bory on Sat, 10 May 2003 01:16:48 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[Nettime-ro] For your attention

Bory spotted this on the Guardian Unlimited site and thought you should see it.

Note from Bory:

Despre Anish Kapoor.

To see this story with its related links on the Guardian Unlimited site, go to

'They don't know what they've let themselves in for' 
Anish Kapoor's sculptures are so enormous they're almost architecture - which may be why Naples asked him to design a tube station. By Marcus Fairs
Marcus Fairs
Tuesday May 06 2003
The Guardian

Anish Kapoor has never heard anything like it. He has been asked by the city of Naples to design a new underground station - a complex piece of infrastructure that is usually the preserve of architects and engineers. "They're mad," he says. "It's folly. They don't know what they've let themselves in for. But it's wonderful; I can't imagine anything better than doing a tube station." 

Artists are often asked to collaborate with architects, but their contribution rarely goes beyond providing a sculpture for the lobby or a mobile for the stairwell. Naples is different: the station itself will be a work of art. Kapoor can't think of another instance when an artist has been asked to design such an important building alone, and he laughs at the absurdity of the proposition. "I'm an artist, not a bloody architect! I don't want to be an architect - I really don't."  

Yet in recent years the work of Kapoor, one of the world's greatest living sculptors, has grown in size to the point where it could be mistaken for architecture. In the summer of 1999, his monumental work Taratantara - a 50m-long, double-ended trumpet of stretched red PVC - occupied the hulk of the Baltic gallery at Gateshead. Even larger was the 155m-long Marsyas installation, which graced Tate Modern's Turbine Hall until last month. A major work for a new park in central Chicago, a giant "drop of mercury" fabricated in mirror-finished stainless steel, will be 25m long and higher than a house.  

"But you see, these are not buildings," Kapoor says. "They are toying with form at architectural scale but they are not buildings. I loathe making anything practical whatsoever. The funny thing about art is that it's useless. It doesn't do anything. That's very important." At Naples, Kapoor will be denied the luxury of producing something useless, but he is untroubled. "It's a work of art that happens to be a tube station," he explains. "Not the other way around. It's really a sculpture that you enter."  

Kapoor admits that he was reluctant to take on the project at first. Realising that he couldn't handle the project alone, he asked his friends Jan Kaplicky and Amanda Levete of Future Systems - the London architects behind the ovoid Media Centre at Lord's cricket ground and the reptilian silver and blue Selfridges in Birmingham - to work with him. Early models of the Naples project show hollow mounds erupting at street level; inside, rough-walled tunnels painted in rich hues plunge towards the bowels of the earth.  

"We want to acknowledge that it is underground - a journey into the world of Dante. Rather than into the light at the end of the cave, it's a journey into the back of the cave. And if one acknowledges that, then maybe the experience of passage, of moving through, of travelling, can also be one of art."  

Metaphysical polarities - dark and light, presence and absence, solid and intangible - are the themes of much of Kapoor's work. His sculptures often instil a sense of disorientation in the viewer: concave reflective surfaces that distort the surrounding world; seemingly bottomless chasms carved into blocks of stone or excavated from gallery floors.  

Kapoor's studio occupies three industrial sheds in Camberwell, south London. It has the feel of a light-engineering workshop: technicians wearing lab coats and respirators work away on vast metal and fibreglass forms, and the din of angle-grinders fills the air. Kapoor takes me on a tour, stopping occasionally to play with models of some of his latest commissions.  

One, to go inside an old cinema in Italy, features two spiralling walls that entwine like yin and yang symbols. Kapoor fiddles with a switch on the back of the model, but nothing happens. "We'll come back to it when it's warmed up," he says. About an hour later, he remembers it with a start. We dash back to where the model is now engulfed in a smoky fug. He adjusts another switch that controls a tiny fan inside, and gradually the smoke cloud reforms itself into a twisting column stretching from the roof of the cinema to the floor. The effect is quite beautiful.  

Kapoor, 49, is the opposite of the brooding artist that one might have expected. He laughs constantly, swears liberally and lightens his artistic theorising with playful anecdotes. Like the time he showed Frank Gehry his plans for Naples: "I had dinner with Frank and he did a little benediction on me and said: 'I now declare you an architect.'" What was your response to that? "Fuck off! Ha, ha!"  

His light-heartedness surprises me, I tell him. "Well that's your fantasy - that artists need to be dark and brooding," he says. "I don't know what to say to that. It's as if modernism was able to sweep away many myths, many 19th-century ideas about what it means to be an artist, but there are two it has not been able to sweep away. One is this idea of the artist as some romantic figure who is somewhat bohemian. Crap! I'm not bohemian; I'm terribly ordinary. And the other myth is that art is born out of pain. It is not. I'm sure that the best art - and maybe that's a very eastern thing - is born out of joy. So phooey to that."  

Kapoor was born in Bombay to a Hindu father and a Jewish mother. After a boarding-school education in India, he spent a few years in Israel before coming to London in 1973 to study art, and by the late 1970s he had established himself as an artist to watch. He represented Britain at the 1990 Venice Biennale and won the Turner prize the following year. His Indian upbringing provided much of the inspiration for his work, although he says it was only later that he realised its significance. "I went back to India and realised all those things I'd been proposing were part of my cultural memory. And that was a great awakening."  

>From the start, architecture has informed Kapoor's art. "My inspiration as an artist from as early as I can remember has been symbolic architecture. Perhaps some of the most deeply, philosophically coherent objects of all time are buildings - not objects, not sculptures. It is something to do with the symbolic. To do with the fact that when a form is isolated from its need to function, it can take the role of something that is metaphysical.  

"Whether it's the Juntar Muntar [observatories] in India, or early mosques like the one at Samara [in Iraq], or the pyramids, there are two things that come together. One is the ritual procession that those structures seem to describe, evoke, even prescribe. And the other is that they define themselves with a certain self-evident gestalt. What they seem to say is that if you look at the object from here, or if you look at the object from there, it's the same object. It doesn't give you partial views of itself. It's as if one view is all. There's something iconic about that. I've always made objects that are frontal. There's a front to them and that's all there is to them. You may experience them as three-dimensional, but in fact they're kind of singular."  

Kapoor admires the vernacular honesty of uncontrived buildings such as second world war air-raid shelters and 19th-century factories. He claims to despise buildings or objects that are styled: "I don't believe in design. I think the best design occurs without being designed." And yet, he has a collection of highly styled 20th-century chairs in the library at his studio, including Marc Newson's Embryo and George Nelson's Coconut Chair.  

His approach to form-making is, he says, a quest to discover "content". The process is intuitive: "You cannot intellectually discover a content. It's in some mysterious interplay with material, with form, with scale. That's what the real work is: to discover a content. The rest is peripheral."  

According to Kapoor, the great tradition of loading buildings with symbolic content was lost by architecture during the cleansing purge of modernism, when architects, following the dictum of "form follows function", stripped their buildings of unnecessary details. Yet in recent years, architects have once again returned to designing expressive, sculptural buildings. Gehry's rippling titanium Guggenheim, completed in 1997, is the best known, while architects such as Future Systems and Will Alsop are at the vanguard of the new wave of organic architecture. "There's something in the air; something is happening to architecture," Kapoor says. "Somehow or other we have to - or I have to - rediscover that old path back to metaphysical structure. I've always felt that that's where my mission as an artist lies."  

It was not until 1992 that Kapoor attempted a work that could be described as a building. That year, he created Building for Void for the Seville Expo with the architect David Connor. It resembled an ochre minaret with a spiral ramp wrapped around a short, cylindrical tower. Inside, the half-egg-shaped interior of polished plaster was bare except for a small skylight in the ceiling. Was it a building or a sculpture? "I don't know what it was!"  

Architecture and art are not the same, however. Kapoor accepts that there is a point at which art - especially large art - demands to be considered architecturally, and he likes the way that the viewer is drawn into a very particular relationship with objects of an architectural scale. But he doesn't agree that architects should consider themselves artists. "The intentions are so hugely different, it amazes me they can be confused. It's not just the practical; it's a difference in the way you think. Vito Acconci, the great conceptual artist from the 1960s, said that when an artist grows up, he wants to be an architect. I think that's wrong."  

Architects who have worked with Kapoor say they find his methodology liberating; his thinking is uninhibited by practical considerations and he instead encourages them to think purely about form. Last year, Norman Foster asked Kapoor to help his team resolve the problems they were having with their entry for the World Trade Centre competition in New York.  

"They were struggling with it," Kapoor says. "Struggling with the biggest problem of that site, which is symbolic rather than formal. You can't avoid that on a site with that potential for resonance of memory and history. Norman very kindly asked me to come and look at it, so I went along and, as I'm sometimes prone to do, I kind of mouthed off."  

Kapoor says that the team had developed a novel structural solution - towers composed of huge, tessellated triangular frames - but the resulting forms failed to work as a piece of architecture on such a poignant site. Foster originally proposed three towers, but Kapoor suggested that there be just two. He then pushed the towers together so that they "kissed".  

In the event, Foster's design was beaten by Daniel Libeskind's Memory Foundations, which was loaded with symbolic references to the September 11 attack. While Libeskind emphasised this symbolism in his barnstorming presentation last December, Foster barely mentioned the symbolic "content" of his towers. "It's not Norman's style to play that up," says Kapoor. "And if a mistake was made it was to not understand - and I think this is increasingly true - that the great buildings, the great monuments, are ones that have intrinsic symbolic truth and value."  

He returns to the distinction between the processes of art, architecture and design. Successful sculptures and buildings, he says, share an intrinsic need to be in the world; whether they are useful or useless, functional or symbolic, the artist or architect merely reveals a content that is already there.  

"The word architecture refers to the modelling of form; to the internal fashioning of a notion in three dimensions. Design, quite contrary to that, refers to the surface of a thing; it's what happens on the skin; it's how a thing looks. Skin is often very interesting, but I would say architecture is a very much better, a much deeper route. We've got to be wary of how a thing looks, because it's not the point." 

· Anish Kapoor's solo show, Painting, is at the Lisson Gallery, London NW1, from May 14. Details: 020-7724 2739. This is an edited version of a piece in the May edition of Icon magazine.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited
Nettime-ro mailing list