"Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs, he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on him and they still give him much trouble at times." Sigmund Freud
I’ve always been divided about Anish Kapoor’s work – but the more I read about his earlier interest in allegory, myth and his place in the world (as an alchemist), the more I want to believe that there is a whole other world inside the forms he creates. I came across an early interview with the sculptor – from 1990 – in which his worldview is more or less already constructed. Maybe I feel vaguely connected to him because of the diaspora trans-cultural nature of his personal history. I imagine that it is his need to fill a void – of his own identity – that his work is simultaneously tangible and absent.
Initially, I disliked the ArcelorMittal Orbit – it does not speak to my body, instead it represents the tower of artifice, corporate sponsorship and uncertain symbolism of Boris-era London. Upon deeper reflection, I dislike it even more. It does not speak to the same part of the spirit that his earlier work did. Because Kapoor’s speciality is in creating a void where none exists, the Orbit falls flat because its site and form is a void, but one that cannot be filled, even with tonnes of red-painted steel. Neither the pigment of the metal finish nor the complex engineering achieve the “strange juxtapositions” that charge his smaller pieces with meaning. However, the success of the Orbit is an opportunity to reflect on Kapoor’s success – and failure – of justifying his claim that “sculpture occupies the same space as your body.”
“Alchemy is the art of turning stone into gold. Anish Kapoor is an alchemist, turning chunks of granite into metaphorical caves, their hollow blue centers echoing with the black secrets of the unconscious. Ten years ago, he was a priest spreading piles of scarlet or yellow or blue pigment on the wall or floor, through which massive cement vegetables thrust into the room like vivid deities. His work reverberates with his own strange juxtapositions. His parents are both Indian, his father Hindu and his mother a Bombay Jew. He spent his childhood in Bombay, his adolescence in Israel, and had his art training in England, where he now lives. In 1990, Kapoor’s work will represent the United Kingdom in the Venice Biennialle.”
Anish Kapoor, by Ameena Meer. BOMB 30 / Winter 1990.
Looking back at the time, the artist’s trans-cultural biography must have been a major draw for the community at the time. It’s hard to imagine, but when I first moved to London in 1993, it was a very different city. Nothing was open on Saturday or Sunday; in fact it was illegal to open on Sunday – the day of worship (of the Church). Kapoor – and his sculptures – must have appeared incredibly exotic in that era of Britain, before he became part of the establishment, before being featured in the Financial Times, before being courted by industrialist billionnaires in search of a edifices (the Orbit, if you didn’t guess).
I urge you, before judging Kapoor harshly, to seek out early monographs of his work, in which he talks at length about the role of the Sacerdos (greek for priest) in an artwork, and the creation of a parallel reality. Maybe Kapoor should really delve into internet art. Do some animated GIFs. Then he’d be able to get back into his zone – into the void.