Descent Into Limbo, Havana, 2016, fiberglass and pigment,diameter 3 m, unique work.Courtesy the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA, San Gimignano / Beijing /Les Moulins / Habana. Photo: Paola Martinez Fiterre

At the beginning, there was Chaos. It carries not the contemporary connotation of disorder or mayhem, instead, it points to the void state prior to the creation of the cosmos, the non-being moving emptiness from the original separation of heaven and earth. Anish Kapoor shows a deep interest for the proto-experience in his artworks. The hollowness and chaos that engender darkness came to be before any intervention. Descent into Limbo, Havana (2016) sits as a black circular surface at the centre of the Galleria Continua space in Cuba. To borrow Heidegger’s rumination on The Thing (1950), the “thingness” of Kapoor’s Descent into Limbo, Havana is its uncanny flatness, which reveals to be a three-dimensional crater on closer inspection. This illusion adds other folds into the decortication of what this thing is: the unilateral darkness of the black pigment eliminating the sensation of depth and the concrete floor beholding the work. The realisation of the impossibility of the void in this work is all the more emphatic as it almost looks like it is created by an intense concentration of gravitational force, as if it were a self-made object. This foreign creation is the alterity so relevant in our society and resonates consistently throughout Kapoor’s oeuvre.

What is this desire of assimilation? There is an intolerance towards otherness that compels us to fuse into one body. The explanation may be rather biblical. Consider Kapoor’s The Healing of St. Thomas (1989). A lone red gash on the pristine white wall achieves the most visceral mirror-touch synaesthesia-like effect not unlike The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (1603) by Caravaggio. “The metaphorical language is that he [St. Thomas] reaches out to touch what is apparently an illusion only to find reality.” However, Kapoor’s work lacks the immediate impact of contact, modern etiquettes dictate that one may not touch the exhibited artworks. “The eye and the hand need each other. Once he has touched the wound, a kind of healing takes place in Thomas. He is healed of his doubt.” If that is so, when does the healing start in the spectator who remains in his position to spectate?

I have always been drawn to a notion of fear, towards a sensation of vertigo, of falling, of being pulled inwards.

Again, what does it mean in Anish Kapoor’s term, then, the language of human senses in the experience of art? “I have always been drawn to a notion of fear, towards a sensation of vertigo, of falling, of being pulled inwards. This is a notion of the sublime which reverses the picture of union with light. This is an inversion, a sort of turning inside-out. This is a vision of darkness. Fear is a darkness of which the eye is uncertain, towards which the hand turns in hope of contact and in which only the imagination has the possibility of escape.” In summary, Kapoor heavily prioritises what he calls the “psychological potentiality” of the subject. It is more interesting to notice the artist’s propensity towards dark colours, especially the colour red, which he says has the darkest dark hue, darker even than black. Colour is inextricably linked to Kapoor’s artistic expression. It is our conditioned perception of certain colours and its ability to “occupy the whole vision” that brings out this looming anxiety when we are at a Kapoor exhibition. Fear in many of his works with red pigment like Unborn (2016) at MACRO comes from the human condition of knowing intimately what the colour red signifies. It is the source of life that runs through our veins. The darkness of red, on the other hand, alludes to the ultimate end, a bodily fluid devoid of oxygen.

Monochrome (Majik Blue), 2016, fiberglass and paint, 188 x 188 x 40 cm, unique work.
Courtesy the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA, San Gimignano / Beijing /Les Moulins / Habana.
Photo: Paola Martinez Fiterre

In the Freudian mental iceberg, fears, violent motives, and irrational wishes occupy the unconscious level of the human mind. By excavating materials, Kapoor elucidates the unconscious. Think about the word “to excavate”, it entails a two-part process: the hollowing and the removing of substance. The first part results in the emptiness of the object while Kapoor presents an antithesis to the second part: the excavated material is unseen unlike Sekine Nobuo’s Phase-Mother Earth (1968).  The artist’s non-objects are located essentially in the interstitial space between the present and the absent, the psychological and the physical, the visible and the invisible.

These non-objects can characteristically take different forms – between works or within themselves. Take for example, Monochrome (Majik Blue) (2016) and Monochrome (Lake Violet Pearl) (2015). The placement of the two works, one opposite the other, on top of the fact that they are coated with paint, removes the phenomenological reflection of his famous mirror works like Mirror (Black to Red) (2016) and forces a horizontal spatial interaction between the concavities and between the artworks and the spectator. By moving from one end to the other within this imperceivable tube-like void, the reverberation contains and the sound of the steps internalize any emotions and perceptions of temporality into a performance staged by the artist using “the architecture as a metaphor for the self”.

Kapoor, like a Shakespearean fool, plays on the transitional experience that seems to “reverse, affirm and then negate.” Corner disappearing into itself (2015) are three valves of gold fibreglass folding and collapsing into itself. By doing so, the material creates a non-materialised passage to a space beyond the corner, beyond the architecture. Human perception focuses on the one-point perspective. Imagine a tunnel from the opening of the golden valves, surely it leads to a single point of convergence by extension. Psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott suggests that a transitional object “symbolises the union of the two now separate things… at the point in time and space of the initiation of their state of separateness.”

This brings us back to Chaos. Anish Kapoor’s intention is philosophical and mystical. His art raises more questions than answers. Yet every single darkness he employs transports the spectator back to the point in time in the first chapter of Genesis. A point where there is no form, no distinction and no intolerance. As the first artist and the fourth laureate of the Genesis Prize, Anish Kapoor’s decision to shine light upon the current refugee crisis inevitably creates a powerful narrative for this point of convergence despite his effort to not emphasise on one in his art.


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