In 1997, I described globalization to some European philanthropists as:
'achieved by the imposition of the same system of exchange everywhere. It is not too
fanciful to say that, in the gridwork of electronic capital, we achieve something that resembles that abstract ball covered in latitudes and longitudes, cut by virtual lines—once the equator and the tropics, now drawn increasingly by other requirements—imperatives?—of Geographical Information Systems. The globe is on our computers. No one lives there; and we think that we can aim to control globality. The planet is in the species of alterity, belonging to another system; and yet we inhabit it, on loan. It is not really amenable to a neat contrast with the globe.' 1
The work of Anish Kapoor has taught me to add to this thinking of globalization.
I can think of Memory (2008) as one of those flattened one-dimensional representations of the globe given flesh. Perhaps it resembles more a dirigible—early instrument of global war—tamed now into a blimp, vehicle of minor commercial enterprise. When I saw the first representations of Memory, it was the color of dried blood—only slightly less vibrant than the violent beckoning reds of My Red Homeland (2003)—and resembled an inner organ of beast or fowl that a gigantic Mr. Leopold Bloom would eat with relish. I know nothing about color symbolism. It is, however, noticeable that the current coloring is a more sober rust-orange, not the red of My Red Homeland, nor the cold whites and deep blues of Whiteout (2004) or My Body Your Body (1993); and not, of course, the shining of all the mirror-work. To borrow Kapoor’s phraseology, “this object does not carry mirroring.” Memory’s color will change as it submits itself to oxidation for the next couple of years. If I understand the aperture in the physical body of the work through which viewers look into a tiny seamless interior, with no indication of the grills, or perhaps just a glimpse, just suggestions of fabrication—latitude and longitude perhaps?—they promise the depth, with all the allure and menace of a void leading us to our individual deaths, that we secure as our world inside the global. Memory’s rusting exterior, and each of its unique, separately fashioned tiles, are, in the allegory of their making, a critique of the universalizing desire of globalization.
Many have noted that Kapoor’s work seems allusive as well as significant or referential: “his proto-forms are allusive rather than representational . . . there’s no overt symbolism.”2 I want to agree with this and rewrite allusion as trace. In Finnegans Wake, his last work, James Joyce perhaps tried to take the master sign-system—language—into traciness: “Maltomeetim, alltomatotetam, when a tale tarries shome shunter shove on. Fore auld they wauld to pree.”3 Non-expressive, non-compositional art, like that of Kapoor, shuttles the sign≠trace route both ways.
Recently, Kapoor said: “It can’t be helped that the body is the measure.” It was an interesting exchange in Boston at the Institute of Contemporary Art. The interlocutor’s word had been “man.” Kapoor quietly substituted “body,” changed sign to trace. But “man”—the holder of signs—still interferes. The subject remains “a stain in the field of vision.”4 Finnegans Wake itself is infinitely rationalized, as if all those traces were signs after all, proving that Joyce himself, ceaselessly manufacturing traces out of more and more riddling signs, was fighting a losing battle, or . . . playing to lose? We can’t know. We can only know that “man” interferes with “body.” The adjective “human” was implicit in the artist’s rejoinder to his questioner: “The [human] body is the measure. . . . It can’t be helped.” Thus it is that, faced with Kapoor’s Memory, I have said that it “looks like,” it “feels like.” A trace is worked out by means of analogies by the human tracker. The tracking of the trace continues through the animal into the animate and yes, the inanimate world. “Man” must think this tracing as genetic “script.”
Thus, if Kapoor tries to get below, above, and upstream from the human, and build a huge hollow red installation with a slow steel knife, motor-driven, cutting into the massy redness at a pace so slow as to be nearly imperceptible, and call it Past, Present, Future (2006), a lover would still be heard to murmur, “but the paint here is not getting really pushed around by that cutting edge.” Ah, but representation, even when only of an analogical abstraction, tracing, is a losing battle. Or is the artist playing to lose? Unknowable. The most striking thing when Kapoor speaks is his humility. “I am interested in the old questions that I cannot answer.” Catch the trace is the oldest problem in the book.
Just after I had my first walk through Kapoor’s studio in February 2008, I spoke to a group in Austria and said something like this: Just descriptively, upstream from politics, globalization is an island of languaging in a field of traces. What, then, is a trace? A sign system promises meaning. A trace does not promise anything. It is something that seems to suggest that there was something before. Think of the world’s richness of languages, and then think of what happens with the visual. I myself began to think of this much more carefully when I was with Kapoor three or four weeks ago. He is making a colossal sculpture for the Deutsche Guggenheim and I was asked to write an essay about it. As I’m trying to figure out what it is that this very smart guy wants, I am beginning to realize that he is trying to represent traces (Zwischenräume der Zeit).5 That’s not a sign system; it’s like a Spur (the German word for trace). It’s like seeing elephant shit on the forest floor. It can be either that there were elephants, or, it could be that you are hallucinating. Or it could be that someone put the excrement there as a decoy. It is an indefinite “inventory of traces.”6 A trace is not a sign. Rather than theorize globalization as a general field of translation which (in spite of all the empiricization of apparently impersonal, mechanical translation,) privileges host or target, we should instead learn to think that the human subject in globalization is an island of languaging—unevenly understanding some languages and idioms with the “first” language as a monitor—within an entire field of traces where understanding follows no guarantee.
If, then, for me, looking at Kapoor’s work, globalization became supplemented as an island of language in an ocean of traces, I have to go back to the binary opposition of verbal and visual denied by this intuition: namely, that art is visual, not verbal; that “language” can be used here only metaphorically. Then the question of truth in the visual, implicated in all non-expressive art, perhaps in all art, looms. And what might a trace be, in this understanding of globalization opened up for me by a walk through Kapoor’s studio? To repeat: globalization makes us live on an island of language in an ocean of traces, with uncertain shores ever on the move. This “us” extends all the way to the unending circulation of labor exported from the global South. Each member or collectivity belonging to this tremendously large group understands one or a few languages and is sure that the other organizations of noise are meaning-full but not for him or her. Language and trace are here in a gender-differentiated taxonomy, rather than merely opposed (Her Blood, 1998). The presence of women in migrancy is class-differentiated, differentiated by their differential hold over and access to language and languages.
Why did I get this sense of globalization in Kapoor’s studio? Let us approach this question stealthily and indirectly. Let us say that language is a system that promises verifiable conceptual meaning. Everybody knows that the performance of a language is full of mystery, but the promise of meaning is always there. A trace, by contrast, seems to suggest an anteriority of some sort, altogether unverifiable. The thin figure of the trace lurks in the crannies of nuanced human endeavor. I have suggested elsewhere that Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of pure reason may be a “management of the undermining risk of the trace.”7 Jacques Derrida suggested in 1968 that the thought of the trace can curb the universalizing arrogance of language: “I have attempted to indicate a way out of the closure of this framework via the ‘trace,’ which is no more an effect than it has a cause, but which in and of itself, without extra-textual gloss [hors texte], is not sufficient to operate the necessary transgression.”8 The universalizing ambition of globalization would here qualify as a species of transgression, and Derrida feels that the thought of the trace might curb it in the epistemic sphere. And the curb might work as a solution in the field of the vanity of human wishes held up by capital. In a certain sense the non-verbal visual always traffics in traces. In another sense it is ever tempted, in its allegorical reaches and tendencies, to usurp linguisticity and take over its promise of meaning. Kapoor is a major player in this double adventure: keep the freedom of the trace—and at the same time see if you cannot hit the precision of the verbal. Memory is the impossible dream of a globalization attempting “worldliness” in the museum; the sealed orange blimp with a door or two.
For Kapoor, Memory is the representation of the trace of an unlikely body. But it is not the only trace: there is also the shit-object (Blood Stick, 2008). Shit is also the “writing of the body,” where, if you literalize, you will go toward the medical. But Kapoor is no organicist, “of the body” is contingent here, shit as writing is impersonal, invoking telecommunication in general. the computerized machine in the corner of the studio that “prints” cement-shit, and will one day build a house. Non-expressive signing of what is seen as the very production of the subject. Here is how Emmanuel Levinas describes human and house:
'The elements in and from which I live are also that to which I am opposed. The feat of having limited a part of this world and having closed it off, having access to the elements I enjoy by way of the door and the window, realizes extraterritoriality and the sovereignty of thought, anterior to the world to which it is posterior. Anterior posteriorly: separation is not thus “known;” it is thus produced. Memory is precisely the accomplishment of this ontological structure.' 9
Here is the range, then: at one end the trace, at the other the “impersonal” human. This is Kapoor’s space: rational and physiological, a common sense that is uncommon; nothing in-between. If we are speaking of globalization, it is not the usual anecdotal kind that asks us to incorporate something called “India” into a supposedly neutral art space.
The size of Marsyas (2002) taught Kapoor that no one sees the whole thing at once. And in Memory, he has made that part of the plan. Many have noticed that Marsyas wants to escape its enclosure. Marsyas the satyr wanted to go outside of human limits and beat the god Apollo at his own game. But he lost, and was sorely punished—flayed alive. If it is true that Kapoor has made the lesson of Marsyas—that no one sees the whole thing at once—part of the plan of Memory, then the lesson has been staged also as a reminder of the body as measure. And the idea of something inside that is bigger than the outside, earlier than Marsyas, is also present in Memory. Already in 2004, Laurent Busine writes of the skin of Melancholia (2004):
'This sculpture does not allow us to say that the circle is included in the square or, conversely, that the square is inscribed in the circle . . . . Have we not already stated that there is a difference between these forms, which in a certain way, rearrange the world into black and white; shadow and light; masculine and feminine; North and South . . . .?' 10
Derrida has beautifully described something akin to what is observed in Melancholia and Marsyas as invagination:
'This upper or initial boundary, which is commonly called the first line of a book, is forming a pocket inside the corpus. It is taking the form of an invagination through which the trait of the first line, the borderline, splits while remaining the same and traverses yet also bounds the corpus. . . . There is only content without edge—without boundary of frame—and there is only edge without content.'11
The concept-metaphor is of the womb. At Derrida’s death, I wrote of his take on sexual difference: “I, the son, am the mother’s trace, and the father’s sign.”12 (I wish I knew how to do a Jewish riff on Kapoor, whom I’ve heard referred to as “the Indian Jew.”)
The wall of the museum had to be opened and monumental cranes utilized to bring Past, Present, Future, and S-Curve (2006) into the galleries. For Memory, the floor in Berlin had to be reinforced, but since each tile was brought in separately, the walls did not have to be breached. Marsyas, representing a breaking through the museum walls, had to be installed inside by massive mechanical assistance.
We have spoken of the lesson of Marsyas, soft membrane stretched so tight that it is and seems hard, broken into bits by the (human) body’s gaze. We have also spoken of the intertextuality with Greek polytheism which echoes the trace-sign battle: Marsyas, human musician, mere trace competing, with Apollo, master of the sign—losing struggle confused productively in myth with playing to lose—body flayed inside out, stretched red membrane, gigantic flute, held as if it wishes to escape, the silvering on the back of the mirror trying to trump the looking glass, “the clapper of a truth that tilts.”13 But Memory turns outside in. “[Donald] Judd did the body, and now I must turn it inside out,” Kapoor said in Boston. Kapoor must play (Marsyas playing) Apollo, know/show the whole object in little, so that it may become wholly inaccessible in the museum, “to measure up to the heroic propositions of sculpture—making scale an instrument,” in more senses than one.14
My two best teachers (Tarak Nath Sen and Paul de Man) taught me that a work wants, but we should not read the work as a fulfillment of want—but rather as a staging of the wanting. I cobble together the invagination of Marsyas with the “unhomeliness” Anthony Vidler’s of “the female genital organs. This unheimlich place, however, is the entrance to the former Heim [home] of all human beings, to the place where each one of us lived once upon a time and in the beginning.”16 I connect it with the innocent bump—the navel of the dream—on the wall of When I am Pregnant (1992), with all the holes, with the red loincloth-like Cloak (1997), the Mother as a Mountain(s) (1985), and those installations, matching the Double Corner (2008) that hung in the corners of the room at the 2008 show at the Gladstone Gallery, New York, where the actively forgotten representation can be only that of castration.17
Homi K. Bhabha has written some stunning stuff on Kapoor, among which is his idea that Kapoor represents emptiness: “To get to the heart of Kapoor’s thinking and making we must register the difference between physicality of void space, and truly made emptiness.”18 I’d gloss “true making” and say that Kapoor puts together “textual blanks” in the tradition of Stéphane Mallarmé. An edge, a rim, a lip, a shore, the trace of a texting frames and lends depth, even direction, to the emptiness. I am reminded of Derrida’s remarks, made forty years ago: “thought is here for me a perfectly neutral name, the textual blank, the necessarily indeterminate index of a future epoch of differance.”19 The here and now carries the trace of the directedness of a thought in the future.
Shall I call such depthed blank space a hole? Again, in recent conversation, Kapoor reiterated his interest in holes. The body-with-holes is the most archaic source of human signage. Here all is analogy, all is “looks like,” all is even literal resemblance. The tremendous blue hole under the blue cover in the false wall (My Body Your Body) looks “like a vulva” at one angle and is crooked “like a penis” at another (comments I overheard at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston). An elegantly dressed early middle-aged woman hunkers down to peer into the Inwendig Volle Figur (2006). The doubled labias (Double Corner) watch from the top left corner of a room to remind us of the uncanny.
And yet, being cut off from a place of homeliness, from a home-land, allows us a “homeland.” Jeremy Waldron has written of this perceptively: “to congratulate oneself on following ‘the norms of my community,’ is already to take a point of view somewhat external to those norms, rather than to subscribe wholeheartedly to the substantive commitments that they embody.”20 Derrida has warned us about the dangers of linking “the ontological value of present-being [on] to its situation, to the stable and presentable determination of a locality, the topos of a territory, native soil, city, [or] body in general.”21 Kapoor has heeded and issued warnings about such simplistic linkages. His homeland is also the name of a pigment (My Red Homeland). It is clear that he plays with the double bind of the demands of the museums in the Euro-U.S. metropole; the bind between globalization and homeland. He is described variously by the mayors and dignitaries of the cities where he shows as “acclaimed British artist” (in London); “sculptor of Indian origin now resident in London” (in Málaga); and “l’artiste anglais” (in Nantes).
The word “Svayambhu” (meaning sui generis), is, for Kapoor, a modern common noun in Northern Indian languages. It lacks the authority of the Primum Mobile (First Mover/Moved) which would be roughly its meaning in sanskritic high Hinduism. In Svayambh (2007), he thus commemorates the animist objet trouvé whereby the subaltern undoes the grand Sanskrit elite meaning, and he imitates that impudence by turning the great Svayam (Self with a capital S) into rearranged museum space. His Svayambh has its meaning altered as the red liquid-solid object passes through doorways and other openings. There is irony in this profane transformation, as Svyambhu would be unavailable to the solemnity of the foreign India-fancier or the radical renouncer of myth and identity politics.
“I am I am I . . . All creation shivers with that sweet cry.”22 William Butler Yeats’s blissful (bliss is jouissance for those of you who care) heterotautological proposition is what keeps us going. In the name of “elongating time” the dream-worker unmoors us from this saving proposition. We are lost in the fun house. There are mirrors everywhere, creating virtual space by technical imaginings as they destroy the human image—though not completely. Just as a stopped analogue clock gives the correct time twice a day, so in the fable of measuring up to the proposition, truth-as-exactitude is just a particular case of fiction, and so are we more jolted because, in some of the more complex mirrorings, we are mirrored exactly now and again, only to be startled by “loss of reality” in our outlines, our positions.
In C-Curve (2007), I suddenly seem to step forth, third of the way out of the mirror, niftily standing with whoever happens to flank me on grounding conditions expanded and extended. In S-Curve, Narcissus loses her outline, not in conclusion, as in
Rainer Maria Rilke’s mirror elegy, but right in the middle, as her eyes are made to cross by the dip in the mirror.
Who makes that happen? Oops, wrong question. Go rather on the other side of the “S”, to the matched curve where Echo appears, and gives your voice back to you, and by chance you perform the gratuitous act of speaking up in the museum. You begin to see it’s not about the body as measure. It’s about those mirrors. “Spiegel, noch nie hat man wissend geschrieben, Was ihr in eurem Wesen seid.”23 Was Rilke waiting for Kapoor, who says that to “elongate time” is the sculptor’s task, just as he says elsewhere that “intimacy implies the shortening of the distance between the viewer and the viewed?”
In so far as a proposition—A is B—is the measure of reason, it is the heroic, the measure of man as the creator-hero. Man rising up to the proposition is Sigmund Freud’s fable of the emergence of the ego into the reality-principle. In order for this to happen, a minutely detailed metapsychological psychic apparatus must dovetail through the stricture (a constraint that structures) of repression. The constraints structure. As the mindspace (whatever it is) crosses the structuring fence, force-lines change into recognizable feelings. The ego moves into proposition land. Subject gets predicated. A is B. As Freud famously said, it is only when repression fails that the subject goes askew, and the analyst tracks the trace to a healing narrative of signs. We get a trace-signing of the psychic apparatus balancing itself so that it can retain its hold upon the proposition in public exchange—even when the “public” is just the rational ego in conversation with itself, in the inbuilt healing work of the dream. There can be no answer to the question “who dreams?” It is a proof of the power of the fable.
I can find an analogy to this fable in “Kapoor’s” measuring up to the heroic propositions of sculpture. “Kapoor” imagines the work. It is a truism for the least serious student of art that the imagination has no fixable subject. The star-system strives to deny this, as does the copyright, but the fact remains: “Who imagines?” is a public representation of the impossible question “who dreams?” I must keep the analogy loose: let me call Christopher Hornzee-Jones, the Director of Aerotrope Limited, the engineering company involved in developing the geometry of the form; Allard Bokma, the man at Centraalstaal, the steel company in the Netherlands that is fabricating the work; and Lammert Osinga, the ship builder who is working on the stiffeners that will join all the 154 Cor-Ten steel tiles to one another so that the globe/blimp could, in some only partially perceived bit of the kind of “objective truth” we learn in school, float in water, the constraining structurers of the real. The question “who made this?” is the absurd auteurism that plagues photography as well. The unconscious may not have a vote in a working democracy but it can confabulate the museum. “Anish Kapoor” is as vulnerable as any proper name, only more so.
Time and space—sign and trace, not a neat cut, of course. We look at a pesky item in 1000 Names (1979–80), by itself recognized (by a person with sufficient cultural information) as a cross between a marketplace cork hat and a solid mound of color powder. And then, at a certain angle, it hangs from the upper edge of S-Curve, like a ripe red Indian capsicum or chili pepper. This is Hindu polytheism, not Greek. There is nothing sacred about a thousand. What is generally missed is the subaltern model of these objects in the tin-box corner-shop. E.M. Forster got it when he described the framed sampler in the kitsch of an Indian temple, embroidered “God si love,” in the place of “God is love.”24
I saw the dream-object of Memory in miniature in Kapoor’s studio in London. Globalization was on my mind, and you know what I learned: a fluctuating island of signs in a sea of trace. As you look through the aperture and around the views of the full-size Memory, think yourself on the trace-sign shuttle and check out the exhilaration of not going through to the meaning.
Originally published in Anish Kapoor (c) 2008 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Used by permission.
1. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Imperatives to Re Imagine the Planet/Imperative zur Neuerfindung des Planeten, ed. Willi Goetschel (Vienna: Passagen, 1999), p. 44.
2. Nicholas Baume, ed., Past Present Future (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008), p. 22.
3. James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (New York: Viking, 1961), p. 336.
4. Jacques Lacan, “Of the gaze As Objet Petit a,” in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1978), p. 53.
5. Rainer Maria Rilke, Duineser Elegien (Leipzig: Insel, 1931).
6. Antonio Gramsci, “The History of the Subaltern Classes,” in Prison Notebooks, trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith (New York : International Publishers, 1971), pp. 52–55.
7. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Notes Toward a Tribute to Jacques Derrida,” differences 16, no. 3 (Fall 2005), p. 105.
8. Jacques Derrida, “Differance,” in Margins: Of Philosophy, trans. Allan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 12; translation modified by author.
9. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969),
10. Laurent Busine, “Plus belle qu’une peau tendue entre un carré et un cercle,” in Melancholia, exh. cat. (Grand-Hornu, Belgium: Musée des Arts Contemporains de la Communauté Française de Belgique du Grand-Hornu, 2004), p. 5, 13; author’s translation and emphasis.
11. Jacques Derrida, “Law of Genre,” Critical Inquiry 7 (Fall 1980), p. 70.
12. Spivak, “Notes Toward a Tribute to Jacques Derrida,” p. 102.
13. Jacques Derrida, Glas, trans. John P. Leavey and Richard Rand (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), p. 229.
14. Anish Kapoor, in conversation with the author, Boston, 2008.
15. Anthony Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modern Unhomely (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992).
16. Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny,” in Standard Edition of the Complete Psychoanalytical Works, vol. XVII, trans. Alix Strachey, et al. (New York: Norton, 1961), p. 245.
17. For one among many examples, see Anish Kapoor, My Red Homeland, exh. cat. (Málaga, Spain: Centro de Arte Contemporaneo de Málaga, 2006), p. 57.
18. Homi K. Bhabha, “Anish Kapoor: Making Emptiness,” in Anish Kapoor, exh. cat. (London: Hayward Gallery; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), p. 19.
19. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), p. 93; translation modified.
20. Jeremy Waldron, “What is Cosmopolitan?,” Journal of Political Philosophy 8, no. 2 (June 2000).
21. Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 82.
22. William Butler Yeats, “He and She,” in The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, ed. Richard J. Feinneran (New York: Scribner Paperback Poetry, 1996), p. 287.
23. Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus Bilingual Edition, trans. Willis Barnstone (Boston: Shambhala, 2004), p. 160.
24. E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 271.
Deutsche Guggenheim 2008
Guggenheim New York 2009
Materialising the unthought known: Reflections on the work of Anish Kapoor by Christopher Bollas
Turning the World Upside Down by Darian Leader