Anish Kapoor. Surge

The Ritual Material
Marcello Dantas

There are moments in life that we need to reconnect with other dimensions of existence to understand the nature of the transformations taking place here and now. Anish Kapoor is an artist who makes visible what is concealed. Through an excavation of that which is hidden beneath the surface, his work has the power to create an experience that may be uncanny, mysterious or even spiritual. His deep interest for ritual materials has extended throughout his career, searching for artifices which strengthen his process on the understanding of what was there before there was anything - sometimes like a scientist, other times like a shaman. Kapoor is looking for some sort of evidence, whether in the form of matter or in the form of a phenomenon.

Although for many, Kapoor’s art can be seen as formalist, in truth he is genuinely connected to our social, metaphysical, psychological, spiritual and political motivations. He is interested in a change of perception that can trigger reactions towards the known. Kapoor works with diverse languages of material and form to investigate these conditions of both our being in the world and in our own bodies.

The word surge is common to English and Spanish. Despite not meaning essentially the same, they complete each other in a wider understanding of what we may want to convey. In English, it means a sudden wave that occurs in the sea, not as powerful as a tsunami, but something that raises awareness of the natural force hidden in the ocean. While in Spanish it is related to self-origination, appearance, arise, outbreak and emergence. Surge is also the root of the word insurgent, a rebel, a revolutionary and a subversive.

One of the most essential works for the exhibition, Double Vertigo are two long curved stainless steel mirrors that may provoke a loss of our sense of balance by suddenly changing our spatial perception and distorting everything around us. A mirror that affects the way the viewers reacts to their own image. Reflections and mirrors have long been shamanistic subject matters, but they have entered into contemporary life in a very symbolic manner. From the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus to Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass; from modern architecture to the culture of selfies in social media, the mirror is an entity that reveals one’s intention. In this case, we realize that the mirrored sculpture itself has no image, but an image of the distortion that the artist proposed in addition to the moving presence of the viewer. This artwork resides in the gap between these two intentions.

The opposite of a mirror is a void, another constant form that Anish has explored over the years by subtractively sculpting in order to create space rather than making an object. The void is the lack of surface, the inability to understand the limits of a form. The void is what defines the space before there is a space. The void challenges our ability to believe in our eyes. We don’t know what we are seeing, and that discomfort exposes the mystery that haunts us. The boundaries of the cave cannot be revealed.

Another present element is blood, an essential ritual material. The use of blood in rituals is as ancient as rituals themselves. Creating situations and exploring materials to simulate the power of blood are a recurring interest for Anish. Such as colour, which functions as a direct route to metaphor. The colour red and the transformative nature of the substance took shape in many different incarnations in his practice; nonetheless, the most urgent is the notorious Shooting into the Corner. According to Kapoor, corners evoke the feminine, a place of crossing: where vertical meets horizontal, left meets right, convergence and divergence. Structural places of protection, at the same time a space of vulnerability. Whereas the gun is clearly a masculine icon. Shooting is the power surge, the burst of energy that breaks the code of stability. The uprising violent cannon that disrupt every so often the passivity of the receptive corner. This action can evoke multiple interpretations, but a very important element of this work is its condition of the present. It is not an evidence of something held in the past, it is actually happening whilst the viewer is present. This notion of urgency makes us realize that we are witnesses, agents or subject to this constant shooting. The loud noise will not let you forget that.

A related work, Svayambhu is another manifestation of the blood-red. A structure made of red wax that is in permanent motion building its own body. An object of self-creation looking for the friction between its form and the architecture that surrounds it. Sculpting its way through the narrow passage, extruding its form and leaving residue as evidence of its strength. In Sanskrit Svayambhu means self-created. Before everything, there was nothing so life has to autogenerate, the first impulse that makes something exist. It is the most profound manifestation of the beginning and also a construction of the initial passage, to become we need to go through this passage.

Non-Object (Door) is a cubic mirror that reflects on all its sides with a distorted form. This object is at the same time present and absent. Once alone, the mirrored surface makes the sculpture almost disappear by merging into its surroundings, having no image of itself other than a subtle distortion. This non-object becomes a gravitational point when another body comes next to it. The power of the mirror to quietly disrupt space.

A constant investigation within his work are the non-objects or proto-objects. However, none have been so iconic as When I am Pregnant. The simple curved white form placed on a white wall has a striking optical power. Seeing from distance, it does not exist; now as one turns around the wall it's form reveals itself. This appearance is the discovery of things that are on the edge of perception, still, it is about latency, a moment when the transformative energy has the possibility to emerge.

Dragon is an installation made from eight Chinese riverbed stones painted in deep blue colour pigment. In this work, the void is inverted and a perceptual transformation of matter occurs. Its surface, as opposed to its interior, has become ethereal. The stones’ massive weight is perceived floating due to its transformed appearance. It is about mass and perception. It is about time as the sculptor, nature generated form by displacement of the stone onto a river bed, allowing the water to sculpt the form. It is, however, the blue pigment that changes our perception of its physicality. Would colour affect gravity just like water does? Kapoor once said: “The work seems to have a darkness, seems to be somewhere in-between body, cave, and beast.”[1]

We have been working on the idea of a new Anish Kapoor show in South America for about 5 years since the overwhelming success of the 2006/2007 shows that made it one of the most visited exhibitions in the world in that year. Anish Kapoor’s first exhibition in the region was in the 1983 at the São Paulo Biennale. From then on, he has grown awareness of the political and cultural transformations that have taken place.
In the course of the development of this project, many substantial changes took place in the region and left our perception of what was once familiar completely shattered. A hidden dimension that was asleep began to wake up. Bringing about a sense of fear, uncertainty, and fragmentation that had been long forgotten since the end of the dictatorship that hammered the continent until the 1980s. Since then, entire generations came to think of Latin America as a place with a bright future of diversity tolerance, inclusion, and growth.

This exhibition takes place in a new context. One in which basic rights such as freedom of speech, respect for diversity and social justice may be at serious risk. Physical violence, life threats, and deaths have become a new normal.

The history of Latin America has long been one of instability, violence, and bloodshed. In our discussions, Anish has expressed a wish to make this exhibition a bold statement to help us perceive the arrival of a form of turmoil that may erode the most fundamental rights any civilized society strives for.

Surge is about the search for materials that may inspire people into thinking differently, and creating tools to help perceive the energies that shape transformations. Transformation is the very act of ritual and the place that it happens is in the fertile empty void inside each one of us.

[1] Homi Bhaba and Anish Kapoor: A conversation. Published in Anish Kapoor, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Exhib cat.1993.

Double Vertigo, 2012 Anish Kapoor. All Rights Reserved, DACS/SAVA, 2019

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Marcello Dantas
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Marcello Dantas (Rio de Janeiro, 1967) is a renowned exhibition designer and curator. Documentary director since 1986. He graduated in Film and Television at New York University, and completed a master's degree in Interactive Telecommunications at the same university. Amid his multidisciplinary activities, art, curatorship, direction and production converge in various areas, though always oriented towards the interaction of Art and Technology.

As an art curator, exhibitions focused on artists such as Bill Viola, Gary Hill, Jenny Holzer, Shirin Neshat, Laura Vinci, Tunga, Peter Greenaway and Ai Weiwei stand out among others.

Marcello Dantas. Germano Lders/EXAME

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Anish Kapoor. Gautier Deblonde

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Interview with Anish Kapoor
Marcello Dantas

Marcello Dantas: A catalogue raisonné of Anish Kapoor could very well work as a physics book for the understanding of a wide variety of various phenomena.  Do you consider yourself more of an inventor or a discoverer? 

Anish Kapoor: What I’ve said very often, is that I don’t care for what I know, and I don’t suppose anybody else cares either. I care about what I don't know. It is the artist’s job, I believe, to be somehow fearless, adventurous, to go into an unknown space. It is what I don't know that I am interested in. So, how do you find out what you don’t know? I mean, that is an impossible question. I think of Mantegna’s Descent into Limbo, my favorite painting of all time. In the painting, Christ is holding a stick and he is about to enter the cave, he is about to sub-verse the dark cave which the darkness spreads out from. Christ is descending as the great hero into a space of limbo. But even the great hero needs a staff or a stick, he can’t go in empty handed. What I’m trying to say is that is the job of the artist. To foolishly, idiotically, gather the tools that make it possible to make a shamanistic journey, because it can’t be anything else; into the unknown, into what it means to touch the unknown.

It is tautologically ridiculous on one level, I’m not Christ, I don’t intend to be Christ, thank you. We can only do this as the fool.

In John Richardson's brilliant biography of Picasso, he talks about a retrospective that Picasso had in 1932, in the lead up to the war at the Museum of Fine Arts in Zurich. Carl Gustav Jung wrote about the show and said, this man is definitely schizophrenic, he is schizoid in his weird unimaginable grotesque images, etc.

What John Richardson says, in his immense foresight and wisdom, is that Jung was not into the art world, didn’t understand where these images came from and couldn’t read them. What Jung didn’t see was that Picasso was fighting evil with evil, because it is the only way to fight evil and that this is fundamentally shamanistic journey. Picasso as a shaman, that is absolutely correct. Beuys used the term, but it is not just Beuys. This is what artists do. 

MD: I’m going to read a quote to you, which I think relates to that: ‘Human science is not capable of understanding it, nor the experience of describing it. Only one who has passed through it will know what it means while there will be no words for it.’ -Saint John at the Cross.

AK: He has got to be talking about consciousness! This is one area in which science has been rather poor. Science does lots of things wonderfully, explains all kinds of phenomena but it has not been able to really address consciousness. Where was I before I was born, what is it that makes me me, where do I go after I die? In other words, what is this thing that I call life? What is this recognition of life as an actual phenomenon? Where does it come from? How do I know of myself or of anything else? Consciousness in other words. It is a speculative place that artists can go to, and many artists have attempted to go there; I’m thinking of course of Barnett Newman, but there are many. This thing of before birth, before. It has something to do with other ideas, one of them is the idea of becoming, making a work is not just the making of a thing, it is an act of becoming. I think there is something in that which is profound.

I’ve been in Zen practice for many years. In Zen practice, you are given a koan, a bit like a riddle or a poem. Part of mine is:  before thinking of good and bad, before mother and father, what? You can’t think it, but it is about the beginning. It is a fairly common koan, my teacher obviously had great insight into me, and me as an artist, to give me that one. Before thinking what? It seems to me, that this is the only real enquiry, all the rest is commentary.

MD: So, in a way you are looking for ritual material. Stuff that you can address to that territory. Where do you search for it?

AK: I’ve thought about these subjects a great deal, they are central to my whole process. It seems to me that there are two ritual materials, and only two. One is earth and the other is blood, and then they are deeply connected to each other. There is a wonderful new civilizational realization: what is culture and where does it come from? We have all kinds of theories about drawings in caves. I think they are too late. I think there is something much earlier than that. An anthropologist called Chris Knight, proposes a wonderful theory which is that blood is the original matter. That blood is possessed by women not by men because they menstruate, and when women are together they menstruate together, and that we know is a biological truth and a sociological truth. Women menstruating together means that it is a time of denial of sex to men, and what they did, and there is a lot of evidence to support this, is that they looked for the bleeding earth; and what is the bleeding earth if not red ochre that comes from the earth, and they put it on their bodies to cover up their own bleeding and to create an identification between the bleeding earth and their bleeding bodies. This act of solidarity firstly is a communal act, and then it is only a small step to the ritual dance, to hold these groups of women together. Men are left out, we have no act of blood, we don’t know what to do! Our only acts of blood as men, are circumcision and hunting.

It seems to me that all this early thinking about rituality is horizontal. It is the earth, it is human, it is here, earthbound. We have not once mentioned the sky. And what 'men' do later, is to turn this idea of the ritual earth into the sky, into God. 'Men' turn horizontal into vertical and make all the gods blue. Christ is blue, Krishna is blue, all the gods are blue, and they all come later.  Women had earth and blood and ritual. 'Men' then made it blue and sky and god. Horizontal into vertical.

MD: Blue as an opposite to red

AK: Exactly, and blue, it seems to me, is a civilizational, tamed self, it is not ritual matter. It is blood and earth that are the original ritual matters. They are full of danger, full of threat, full of death. The god in the sky doesn’t die. How can he, he doesn’t have any blood.

One might dare perhaps to add milk to the ritual material, but it is also female and earthbound. It is not incidental that Christ's wound is just by his breast. Christ has to bare his breast and have a cut on the side of his breast and pretend to be female, and he says don’t touch me, because the illusion of me as a woman, me as the giver of blood, will be broken. It is not incidental. I think these things have psychic circularity that make them magical.

MD: Once you said to Daniel Buren, ‘You’ve never made a work without genitals’

AK: (laughs) He said, ‘I’ve never made a work without stripes.' And I say back: 'Daniel, you know what, I’ve never made a work without a vagina.’

MD: Did you, ever?

AK: No! Of course, it is not that literal. For example, I’ve made a circular blue, dark blue, void work, but really, I’m not interested in blue as a symbolic color. I'm interested in what blue does, which is that the dark blue void indicates an endless darkness. That's what I´m interested in. It makes these deep darkness’s, and that darkness eventually is vaginal. It depends on how you trace the void.

MD: Many times, your work takes the form of subtraction. Non-objects, voids, protos. In those cases, are you sculpting space or absence?

AK: I mean the eventual goal of the modernist adventure it seems to me, is the rocket, going upwards and onwards into the blue sky.

MD: Super masculine

AK: Phallic in every possible way. One thinks of Brancusi’s Bird in Space and it leads to a rocket, it leads upwards.

Freud, I think, proposes a whole other idea of space, which I don’t believe has ever been depicted adequately, the unheimlich, the uncanny. The platonic notion that man sits in the cave, looks out to watch the light and there it is, all outward and onward. What this doesn’t acknowledge is that there is the back of the cave, which is dark, where the light never gets to. The suggestion, for me, is that this is female, and the obvious conclusion is that the negative form that this implies is also involuted, and turning inside-out.

I've have been truly taken with that idea. It upturns the notion of modernity and questions its ideas of progress, of forwards, onwards. In fact, what is implied by this alternative notion of space is that it is backwards, uncomfortable, dark and uncanny, that it catches you with beasts and horrid imaginings. I think this is more like our reality than is this bullshit idea of progress. The implications of the space of these forms is involuted, upside down, the world turned upside down. They are necessarily negative, but not in a pejoratively sense, they are negative acknowledging the fact that a Dantesque imagining of limbo and the underworld is a psychic reality, one we live with everyday and don’t want to fully acknowledge.

MD: Negative and subtractive. 

AK: Yes, I’m not really interested in making a positive form; I’m interested what happens in the negative form.

MD: Can art still slow down time?

AK: That is another very important question. Because time, like space, as Einstein pointed out very clearly, are both deeply mysterious. Time isn’t just the passing, something else occurs, when you enter the forum of a work, it can push you into a kind of reverie, a dreamy state in which time stands still and the moment becomes longer, even if it is only brief.  When this happens, it is mystical, it is a true change of being. It is also beyond words, it is like those two figures standing at the edge of a cliff in Caspar David Friedrich’s painting. We are standing outside the painting watching them looking at the big landscape, having a dreamy reverie, it is what has been called the sublime. But there are many kinds of sublime. In art world terms, there’s of course Rothko sublime, deep dark ineffable space, but there is another kind which has to do with scale. Scale is truly mysterious. It is not necessarily with the size of a thing, but with its presence; it is a different kind of sublime. And then I expect that the truly discomforting sublime, the one that is really hard to explore, is one that is impassioned, perhaps angry, perhaps deeply aggressive - more to do with the goddess. This proverbial goddess is not nice, she’s Kali, she's going to eat your blood and take your guts, do something terrifyingly dangerous. She is the taker and giver of life.

MD: What is the gender of your work?

AK: Definitely female! (laughs)

MD: You talked about scale and you talked about the importance of scale in your work, but once you said something that I liked which is: ‘are we larger inside than we are outside?’. When you are dealing with scale you are dealing with these two schemes. The inside scale and the outside scale.

AK: You know, put simply, my body, my arms, my legs, my chest: this is me, but it is not me. If I close my eyes for one second, there is another me, much bigger. My inside is much bigger than this container which is my body and that is true of everyone of us and we know it. There is this strange sense in physicality of non-physicality and we know from physics that that is an abiding truth of almost everything. Can one make objects in which the interior is bigger, bigger than the thing that’s containing it? And of course, that’s been one of my endeavors.

MD: I am going to quote you on this: ‘There is no hierarchy of form but form has a propensity to meaning and meaning is a translation of art.’ What is the image of a mirror, itself or what it reflects?

AK: Mirror is confusing. Alice in Wonderland would tell you that, like the hole, the mirror is also the space; Lewis Carroll would propose that it is a tumbled down other world. I have rarely worked with straight mirrors. What I am really interested in is concavity. From the 15th or 16th century, concave mirrors were used in science but they were never part of art, and I have worked with them over many years, because they do very weird things. Firstly, they turn the world upside down, this of course has to do with my interest in inverted form.

Then they have this really curious other reality. If you put them on the wall, they in a way act like a painting. The traditional space of painting is always the picture plane and into the deep space beyond it, back to Caspar David Friedrich, if you like, or Rothko. A concave mirror has this weird reality, because it has a focus, its space is in front of the picture plane. Now that is confusing because on one level you might say it is a game, turning the world upside down, where is the point in which it turns the right way up, at the focal point of the mirror? In the last few years I have been painting these concave mirrors using lacquers to do fades, all kinds of different saturations, opacities and forms that confuse the two spaces. Moving the space back to both the traditional picture plane of painting, deep into and behind the wall, onward from the work, and then in front of the work also. It is confusing, and I’m interested in it as a proposition.

MD: There is something you said that I really like, it is the importance of artists of making bad work. And you said the phrase that 'I think is essential, that we conduct our education in public.' Why do you say that?

AK: Well, because it is a fact. We do conduct our educations in public. We as artists dare to risk a possible new proposition to ourselves and to the world, but you have to do it in public. If you are going to do it hiding away in the studio, then no one will see it. You might practice it in the studio but then you have to do it somewhere and let it live in the world. That is one thing. The other is that without risk there is really no possibility of a future.  And better to risk everything, than to risk just a little bit, because it is not really a risk if you risk a little bit. As I said already, what I know is of little interest, it is what I do not know that is much more important; what I might discover, what I might be, what I might excavate from my psyche. The way that I might trust that if it works for me it will work for you, if it has meaning for me it will have meaning for you. Do I know that? Of course I don't, but I am willing to risk it.

MD: What does the word surge mean to you?

AK: There are lots of implications, one of them is the emerging object. It’s a tsunami. It is a thing collecting itself, from some event that is far away that is slowly building itself and turning itself into a torrent that is going to overwhelm you

MD: Let’s talk about this event that took place in the Rolls-Royce factory in Scotland. What do you know about it?

AK: There were some Hawker Hunters with engines made by Rolls-Royce that were bought by the Chilean Air force. Those planes were used to bomb civilians. The engines were then at some later date returned to the Rolls-Royce factory in the UK to be refurbished, and the workers in the factory in Scotland refused to touch them. Which is to say that these are objects now tainted with murder, with blood, and this had a wonderful reception in Chile, in certain areas. I like that the objects represent solidarity and are an act of exactly that; solidarity between the workers and citizens, saying we will not touch these, we will not take part in this act of violence even if it is remotely. If more of the world worked like that we would be in a much better place. It is very difficult how we get co-opted just by sitting and watching, into acts of violence. It is Hannah Arendt all the way, isn’t it?

MD: Yes, they broke the system. In this exhibition, we have a strong side of physical brutality, on one hand with Shooting into the Corner (2009), with the engine work, with Svayambhu (2007); alternating with sublime virtuality, infiltrating your senses. Are they in conflict?

AK: I think they describe two different sides of what I was trying to talk of as the sublime. So actually, I don’t think they are in conflict at all. They are both to do with color. Blue is of course a color of reverie, and red is much more aggressive. The other side of it is that they are both interior. Shooting into the Corner isn’t just shooting into the corner, it is shooting pellets of meat and blood, as if it was an externalization of an interior state. It is also, in a Duchampian language, both male and female. Very phallic and very aggressive, and the corner is receptive and passive, a classic image of a feminine object.

MD: The corner, what is your fixation with corners?

AK: Corners are a proto-cultural object, even though they are ubiquitous, there is no architecture without a corner. What they do is they bring three planes, horizontal and verticals together, and they create a place, it is a place in which your body fits rather snugly. There is something deeply human about the corner. It has sexual implications, it has physical implications, it has cultural implications, it is a fundamental of architecture. There are so many layers; and artists have always been fascinated by the corner, the corner is a moment of origin. Also, when you think about it in the abstract, three lines are crossing and forming an object, which is the corner, but the lines continue, they don’t end. So, what is implied by the corner is a space beyond. It is an imaginary infinity. I think that’s also rather beautiful.

MD: We live in an age where a robot museum is being built by robots. A mine in Chile is operated by robots, mining minerals to make robots. Svaymabhu is a model of self-creation. The idea of self-creation, where the artist has some rules in which the work becomes. Where is this idea of self-creation initiated? Are we living in an age in which things will start making things and we may be exempt from the action?

AK: I think the greatest thing an artist can do is to make something mysterious. Now, what is mysterious? There aren’t many objects in the world that are mysterious. Most things are in the end knowable. One proposition is that anything made by the hand is in the end knowable, and that the fantasy of no hands - a thing that is just done - it is there, it has been there forever, can have the potential to be truly mysterious. Where did that come from, how did it get here, who made it? It doesn’t look made, there is no hand! That idea of the auto generated, the thing that made itself is, I would say, perhaps even another aspect of the sublime, but it is not a Kantian sublime, it is a pre-romantic sublime. There are places in India where you can see a lingam of Shiva self-manifest. It is just there by itself, it got there by itself, it has been there forever. Shiva manifesting himself on Earth, fabulous, mysterious and profound. Whether it is true or not doesn't matter, it is all fiction anyway! What this does is bring into question the whole idea of the fictitious in the object, and I think that is profound, because it is perhaps true that deeper realities are there in the un-real, than are there in the apparently real. Fiction carries this possibility of the ever-enduring. The idea that the object was always there, no hands, nobody made it, it is just there; it predates art, it is before anything, it goes to the beginning.

MD: This brings me to another question I have for you. I was going to ask you about the importance of the hand of the artist. Because you make work with your hands, but I will rephrase the question asking you what is the importance of taking the hands off the artwork?

AK: I make paintings, I don’t feel I am a painter but I use paint to make certain things present in some way or the other. But in this act of making a painting you can’t get away from your god damn hand! It is very hard to. And the problem of the hand is scale, the handprint has a scale. A sign of it on an object says that the object is made of many actions that are all that big. It is very difficult to get away from this human aspect, and the reason to get away from it is that it makes the object too understandable and approachable. Judd’s fantasy is no hands, it is all made industrially but that too has scale. So how do we not do industrial, not do hand, not do all the things that give away the scale? It is very hard. The point is it is not about fantasy it is about the poetic truth. Scale is given away by the sign of hand and we have to do better than that.

MD: You just recently did a Virtual Reality work and have also been working with a material that has been developed using Nano-technology. Why is it important for you to be working in these technological realms?

AK: Well I read this small article in the newspaper saying this guy had discovered the blackest black in the universe. I wrote him a letter and asked if he thought we could work together, and he wrote back to say there is no aesthetic application to this, it is highly technology driven and we're making it for the defense industry it has nothing to do with art. Eventually though, he agreed to meet and talk about it, and this begun the process of us working together to develop this material. Effectively it is a Nano surface, it is not really a paint, it doesn’t come out of a tube. It is a highly-complicated process that deposits this material on to a form, these particles are then put into a reactor and they stand up vertically. Just to give a sense of scale, if each of these particles was a meter wide, they would be 300 meters tall. They are like tall trees, and light gets trapped in the cavities between the particles. This material absorbs 99.8 % of all the light, it reflects just 0.2%, but the eye is a very clever machine, it can see a difference like that and in certain conditions you can see it. There is another material that only reflects 1% of the light and you can certainly see that, so it is very interesting how it works. I'm happy to work with that technology, to see where it can go and investigate the possibilities.

MD: You are a master of monochrome, you have worked that very strongly throughout your life and you have developed colors, the blacks, the reds but you recently showed me some multi-colored paintings. How has your relationship with color developed over the years?

AK: I have always been deeply interested in color, and I started out making pigment works. Pigment is both a material and a non-material. It is obviously connected to the earth, especially red, it comes from the earth. It is physical, and at the same time you cannot help but look at color with some act of reverie, you just can’t help it. We are made like that; our psychic matter is like that. Color does something to us, it is both physical and not physical at the same time, which is astonishing. I've come to understand that what it does is precisely what my whole project has been about. The emptied-out object, the object with the bigger inside, the non-object.

Working in the studio one day, I came across the idea of the emptied-out object and for whatever reason, which I still can’t fully recall, I painted it blue, very dark blue. And it voided, it did something bizarre, it filled itself up. It wasn’t an empty object; it was a full object. How could that be? Color plays a fundamental, perceptual role in understanding a philosophical problem which is that we have a horror of emptiness, we fill it up immediately, and with color we see empty as full. It is astonishing. So much so, that with Descent into Limbo (1992), the work I recently made in Portugal, a man walked into it, I have since discovered that he literally did that. He walked into the room, he saw this thing on the floor, it looked to him like a black paint spot on the floor, which is how it appears, and he said, 'I don’t believe this, I’m going to jump on it', he jumped and fell in. And his wife told him not to. She was in the room, she said 'don’t do it!' He did it anyway (laughs). Literally, that’s exactly what happened, I love it! 

Color isn’t a decorative medium, it isn’t something that sits on the surface of something else. It is, if you like, an entity. I have often said, I want to make something that’s red, that is so deeply red, it is almost as if when you look at it you are covered in red, in the same way as when you walk into a shower you get wet. I want color to do that. It is not enough to have a red thing or a yellow thing, it should take over your being, and I think that is very important.

MD: Your work has become more political over time and I would say even more narrative, sometimes not necessarily generated by the work but generated by the insertion of the work in society. I’m thinking of the Versailles project in our age. Suddenly you are connecting society and the works starts to create a narrative to them which is outside the work. How do you see that? I mean that your work is starting to impact and infiltrate in other terms in history.

AK: I am of course interested in that, but I am not interested in agitprop, art that is overtly political and outward in its political message. I keep saying I have nothing to say, stuff happens, keeps getting in the way, I keep bumping into shit that’s there in the work.

MD: But you didn’t do any of these things. They came to you.

AK: Exactly, and I feel that is important. Every affirmative act is political, it has to be. But that does not mean that one has to set out to say something or to comment on a political situation. That Cloud Gate (2004) was used by those vile NRA people; it happened and I felt it was right to conduct the court case and we did well, won it in the end. Which is great.

MD: Versailles?

AK: Versailles is more complicated. At the very start I did an interview with Julia Kristeva. In it we discuss, that there is if you like, an order to Versailles, the Sun King’s order in the form of Le Nôtre’s gardens.  It is very male and orderly. I made it my purpose to disrupt it and that was what the work was aiming to do very clearly, I turned the earth upside down, brought in some dirt, if you like. It is very interesting how if you make a hollow form it becomes associated with that which is vaginal. Even if it doesn’t look like it, it gets that. And then it invites abuse. We live in a world full of phallic forms, nobody abuses them. But the moment that there is something that is inverted or remotely vaginal, it gets abuse. In the initial act of vandalism, the work was daubed in paint and in the second incident it was covered in really nasty anti-Semitic graffiti. And I decided to leave it there, to say, ok, it is part of the work. Then, believe it or not, I got taken to court for displaying anti-Semitic material, by the French authorities!  The whole process was one of deep disquiet, it almost felt to me as if it was a precursor to the refusal of the foreigners in our midst and to the antiSemitism that is happening in France today. It was also concurrent with ISIS’s destruction of the archeological sites in Syria.

At one point I was invited by the President of France, Monsieur Hollande, to meet with him and I said to him in our meeting, ´M. Hollande, you really must call on people of public consciousness in France to condemn acts of violence against culture´ and he said to me in the most stupid way possible, ´Oh, no, no, no Mr. Kapoor, I can't do such a thing, you must do it.´ I thought it was pathetic. It seems to me that the establishment runs, and hides behind, a certain status quo. Especially when it comes to something that brings any kind of sexuality or challenges a given accepted forum. Versailles is a certain kind of French establishment, and the people of Versailles behaved appallingly too, on every level there was a complete shirking of accountability and a seemingly willful collusion in the sickening feelings that had erupted. The whole direction of the thing was pathetic, criminal in many ways. But the interesting thing is that they have now stopped doing solo artists shows at Versailles. Why? What are they afraid of?

MD: It is interesting to see, how your work, although it doesn’t have the intention, causes the reaction. This really shows the power of the work.

AK: Well, I am interested in disruption. It is very complicated. We live in a time when art has become hugely commodified. Everything is for sale. Everything is part of the market. We have no utopian ambition any longer - the left is gone, it has lost its ability to speak for a better world, sadly. And the only way we can speak for anything at all is in the bloody market, from within capitalism. There literally is nothing else. So, disruption seems to me to be the only possibility of our time.

MD: What are the political contexts of the times you are living in. What makes it an emergency now? What still motivates you to position yourself?

AK: I think one way of looking at where we are, is to say that we have failed. 'We' if you like, being the liberal elite. Our social view is one that is generally of the left and one that acknowledges the right of all humans to decent conditions, that is progressive. These are things we believe; we still believe them and we should believe them, but we have held this process to ourselves. We have failed to communicate it properly, and furthermore to give it to our brothers and sisters out there, and so they say, 'we don’t want this'. 'You are no longer radical', and we are no longer radical, that is a fact. Those that are radical are now called Steve fucking Bannon. The radical has moved to the right and we have lost our ground.

 What does it say about art though? Is it, for example, that the market has so taken over what we do as artists, that we have no possibility of being radical? If everything is for sale, then how can it be radical? With a few exceptions, there are very few artists who are daring enough nowadays to not play the game. I’m a fine one to talk, in the sense that I do play the game. My works are at the art fairs, my works are for sale and by any standards I am well off as an artist. I'm not going to bullshit and pretend that isn't so. So, how can you do that and the opposite?

It may well be that you can’t. But it is a question that we in all consciousness as artists have to ask ourselves. Where do we sit with this difficult subject? It is not about making more or less nice objects. Who gives a shit in the end? It is a much more fundamental cultural question about how and what we strive to aim at poetically in an age that consumes everything. Where is poetry? How can there be poetry, if it is bought and sold? These are fundamental questions and leave us with huge problems that I don’t know the answer to. And we keep complicating it. Do we say that so called female subject matter can only be made by women? Do we say that so called black art can only be made by black artist? We keep compartmentalizing all these versions of our self. We have to refuse every one of those! We have to turn them upside down.

MD: You said it once, you don’t want to make Indian art.

AK: I’m not interested in being an Indian artist, fuck that! It is very complicated, and we have to be angry against this categorization of the artist. We have to refuse it at every level.

MD: What still inspires you, Beuys, Shiva...?

AK: It is very hard to see Beuys nowadays. There hasn’t been a Beuys show since Beuys died. And one asks oneself why, what is it? Is it that the cult of personality that he evoked around himself eclipsed the work and now that he's not around it difficult to look at the work? Even if that's only a little bit true its hugely problematic. One thing is clear from Beuys is the proposition of the shamanistic as the role of the artist, as Duchamp said before Beuys, the artist as a mystic being who brings in poetic propositions from the ether. But the second half of that is, it is the viewer who completes the circle. The viewer brings their own psychic matter to the equation and completes the art work. Yu can´t do it alone; you must do it with the conceptual viewer in mind.

Recently I went to see the exhibition Ashurbanipal at the British Museum. One the greatest Syrian kings. I love objects where we have lost the memory of what made them. A beast like lion headed, winged, falcon legged man-person-thing is all over these images. Who is he? Ahura Mazda, a primal, shamanistic being, somewhere between man, beast, earth and sky. What part of the human psyche did that come from? How did that arrive in such clearly codified form?  I think those are questions that are utterly fascinating. Is there a contemporary equivalent? Can we find one? Again, there is nothing nice about this. He is not this benevolent sky watching figure that says yes, all is well. It is the opposite. He is saying you will die! He has a dagger in his hand. You will die and I am the one who will kill you! Terrifying. In this imagery, all the rituals are rituals of blood. I find all those kinds of things, deeply inspiring I have to say. They are right up my street. (laughs)

 

Source:
Catálogo Corpartes. Anish Kapoor. Surge (2019). pp 78-107

Blood and Light
Julia Kristeva

Edited extract from a conversation between Julia Kristeva and Anish Kapoor, printed in the catalogue for the installation of works at the Château de Versailles, 2015. After they spoke of Shooting into the Corner (2009-2013) and Dirty Corner (2011-2015), they considered Kapoor’s wish to defy the rationality of André Le Nôtre’s design for the gardens at Versailles.
 

Julia Kristeva: Your mirrors are my favourite stopping-points. Their formal purity unfolds another emotion, which we haven’t mentioned yet: joy. Something musical, light, truly celestial. The Sky Mirror (2013) in front of the Parterre d’Eau and the fascinating, masterful C-Curve (2007) on the château steps complete the infinity of astral light in the presence of the now. This vertical time that does not elapse, or an infinite point, something that only humans possess, as Albert Einstein noted, regretting its absence from science. 

This grasp of cosmic expansion in a piece made by man, which you offer us with these huge lenses—I discovered it for myself recently, right there in Versailles, in an unusual form. In Louis XV’s Clock Room, an enchanted clock conceived by Claude Siméon Passemant (1702–1769), which he presented to the Academy of Sciences in 1749 and which was programmed to give the “universal time” until the year 9999. According to the Kabbalah, this number evokes the foundation, the union of masculine and feminine, as well as dissolution, and even the Apocalypse. This reminds me of your idea of abolishing time.

What’s more, in its rococo housing made by the clockmaker Dauthiau and the bronze sculptors, the Caffieris, Passement’s android clockwork figure is… devoid of arms and of hands. And It didn’t escape me that you are no lover of hands: to the point of making us believe that you “worked quite hard to get rid of the hand,” that “the hand of the artist is overrated,” and that “the key is in the intention.” Is your preferred organ for achieving this extravagant goal the gaze? The skin or the interior? When I am Pregnant (1992), you write, like “a white form on a white wall,” or red on red, or 9999. Handless, your intention is visibly cosmic.
 

Anish Kapoor: Beautifully said. I love what I hear about your investigation of the Kabbalistic. To start backwards, with hands. Some of the artists I admire most had a lot of hands, you know, hands are all over their work. But really, all those hands are just in order to convince us that the force at work is not human, that somehow it is all beyond the body. That is one of the fascinating problems. How can the hand also not be a hand? The hand always implies a kind of expression. It is as if then there is something to say. I am interested in states of being that are not expressive, that are beyond expression. A place where the hand is a vast object, so big as to not have a thumb print, without gesture, where only intention matters. Of course this is a phantasmatic problem. I’ve often tried to work with the idea of the auto-generated object, the object that makes itself, that made itself. And in doing, the fiction is that it resolves the problem of where the body is. It is the other side of the human equation. The body is problematic, what the body does is problematic. The body is always locked into its attitudes to sexuality, desire and death, all of those difficult human questions. The removal of the hand is somehow the other side of that, it is beyond me and possibly therefore beyond time. 

You quite rightly point to it here, with your reference to the Kabbalistic. An apocalyptic resolution of the problem of being. In other words, a world that is made of opposites: male and female, dark and light, good and bad, geometry and abjection. Somehow, no hand seems to me to point to the possibility of a kind of utopia. It is a kind of transcendent.

It is our place as artists to intuit the cosmic. What I know is never enough. My instinct throws me into new possibilities. My work is to trust and to do. Internal languages link to cosmic possibilities. Skin is the membrane of joining, it is permeable and transparent. It contains and yet is a medium of the identity between inside and outside. What is inside it is as profoundly mysterious as what is in the cosmos and in many ways identical to it. Body, spirit and cosmos are both poetically potent and interdependent.


JK: The hand is the organ of production par excellence, expressing and making objects. Homo faber is a worker. We all want to work, having a job gives us dignity, losing our job is a loss of status, etcetera. The aesthetic intention you mention is not a “making” in that sense of the word, more a way of transcending, not only work, but also expression itself, the self, desire, and the body. We could say it’s a “physical transcendence,” because you give form to these types of transcendence in signs that are material, but are not perceived as finished works or expressions; they are seen, rather, as invitations to transcend what exists.
 

AK: In your work on abjection, you talk about the pre-symbolic object, the state before, and maybe beyond. 

In art, narrative arises through process. The object does not need to say anything, it allows narrative and meaning to arise, rather as in psychoanalysis. Perhaps it is possible for art to touch upon this state of ambiguous matter which is pre-symbolic, which is before the object, which is just condition, held somehow in that pre-formed. Before words… we know this state and yet cannot fully hold or name it… a condition of proto-matter, proto-form or the non-object as I have previously called it. This is an internal object, known and unknown.

Source:
MUAC Catalog, UNAM (Ed.) (2016) Anish Kapoor. Archeology: Biology, CDMX, Mexico: Editorial MUAC / UNAM. pp. 126-129

Sky Mirror (2006). Anish Kapoor. All rights reserved, DACS/SAVA, 2019

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Leviathan, 2011. Anish Kapoor. All rights reserved, DACS/SAVA, 2019

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Excerpts from two conversations with Anish Kapoor
Homi K. Bhabha

Extracts from two conversations between Anish Kapoor and Homi K. Bhabha. Their dialogue has extended over more than twenty years, and includes shared memories of growing up in Mumbai.

June 1, 1993

Anish Kapoor (AK): The void has many presences. Its presence as fear is towards the loss of the self, from a non-object to a non-self. The idea of being somehow consumed by the object, or in the non-object, in the body, in the cave, in the womb, etc. I have always been drawn to a notion of fear, towards a sensation of vertigo, of falling, of being pulled inwards. This is a notion of the sublime which reverses the picture of union with light. This is an inversion, a sort of turning inside-out. This is a vision of darkness. Fear is a darkness of which the eye is uncertain, towards which the hand turns in hope of contact, and in which only the imagination has the possibility of escape.

Homi K. Bhabha (HB): So supposing there is this one particular kind of relationship between the non-object and the non-self. But there is also a way in which those moments of the void can be productive through the erasure of a particular kind of individualist history of the self, towards a recognition of something much more collective. Now, the “not” is just a negation. It could be a much more public recognition of symbolic, unconscious elements that are not so easily discernible in the occurrence of everyday life, but no less a part of the inter-subjective space. A space where the erasure of a memory or the suppression of a subject’s history becomes the element of recognition that provides the links for a community, or the narrative of its history.

AK: The non-subject void. The space between subject and non-subject, between recognition and chaos.

HB: This reminds me of the lyrics of an American song: “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, but don’t mess with Mr. In-between.”1

AK: I think that’s what we’re doing, messing.

HB: We’re messing with the in-between, the void, the notthere.

AK: Who is not here and who is here, who is actually in-between.

HB: In some of my work, I’ve called this the third space, but not a third space that integrates two given spaces. I put this to you because I see the great effect of your work in this area that I call the third space. Critics are too keen to ask, in response to your work, what belongs to India, what to the West? What is of the inside and what is of the outside? And as you quite rightly put it a moment ago, I think that what we are doing is messing with the boundary that defines these divisions of space, time and culture. We are more interested in why, within certain traditions of critical thinking, people can only deal with cultural difference by dividing it into a binary schema or a polarized schema.

AK: It is easier to define in-betweeness in terms of what it is not.

HB: Would it be a simplification to say, first of all, that the strategy of this space, to put it in concrete terms, is not dissimilar from the strategy of the space when we actually see it physically in the work? It is not just darkness versus light; or the smoothness of the black versus the wrinkling of the stone; or the frangible surface of the pigment versus the hard shape inside. It is much more the way in which the void is unavoidably present in all the surfaces of presence. To look for a positive statement of this shape, of the void, we will not be able to find it in the way in which other positive presences and positive forms of naming are found. There is a sense in which it is thought that clarity of thought lies in making statements in the affirmative, not in the negative. Don’t tell us what a thing is not, tell us what it is—but that is so complicit with a certain historical and cultural notion of knowledge. I often say to people, why? Why can’t I say things as a gathering of negatives, and why can you not accept that it is somehow rhetorically, and even formally, in-between the saying of the one thing and the re-saying of it that something may exist? There is a particular philosophical tradition of putting things in the positive, so I think we should try, but I don’t think we should be overly hung up on that.

AK: Similarly the whole of the tradition of sculpture concentrates on positive form. The negative in sculpture has relied on a symbolic relationship with the positive. In the last few years I have been working to try and leave behind form and deal with non-form.
 

Recorded dialogue, first centered on the installation of Leviathan at the Grand Palais, Paris.

2011

Homi K. Bhabha: So I want to now talk to you about works that you have created within other works. Somehow where the frame has been given to you, a certain frame. That remarkable work called Taratantara (1999), which was in a way the proto-object for what you did later at the Tate [Modern], Marsyas (2002). Then, of course, there’s Memory (2008), which you also built within another structure. So what does it feel like building to scale, to an aesthetic and architectural scale, within another pre-given scale? How is that different to working under the open sky, so to speak, or is there always a ceiling in your mind?

Anish Kapoor: There are a number of things, one thing inside the other; at the right dimensions you can never picture the object. I think not being able to picture the object is very important. You can never make it into an image. It is always partial; it is always part of something. The hiding and the revealing of the vessel. Now, this partial thing deeply interests me because one has to go through a process in one’s poetic self to reconstruct the object internally. You see bits of it here, another bit of it there. You have to make a plan of it in your head. I’ve always felt that sculpture that reveals its plan, its view from above, is dead. It’s as if you’ve then got it and the getting of it takes away the poetry. Leviathan at Monumenta requires the viewer to go in the building first and view the sculpture from the interior. Viewed from the interior it is effectively three holes, which are given by both the scale and the architecture of the building. The architecture forms itself in a kind of truncated cruciform. What I require the viewer to do is to come out of the piece and out of the building and walk in through another door and see the object from the outside of the form, but from the inside of the building, viewing the relation between the object and the building. One has to ask oneself whether this is the same object. And the proposition here is that the inside of the object and outside of the object are totally different from each other.

HB: Well, here I want to stop you because this dogmatism is very unlike you.

AK: It is not dogma! It is a proposition about two different realities which are simultaneously the same reality.

HB: The subtlety and intrigue of your work lies in hesitation and indecision in the presence of something that has such a definite presence of its own. The inside and outside are not discrete or polarised: the one negative, the other positive. There’s this tremendous sort of desire to enter the work while knowing that it is resisting your entry—that there is a force that keeps you outside it. The affect of ambivalence, in my view, is written all over the work. So my sense is, if I might nudge you in a slightly different direction, that the real mystery of this work Leviathan (2011) lies in the fact that as you come inside and outside, you realise, at some level, the similitude of the object. But you realise at the same time that every aspect is also a differential moment. The work emits an effect that is tantalising because it uncannily signifies ‘the difference of the same,’ the ‘partialising of the whole’; ‘the making intimate of what is off-scale,’ ‘the surface exposure of the hidden interior.’ This is much more puzzling than a more fixed perception of what is negative and what is positive. Why are these works of a massive scale so beloved, when they are not benevolent? Why are they so loved and at the same time intriguing? Why are they not bombastic or hyperbolic? All right? I’ve been thinking about this and my response is that they’re not hyperbolic or bombastic because of the kind of movement they initiate in the spectator. It is a movement of iteration: outside to inside and back again, dark to light and back again. There is a sense of repetition and what repetition or iteration does is to unsettle the spectator’s sovereignty in relation to the object. It really does set up an intimate dialogue, and at the same time a kind of awesome distance, and it is that paradoxical kind of thing that you have touched, I think, very profoundly. Let me end by saying that Kant, in the mathematical sublime, says something that I think is germane to these works.

AK: Yes. He’s talking about Euclidean objects of various kinds.

HB: And he says you go close to them, you don’t see to the top of them; you retreat into the distance and you can see to the top, but the massive presence is ‘put into perspective’ and loses some of its immediate power. It’s in that rhythm; it’s in that iterative rhythm that the work develops its scale.

AK: Let me push this one little step further, which I think it can go, and that is that Euclidean objects have, if you like, a totalness and it’s the perception and the diminishing of that perception as one looks at objects that one knows intellectually are whole. That is part of the poetics of this iteration, this moving backwards and forwards. It’s as if in the knowledge that it’s a whole object and in the experience of it as a part object, you can do this curious writing of the rest of the sentence.

HB: No, no, absolutely.

AK: Which is very, very beautiful, or can be.

HB: Very much so and I think that is what is so wonderful about the iterative as I’ve explained it. The beauty of the iterative is its virtual presence, its performance; its medium or material of its meaning-making is time and perception.

AK: Time, perception, and space, and I love the idea of course of the performative. That the object never sits or you never sit passively. You never sit passively, neither you nor the object.

HB: Neither you nor the object, exactly. That’s why I’m suggesting neither inside nor outside. It’s this kind of iterative partiality through which you have to, in a way, come in and make the object, as the object is being made and unmade, in proximity to you.

1— “Accentuate the Positive” written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. Copyright Warner Chappell Music Ltd. Reproduced by permission of International Music Publishers Ltd.

Source:
MUAC Catalog, UNAM (Ed.) (2016) Anish Kapoor. Archeology: Biology, CDMX, Mexico: Editorial MUAC / UNAM. pp. 96-103

The Wonders of Art
Lee Ufan

…it is the same ground that is once more stirring under our feet.
Michel Foucault, The Order of Things


It is one of the lifelines for the tired world of contemporary art that Anish Kapoor stands, together with a handful of other great artists, at its forefront. Through his superlative visual technique, his incorporation of art’s most robust elements, his rich palette of expressive techniques and his gestures towards the unknown as construed in a positive, affirmative sense, he is a creator who fearlessly proves art’s power to rouse. Not just his works on a giant scale such as Leviathan (2011), but also in other works of Kapoor’s, such as his small art objects, floors, walls, mirrors, and works in wax, his way of handling colours, forms, materials and space enables him to consistently produce a fresh kind of art, using the artistic mind to awaken a strong imaginative force. We could say that his work uses the power of art in order to open our eyes to a sense of the unknown, a primitive sense—a cosmic sense—lying dormant in our bodies, and in the world itself.
(...)

Sometimes Kapoor pulls images of primitive generative processes out of everyday repetition, or the reinterpretation of violent acts. In the work My Red Homeland (2003), for instance, a square object affixed to the end of a metal rod set atop a great pile of red wax like a mound of blood rotates like the hand of a clock, leaving behind the traces of its own self-generative process. Kapoor’s conception of the generative process is captivating because it stands apart from the idea of production as it is conceptualized within the capitalist system. Rather, it is an intimation of the cyclical, self-perpetuating movement that is observed in the natural world. Seen from a macro level, the efforts of mankind will never overcome the events of the cosmos. Coming into contact with Kapoor’s works of generation, one is faced with a message which contains elements of both warning and regret towards the thoughtlessness and foolishness of the proliferation of desires, and the endlessly expanding capitalism and warmongery rife in the world today.  It is not Kapoor’s way to address directly the state of society, political issues, cultural trends and so on within his work. His method is always a primeval, artistic one, through which we grasp the critical transcendence of the act of looking, and the dynamism of art. The use of motifs and methods which resonate deeply with every age and situation allows his work to break through past ordinariness to represent the sublimity of the world’s infinitude. This tells us something about Kapoor’s philosophy, his view of the world. The act of looking is fundamentally a form of unknown encounter, and the world is full of wonders. It is in the settings where these kinds of wonders are evoked that people see and experience that transcendence, and the sense of the sublime inherent in it. 

When we speak of “the sublime,” it is common to imagine the kind of world lying beyond nature as envisaged by Kant, an unknowable realm which is hard for the human intellect even to grasp. For Kapoor, however, the sublime is something which is unconnected to questions of scale, or natural versus artificial, and is rather something which delights us with its myths and hallucinations, which sparkles and surprises, an intimate expression of infinity that is perhaps analogous to an extension of our physical sensation. If we were to approach subject of the sublime in Indian terms, we would probably find ourselves speaking of reverence either for the zero-dimension where time and space intersect and dissolve, or else for hallucinatory experiences of hybrid forms. The installation Ascension (2003) is a stunning depiction of disappearance and void. The sight of the wavering column of steam that is illuminated by the light from the windows as it rises silently is intimate in feel, and yet so gentle that it seems to overcome a sense of physicality and transform itself into something sublime. Encountering this work, even those with no Christian affiliations are overcome by a kind of ecstasy that accompanies the mysteries of disappearance and ascension, and the viewing of this event. 

This idea of a return to the void is particularly prevalent  in Kapoor’s work. The use of mirrored and sometimes distorted surfaces as well as reflecting light in order to obliterate physical form, result in an increased emphasis on the hallucinatory and interchangeable aspects of the act of looking in his work. The refracted and reflected impressions observed on a curved reflective metal surface, the distortions of the space, and the vibrations in the surrounding area; these phenomena give rise to a feeling of other-dimensional happenings. 

With these works, we, the viewers, do not contemplate an object that is separate from us, but rather blend together with that object, disappear along with it as the surrounding space is reborn around us. The artist creates the work of art, and, owing to this creation, the surroundings, which have not been created, are also reborn. We might say that things which have been created and those which have not been rebound off one another, forming vibrations, creating a new kind of blank space in the surrounding area. In modern art, the artist’s ideas were made into objects of contemplation, but with Kapoor, the meaning of “creating” and “looking” changed. To borrow the ideas of Merleau-Ponty, the artist bestows muscles to the space through the creative process, so that the world within that space can become visible.

In our everyday lives, we are aware of neither the depths of the earth nor the sky, and are unconcerned with their existence, but Kapoor brings these spaces clearly into awareness. His way of giving concave-convex representation to spaces thought to be invisible ensures their being perceived as very real entities. Spaces which have become absent for us through their ever-presence are made evident through the artist’s suggestions, the artist’s work. 

We take for granted that the land on which we live is unshakeable. It is a part of our unconscious, and we do not see it, fail to notice it. Kapoor focuses on the land itself, incorporating into his work metaphors for movements in the earth’s crust, as natural phenomena. He creates great cracks in the earth’s surface like those resulting from an earthquake, and paints them black. This artificial act is more disturbing and intense than any actual earthquake would be. Yet even these unnerving cracks, which seem like an accident, might disappear in the blink of an eye at any moment. A zero-dimensional reversal between what is there and what is not is evoked ceaselessly. It is not only the void of the sky, the darkness of the earth, the presence of the land and such “existent” phenomena that become evident through the placement of Kapoor’s art works and installations in the world, but also the limitlessness and the uncountability of the phenomena that make up our universe. 

Not only do Kapoor’s works encourage the awakening of a special visual sense, but they also refine our sense of hearing. No sooner have people laid their eyes on one of Kapoor’s works, they find themselves silenced, straining their ears as if to hear better the soundlessness. The vibrancy lent to objects and places by the scattering of coloured powder, the gentle swellings of the space or the indentations sinking into deep darkness, and the spread of the reflective surfaces all seem to carry with them a perceptible soundless echo. Even the works in dense wax, or the sculpture formed of piled-up liquid concrete squeezed out of a pipe, seem to have an inexplicable silence at their core, which runs contrary to their representational quality. The basso continuo that runs through Kapoor’s work could be said to be a kind of all-penetrating silence, a form of meditativeness. Amidst a world of contemporary art clamorous with words and knowledge, Kapoor’s work is silent and wordless, yet the powerfully vibrating sound waves which it emits, waves which transcend noise and words, have a meditative effect on us. The act of observing, which is capable of engendering a cosmic, other-dimensional sense, is not unconnected to the resonance that occurs in our visual and aural senses, and the purification of those senses. The reaction that Kapoor’s works provoke, of listening to noiselessness, is truly a physical sensation for the viewer. Nor is this true only with respect to our aural sensations; also that physical sensation which accompanies the primeval form of “looking” frees our visual sense from its linguistic bonds. 

This liberation of our visuality from language has released art from the curse of modernity. Through that restoration of our physicality which takes place when we engage in the “act of looking,” we are able to take apart the linguistically embedded object, and face the world’s brilliance in an unmediated fashion. It is precisely the activation of the body’s responsiveness needed in this form of resounding with the world that paves the way forth to a new dimension of expression. This form of physical sensation has opened up the world of art, expanding the range of both the external spatio-temporal world and our own psychic realm. 

Kapoor’s work has come to be permeated with ambivalent dualities: that which is artistically created maintains a link with the real; that which is physical is also transcendent; and that which has mythical references is also a modern, universal entity. Here, art is construed not as an expression of the artist’s consciousness or as an object of perception, but rather as a creation that enables an awareness of externality and a sense of transcendence through its physical resonance with the world outside of it. According to this attitude then, neither reason nor explanations are necessary in viewing art. Phenomena such as myths, dreams, philosophy, locality and so on may serve as stimuli, and lead to a enrichment of the artist’s ideas, but this is something that comes to an end in the creation process itself. It is more than sufficient for people to approach the work in front of them with an empty mind. 

Kapoor’s art works do not permit distance. Encountering them, one experiences new events and becomes a part of this world. One is also struck, heart a-flutter, by the sheer array of wonders that life has to offer.

Source:
MUAC Catalog, UNAM (Ed.) (2016) Anish Kapoor. Archeology: Biology, CDMX, Mexico: Editorial MUAC / UNAM. pp. 126-129

Ascension, 2003. Anish Kapoor. All rights reserved, DACS/SAVA, 2019

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