Notes on the Recent Sculpture of Anish Kapoor
by Yehuda E Safran
..Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more : it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Macbeth, act V, scene 5
Creation is composed of the descending movement of gravity, the ascending movement of grace and the descending movement of the second degree of grace. A double movement of descent, to do again, out of love, what gravity does. Is not this double movement of descent the key to all art? The descent of Orpheus is in fact a prelude to the sounding of his lyre among the shadows, a hidden music representing art itself. Did not Apollo flay Marsyas because of his incomparable mastery of the art of fluteplaying?
We do not have the principle of rising up within us. We cannot climb to heaven through the air. It is only by directing our thoughts towards something better than ourselves that we are drawn upwards. If we are really raised up, this something is real. But, of course, Anish Kapoor will charm the air to give forth sound. In his work one constantly encounters a promise to show what can't be shown, a paradoxical promise, since he goes on to show how it is that this cannot be shown.
Angels, as J. L. Godard here he paraphrases Walter Benjamin on the aura intimates in his films, correspond that unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be. (Histoire(s) du cinema). Kapoor in fact turns from corporeal exchange to symbolic exchange and finally to abstraction, away from the clear, plastic definition of form toward the realm of the imaginary . This strategy has profound significance for the totality of his creative process: it means that the object increasingly becomes a sign referring to a thought. And since, in a more general sense, sculpture is thought in the making, Kapoor‚s vision presupposes a certain stance towards ideated objects, immanent to the subject - subjective realities which originate in and contain virtual objects. His art, to carry though the aforementioned paradox to its final conclusion, is a world of our own making, distinct from the phenomenal world which the eyes transmit to us, emerging from the innermost recesses of the psyche. Here, in Bregenz, on the top floor, Kapoor installed a large metal arm which turns around incredibly slowly, as it scoops up a fatty material which piles up and transforms itself. Each turn it all begins again. It is as if Beuys‚ existential obsession with fat was conjugated with Marcel Duchamp's Chocolate grinder on a vast scale. The entire floor becomes into a stage, a large round arena where sheer mechanical forces are at play. This work gives shape to what cannot be properly conceived and reproduced in thought but which in its reversibility can be grasped. It is the play that links and reverses the relations of inside/out , soul/ body, memory/forgetfulness. Like the rhetorical figure of chiasmus, Kapoor's artistic intervention implies a structure of implication and a continuous replication of possible differences. As such it invites the viewer to see things from the other side, to see things under the sign of radical difference. Reversibility is thereby reinforced by a sensory combination of touch-vision, figure-ground-figure. The visible coils around the seeing body as a tangible form which is tangent to it, so that the resulting mirror arrangements, themselves a fission of the seeing and the visible, the touching and the touched, implicate the intertwining of the visible and the touchable. Under these circumstances, which are themselves immanent relationships, we confront the immanent vortex of Kapoor's oeuvre. No doubt this complex strategy follows from Kapoor's Marsyas at the Tate, a work that is not only very large and horizontal, but also complementary, in Niels Bohr's sense, in that it is constantly relocating itself on the opposite side of the material spectrum.
Unlike the formal dexterity of Marsyas, where a highly sophisticated use of technology and synthetic materials made the triple funnel/cone possible, at Bregenz, on the contrary, rawness is the pivot of the piece. Each composition is torn to shreds as soon as the arm turns again and again. We are thus thrown before a witch's chalderon instead of being confronted by a final elegant arrangement. If the Tate installation has simultaneously acted upon the vertical dimension as much as on its horizontal counterpart, this installation brings into being something radically different. No longer a window on the world, it is the world, largely horizontal and nameless.
Transforming the visible into the invisible, we witness Kapoor performing sculpture, in the recognition that reality is fathomless and therefore unbearable to the distant observer. His is a perpetual reminder of man's immeasurable remoteness from the ideal of complete and undivided consciousness. His work gives the highest possible significance to our moments as they pass, transvaluing them as new moments of insight. What Ernst Bloch described as an 'anticipatory illumination--the illusion which is not only mere illusion, but rather a modality of meaning cloaked in images and can only be given in images˜thus recurs, as a recirculation of turbulent existence itself, of what is real. This illumination can be only depicted immanently because the ensemble of the material itself has been driven into an open space, in a form that is more achieved, more essential than in the immediate-sensory occurrence of the given configuration.
Indeed on the ground floor of this exhibition in Bregenz, we are suddenly confronted by an endless series of curtains, a double foil illuminated by changing lights, ranging from earth red to sky blue. These lights in fact create an immaterial void within the layers of tissue, and participate in different degree sof transparency and opacity, qualities which defy perceptual certainty but offer, as it were, clear ambiguity, a strategic delay, an opening up of place and time. Not unlike the Greek painter Apelles at the court of Alexander the Great , who, when participating in a painting competition, was asked to remove the curtain which presumably was hiding his painting, and replied that the curtain was the painting.
In Rosselini's Stromboli , a foreign woman witnesses the tuna-fishing, the tuna agony, then the volcano's eruption. She doesn't know how to react, she can't respond, it's too intense: "I've had it, I am afraid, it's too strange, so beautiful, God..." Certainly this is Visionary cinema, a kind of cinema in which descriptions replace objects. Yet it was not only cinema which adopted the purely optical and aural situation, when action and narrative break down; non-objective sculpture and related forms of architecture entered as well into these changes in the nature of perception, if only because they engaged a set of relations that differed from the one presupposed by the sensory-motor system of earlier objective sculpture. The desire to see more, see behind, to see through gives any installation the role of a temporary mask where any work is linked to others, so that the background in any image is always another image in an ideal mirroring. How can we wonder what there is to see behind an image when we can't even see what is in it or on the surface until we look with our mind's eye? What is more, we are no longer in the same type of space, as the image is no longer connected mechanically, but has become a disconnected and suspended space, not unlike the space created on the stage. It is assembled with what ever means are appropriate, disconnected spaces with tactile continuities, in which topological spaces correspond to spaces in physics and mathematics, but which sculpture and architecture construct in their own way. The relation between sculpture and thought is not unlike that between image and concept. But there is the relation to the image within the concept itself, and a relation to the concept within the image. Sculpture has always tried to construct an image of thought, of a way of thinking which in its way of making and the place it occupies in the world it is the opposite of a mere abstract form. We may define real and unreal, the imaginary as Bergson does (Matter and Memory ): reality as connection according to laws, the ongoing linkage of actualities, and unreality as what appears suddenly and discontinuously to consciousness, a virtuallity in the process of becoming actualized. If we are to dwell in the symbolic order, if it is to be sustained every presence will have to appear against the background of its possible absence or lack. Mirrors reflect things perfectly whether they are fragmented, beautiful or ugly; it never refuses to show a thing, nor does it retain the thing after it is gone. An offprint from life is in preparation - reaching into a space where only the ultimate objects of the mind may exist.
With the realization that space is also a temporal construct 'space is also a temporal notion' (Paul Klee )- the virtual dimension acquired its full force. The repertoire of image making are the making of painters who participate in the adventure. Paintings exists in order to bring out its potential for conceiving and seeing a different world and its multiple temporalities.
Here we evoke a light which, if it kept on spreading in all directions, would never be seen. Painting engages the undisclosed abundance of the unfamiliar and extraordinary, which means that it engages in and embraces the familiar and ordinary. In St Geminiano in a disused cinema Kapoor has installed a column of smoke with its center a towering void. A series of partitions in curved sections provide the smoke rising from the ground with guides which push it in an upwards spiral. Not so much The Morning After the Flood (Turner) but Barnett Newman archaic version of ever present light. Not the fearfulness of Pascal: "abime dans l'infini immensite des espace que j'ignore et qui m'ignorent..." or the delightful horror contemplated by early travelers to the Alps as among the largest objects of nature in its excessive grandeur, but the sublime as an internal object of experience. Indeed, when there is clearly a division, or even an antinomy between the creative individual and the collective taste an appeal to nature and beyond becomes inevitable. Thus we find in the Kantian concept of the sublime already an echo of Old Testament thunder, a column of fire at night and a column of smoke during the day. More an invitation for an immediate experience, the inaccessible otherness of the world and death are contemplated, while the 'I' is suspended, some time never to be regained again. Perhaps even Van-Gogh's painted shoes were Moses‚ shoes, taken off at the site of the burning bush. Hence melancholia sets in the presence of what 'is' which no mortal can decipher, a veil that cannot be lifted.
*'"I think they (painters) always just hope that they will be able to unlock the valves of sensation which just open out the whole appearance. " Francis Bacon, in an interview. (artpress 215 Juillet/Aout 98 p.22).
Paris, St Lattier
Yehuda E Safran
Kunsthaus Bregenz 2003