“I'm not interested in self reference, I couldn't imagine anything more horrible,” Anish Kapoor tells me at the presentation of his new body of work at Lisson Gallery. “I don't want to do what I did before, I want to do what I just don't know how to do”.
When I encounter a sculpture by Anish Kapoor I’m not sure what I’m looking at. Take, for example, ‘Void’, his sculpture of a big dark blue bowl which sits on a white wall. When I stare into the void I disappear into it and feel disorientated as I don’t have any sense of depth or distance. I experience a sense of emptiness, physical connection and darkness. Kapoor has aptly described this darkness as the “darkness of the interior of our bodies”.
The surface of the sculpture is smooth, pristine and immaculately finished. Kapoor has an interest in removing the hand from the making of the object. His sculptures are without seams, ripples or joints as the artist strives to remove himself from the art work. It becomes an object that is just there, like the mysterious monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.
In Kapoor’s newest exhibition at Lisson Gallery he presents more “objects that are just there”. In the courtyard stands a massive granite block ‘Rectangle within a rectangle’. The shape recalls Kubrick’s monolith or the National Geographic logo. The surface on the front side of the block is smooth but the other sides are rough like the jagged edges of a stamp. There is something mesmerizing about the dark inner rectangle recess, carved out of the block and which appears to be floating on its surface. The two egg-shaped forms carved in a massive block of pink onyx is another intriguing, geometric sculpture inside the gallery building. There is something poetic in the way the eggs are framed in the rectangular stone but also suggestive as the shapes are reminiscent of genitalia. At the press view Kapoor makes a reference to Michelangelo’s famous quote that the sculpture is already inside the block of stone and it is the artists job to release the form from the stone.
Impressed by the high standard of craftsmanship, I asked Kapoor what was the most challenging sculpture to make and to what lengths he went to realise it until he was satisfied with the final result. In answering my question he didn’t mention a specific work but talked about the lengths he goes to in his practice.
Anish Kapoor: “I have a practice and I go to the studio every day. Doesn’t matter what, every day. The work comes out of my practice and my pledge to myself is that I make a work every day. I have written on my wall very clearly: ‘Don’t think, do!’ That is very difficult because there’s always the thought ‘What I’m going to do today?’ I say: ‘It doesn’t matter what, just do it’. In this repeated, repeated doing, sometimes a little thing will emerge which is a little bit different. Those are the things I look for – that is the gold. In searching for gold I will full-heartedly, completely, obsessively give myself.
People sometimes ask me, ‘How do you refer to your earlier work?’ I say to myself “my early work is my early work”, I don’t refer to it. I’m not interested in self reference, I couldn’t imagine anything more horrible. I don’t want to do what I did before, I want to do what I just don’t know how to do”.
200%: If you want to do what you don’t know how to do, how do you determine what the size of your sculptures are going to be?
AK: “That is a thing. I really do believe that the body is implicated and involved [in sculpture]. My body and the body of the viewer are involved in the act of making art. Art is not a disembodied activity. I’ve made some really big works but never without reference to the scale of the human being”.
200%: How did you determine the scale of your large scale public sculpture ‘Cloud Gate’?
AK: “I wanted it to be about 24 by 14 by 10 meters, but I didn’t know how to make it. I met Ethan Silva of Performance Structures in California who said he could fabricate it. I love the guy but he had no proof that he could make it. We went to Boeing and they make milling machines, a machine that can make stainless steel completely flat so you won’t see any ripples even at a micro level. We bought one from Boeing to see if it would be possible to make curved forms. It was so we could make the object. The whole point of it was to make an object without any seams, no joints so that there is no scale.
There is a weird thing about scale of Cloud Gate. We measure our bodies by the elements of a building such as the size of a brick or the size of a doorway. There is no scale on Cloud Gate. It gives you no reading. When you’re close to the object, it is very big and when you move a little bit away from it, it’s not so big. Especially in the scale of Chicago. This shifting scale is one of the things I have realised is very important. It’s a big object and a small object at the same time and that’s weird”.
200%: ‘Cloud Gate’ and ‘Rectangle within a rectangle’ remind me of the prehistoric monolith in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ an object that is just there and no one knows where it came from. Has it been an inspiration?
AK: “I’m aware of it. It’s the object that landed from outer space. It is just there. The Duchampian idea about the object is that all the objects in the world are art like his bicycle wheel or the urinal. I think that is a very important idea and opened a lot of possibilities for artists. I have another idea about the object; the object that makes itself. The auto-generated, pre-existing object that never got made rather than was always there. That is what Stanley Kubrick is referring to in that monolith – it is before being. That is the true essential nature of art”.
200%: The object that makes itself brings a sense of mystery to the work.
AK: “Yes, I think this sense that the human condition is contingent and full of anxiety is terribly important. It can, though, without talking about God or any such thing, engender to itself, questions about where was I before I was born and where do I go after I’m dead. In the end those are the only two essential questions”.
Interview written and conducted by Thierry Somers.
Installation images (2, 3): Anish Kapoor, Photography by Dave Morgan, Courtesy Lisson Gallery
Anish Kapoor at Lisson Gallery until 22 June 2019.