MD Marcello Dantas
AK Anish Kapoor
MD 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?
AK 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 of 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 kōan, 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 kōan, 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, earth-bound. 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, but 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, 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 to 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 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, it is 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 Let’s talk about this event that took place in the Rolls Royce Factory in Scotland. What do you now 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 it 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 for the work to become. 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 pre-dates 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 our 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 .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.
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 anti-Semitism that is happening in France today. It was also concurrent with ISIS’s destruction of the archeological sites in Syria.
At one point 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 M. 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 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. You can’t do it alone, you must do it with the conceptual viewer in mind.
Recently I went to see 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)
Published by Fundaciòn CorPartes in 'Surge', exhibition catalogue, 2019