “E” is a time capsule with the spoken testimonies of survivors who worked at both ends of the tunnel.

Placement of letter E, which had been removed from the tunnel sign. The letter E has inside a time capsule with the interviews to the survivors of the tunnel: Manolo Pelayo and Manolo López.

With the collaboration of the journalist Teresa Cobo of the Diario Montañes newspaper.

Multiverso Exhibition, Fundación BBVA, Madrid 2017

Next Up