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our reflected image seem ther away.
If one category of Kapoor’s work can be described as self-effacing because it is less object than mirrored surface, another evades vision in precisely the opposite way, by not reflecting light at all. Thus My Body Your Body (1993) looks at first like a rectangle of deep blue-black painted on to the wall. It is only as we approach that we realise it is in fact a kind of funnel opening, in the centre, into a black void, and we have to examine it very carefully from an oblique angle to determine the location of the curving edge and begin to get an idea of the shape of the funnel.
The artist has employed here a pigment so deep and so unreflective — in contrast to the super-reflective surfaces mentioned earlier — that it absorbs almost all the light that falls on it and thus becomes nearly invisible; one thinks of black holes or of the radar-absorbent surface of the stealth bomber.
The same kind of paint is used on the interior surface of Void (1989), an elongated hemisphere mounted on the wall, so that from the front it appears to be a flat surface rather than a hollow space. For it is the variations in the fall of light and shadow on a solid body or within a void that allow us to read them as three-dimensional. When the illuminated areas are not perceptibly brighter than the unilluminated ones, the eye is deprived of the cues of form.
What all of these works have in common is not only the way they try to evade their own status as objects, but also their refusal to allow us to see them as such — either by reflecting our gaze or swallowing it up.
It is as though they were all attempts to frustrate the functional or instrumental way we look at the world, especially in our materialistic and disenchanted age, but more generally within the rationalist tradition that underlies modern science.
And it is here that we can discern the influence of the Indian way of thinking. From the earliest Sanskrit texts, the ancient Indians set themselves a path that was the opposite of that adopted by their ethnic and linguistic cousins in the West. The Greeks loved distinctions, oppositions, contrast, discriminations, debate and the very idea of contest; and thus they invented philosophy and science as well as democracy, the inevitable corollary of the belief that we are all capable of thinking for ourselves.
The earliest Indian thinkers, on the other hand, were persuaded that distinctions and discriminations alienated us from the wholeness of being; they adopted the principle of non-dualism ( advaita), and because the primary dualism is the distinction between the perceiving subject and the world, they conceived of the highest form of knowledge as one in which the subject and the object coincide: atman, the individual soul, becomes identified with Brahman, the world soul. Essentially, therefore, India chose mysticism and Greece philosophy.
Of course this a simplification, and there are rationalistic and anti-rationalistic traditions within both Western and Indian thinking, as well as more coincidences, connections and mutual influences than is usually realised. Nonetheless, Kapoor’s deepest inspiration does seem to have its roots in a kind of nonrational, anti-materialist thinking and specifically in the instinct to break down the primary distinction between subject and object.
It is impressive work, too, but it is hard not to feel some disquiet about the way that these spiritual and non-materialistic insights have become the basis for what is now a very big business. Kapoor has a factory and a large team of assistants who make his work for him. The commissions from public authorities and immensely rich private collectors are hugely expensive: the Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago is supposed to have cost $23 million in 2006. His exhibition in Sydney is sponsored by one of the biggest multinational banks in the world.
The deepest problem, however, is not so much that spiritual art is sponsored by the rich or that the works are produced in the way they are; the question is rather how much spiritual insight is produced for the material and financial outlay, compared with, say, a single page of Persian miniature illumination. But it seems that only such colossal scale is capable of making an impression on a public unaccustomed to attention. Kapoor’s art is thoughtful and refined in its inspiration, but it has been deformed by the reality of a thoughtless and unrefined audience.
Works by Anish Kapoor, clockwise from top,
(2006); (2006); and view of (2007) and
(2007) in the MCA