Prosthetic Aesthetics

"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

On Anish Kapoor, Part Two: from Microcosm to Narcissism

Is using mirrors “cheating”? While the scale of Anish Kapoor’s work relates to the human body, he often uses colour in its most primitive form – as saturated powder pigments applied to a shape. However, his recent use of mirrored surfaces (highly polished metal or chrome), has made me wonder: In sculpture, do mirrors simply cater towards the camera, and the narcissism of the viewer?

Early on in his career, Kapoor made his name with a series of allegorical and highly pigmented forms that recalled monumental architecture, entitled 1000 Names. They are very matte. It was a shrewd move, bringing bold colour – we’re talking PANTONE type colour – to the normally greyscale world of serious Sculpture. The series places a series of objects together, in compositions suggesting a microcosmic universe.

White sand, Red millet, Many Flowers, 1982. A representative work from Kapoor.

What’s not to like? Title – suggestive yet elusive. Colour – vibrant hues suggesting a uniquely vibrant Asian perspective. Forms – Olympian architecture, small enough to stay cute and appealing. This is the kind of thing that lead to Kapoor’s being chosen for the British Pavilion at the 1990 Venice Biennale, which I mentioned in the previous post.

Fast forward to 2010, and the Sky Mirrors series use borrowed, reflected colour: of shiny, polished mirrors of metal:

Sky Mirror, Red, 2010

Sky Mirror, 2010

Again, these are massive crowd pleasers. Literal, poetic title – check. Public, green setting – check. Visual reference to environment – check. Here, the mirrors mirror the sky, stealing the qualities of motion and time from the environment around it. The idea of ‘borrowed scenery‘ goes back to the composition of views in Chinese and Japanese gardens. In these artificially-natural settings, both the surrounding exterior landscape and interior sculpted gardens were integrated into the composition of the entire garden.

Master of Nets Garden (Wang Shi Yuan), Suzhou, China. Here, the borrowed scenery is made into a living sculpture by the frame of the window in the foreground.

Because the Sky Mirrors are angled to the clouds, they make the viewer think of environmental phenomena, the transience of the atmosphere, and beautiful ephemeral moments. However, the projects form an intermediate stage between what I call Kapoor’s cosmic work, such as 1000 Names, and his narcissistic work, such as Cloud Gate. Presented with a mirror where we are visible, our first instinct is to look at ourselves. When this reflective surface is curved and acts as a distorting lens (as it is in a circus fair or in Kapoor’s narcissistic work), the mirror calls attention to itself as a manipulated, artificial object.

C-Curve, 2009

Cloud Gate – “The Bean”, Chicago, 2004

It is this projection of our own distorted body onto the surface of the sculpture that makes work such as C-Curve and Cloud Gate so appealing. They are shiny, curved, and we see ourselves in them.  Like a modern Medusa, Cloud Gate freezes viewers in position as soon as they catch sight of themselves.

This visual Prosthetic channels the viewer’s world into three kinds of narcissism: of the individual (reflections of the individual’s body), of the collective (reflections of a distorted cityscape), and of the mind’s construct (reflecting the sculpture itself).  The massive success of the “Bean” suggests that this is what the public really wants to experience – a shiny, distant, and distorted version of itself.

Cloud Gate, Chicago, 2004, Inside

Next on Prosthetic Aesthetics, I’ll be looking at Anish Kapoor’s “ArcelorMittal Orbit” in the London 2012 Olympic Park, and reflect on its role in relation to transformation around the wider urban area…

2 comments on “On Anish Kapoor, Part Two: from Microcosm to Narcissism

  1. murooned
    October 3, 2012

    Always a big fan of Anish Kapoor ;D Hadn’t seen some of these b4; thnx for postin’ ‘D

  2. exilliteratur
    October 3, 2012

    I recommend his earlier work, especially the performance-led sculptures that he made before 1000 names… it seems lately that he’s been repeating a small number of tricks/themes a lot.

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