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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

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.

smaller and


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.

Sky Mir­ror S-curve S-curve, C-curve Un­ti­tled

Works by Anish Kapoor, clockwise from top,

(2006); (2006); and view of (2007) and

(2007) in the MCA

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