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The World According to Anish Kapoor

Sculptor Anish Kapoor's work spans genres, materials and disciplines, though he is probably best known in America for "The Bean" in Chicago. In this documentary, we see him in the studio and he discusses his life and art.

AIRED: March 25, 2021 | 0:51:56
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TRANSCRIPT

Narrator: All art is at once surface and symbol.

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

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The art of Anish Kapoor invites us to a voyage

under the surface,

an exploration of the white and red spots of our inner self.

Because, as Oscar Wilde put it,

"It is the spectator, and not life,

that art really mirrors."

[ Cannon firing ]

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Anish Kapoor is world-famous for his radically abstract art.

The materials of his sculptures are wax, colored pigment,

stone, cement,

and elaborately polished stainless steel,

which he turns into mirrors.

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For nothing seems more reassuring to us

than the image we seem to know best --

our own.

Yet Kapoor refuses to stop at the mirrored surface.

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Behind our reflection lies a space

in which we might get lost,

just to rediscover ourselves again.

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Kapoor: Good art, we hope,

has a possibility of a wide view.

It can be approached at all sorts of levels

by all sorts of people,

of education and, let's say, without education.

There's a kind of visceral bodily sense

that a work can give.

One might say that art is quite good at the idea

of a certain kind of intimacy --

saying, you know, "Come on, be part of this, come in."

I'm really interested in that process

because it's fundamental.

It's fundamental to our sense of where we are and what we are.

[ Birds chirping ]

[ Dog barking ]

[ Vehicle approaching ]

Narrator: In order to lead us into his world,

Kapoor never limits his sculptures

to the conventional venues of the art scene.

He likes to install mirrors where they are less expected --

in streets, parks,

all those places which may seem familiar to us

without ever knowing them.

Kapoor: Abstract art on the whole is --

if it's any good,

it's not a simple matter

of, you know, a few nice little geometric diagrams

next to each other.

The real purpose of abstract art

is to go beneath the skin

and say that it can go to places

which pose some fundamental questions --

about being,

about consciousness,

about philosophical questions

about the nature of the world, after all,

and poetic questions about the nature of being.

[ Indistinct conversations ]

I've been making mirror pieces for...

oh, a long time.

Must be since the early '90s.

I came to them out of an interest in the idea

that objects are not what they say they are.

The previous body of work had been void works,

objects with dark interiors.

This was an attempt, in a way, to make a non-object,

to make an object that doesn't exist.

Now, I began to wonder if it was possible

to make a mirrored object in the same way, a whole --

an object full of mirror.

And most of the mirror pieces I've made over the last years

have been concave forms.

The whole implication, if you like, of concave mirrors

is that they engage the object,

but also the space around the object.

So they aren't just the camouflaging

of the object in the space.

They actually actively engage a space.

Or their space, the space of the viewer.

And that's my main objective, is that concave mirrors

are profoundly mysterious because they have a focus

and that focus is a physical -- has a physical effect

on the body of the viewer.

So when you look,

you're physically discomfited by this point in space,

which is where the -- the lines, if you like,

of the light cross in front of the mirror.

It's a kind of mystical point where light reverses.

From the image the right way up,

it becomes the image the wrong way up.

And that has a kind of effect on your body.

It gives you the sense that you're going to fall.

It's a -- It's an effect of vertigo.

Now, you know, one of the -- one of the definitions

of the sublime in art is this sense of falling,

the sense of kind of falling into space.

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Narrator: "Sky Mirror," 2002.

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[ Wind rushing ]

[ Vehicle approaching ]

[ Seagulls crying ]

In 2004, Kapoor installs in Chicago,

the birthplace of modernist architecture,

the sculpture "Cloud Gate" --

20 tons of stainless steel, a playful yet monumental object

which is enthusiastically adopted by the public.

Kapoor: When I looked at the site in Chicago,

there were some things that I felt were important.

First of all, it was a new vista on the city.

Underneath the park,

there had previously been railway lines.

The park is built over the railway lines,

and it's a view of Chicago that had never been seen before.

That was one thing. The other thing

that was important was, of course,

that Chicago in some ways is a vertical city,

that everything there is kind of standing up.

And I felt that the right response to both those questions

was to not do something vertical.

Not to compete, if you like,

with the verticality of the city,

but to do the opposite, to work horizontally.

So I came up with this form,

which is effectively a kind of gate.

You know, it's an arch kind of completing itself

as a single volume

with an interior that dives up into the form,

but forms a gate through which you look back at the city.

[ Indistinct conversations, vehicles passing ]

Now, I wanted, of course, to have a horizontal object

that collected in the verticality of the city,

and that's sort of literally what it does.

Its exterior kind of picks up the reflection

of all the buildings around,

and substantially the sky, which is always changing.

And then as you go into under the object,

of course, it forms a kind of architecture,

becomes a place, virtually a building.

But it has this interior vault,

which does the same thing to your reflection

as the object as a whole is doing

to the reflection of the building,

the city, and so on, so forth.

I'm interested in the way the viewer

is continually implicated.

It is not simply an object you look at.

It's an object that induces a kind of participation

in some way between it --

between the object and the viewer.

[ Indistinct conversations ]

One of the great things about so-called abstract art

is that it puts down the burden of representation.

It sort of says, "I don't represent."

But to replace that,

it needs to find other languages.

Now, it seems to me that the other languages

are all philosophical.

They're all propositions

about the way things are

or the way things might be

or the way we'd like things to be.

So, at the heart of that somewhere,

well, there are two or three difficult propositions.

The first one is scale.

Scale is profoundly mysterious.

You know, the bigness or smallness of a thing

is profoundly confusing.

And we have to keep readjusting ourselves

to what a scale really is.

The second one,

which is as important as anything else

is, if you like, space.

And space, of course, is, um...

real and imagined.

You know, dream space, for example,

while it's imagined, is perfectly real,

or absolutely plays with the real.

And the third is time.

And time affects both space and scale.

Art can do this very strange thing

of making time seem a bit longer,

allow you for a little moment somewhere

to enter a kind of dreaming

where time seems to be transformed.

It's again, as I say, profoundly mysterious

and happens, or can be intended in a work

and allowed to play a role.

[ Car horn blaring ]

[ Indistinct conversations ]

Narrator: Kapoor was born in Mumbai

to an Indian father and an Iraqi Jewish mother.

He leaves his country aged 16, lives in a kibbutz in Israel,

and finally settles down in London in 1973

in order to study art.

That is where he finds not only his own artistic language,

but a tool which proved to become fundamental --

psychoanalysis.

Kapoor: Psychoanalysis is very --

always has been very important to me

as a process and as a way of thinking about the object,

because it acknowledges that there is no innocence

in activity, in our interactions,

both with the world and with each other.

They're all motivated by other, unsaid, unspoken

dreams and aspirations.

So, why not so for art?

The evidence of the world, whatever it is,

can never be innocent.

It is always subject to self-reflection.

Psychoanalysis, of course, is one of the tools

that is at our fingertips. We can use it.

It's a tool that gives information about

how we read the evidence of the world.

So, for me, that's been a very important process.

As I say, objects are never innocent.

And we that look are never innocent.

We always come with anxiety.

And it's the way that objects engage anxiety

that I think is their, um...

is at least one of their measures of complexity.

And I think I'm deeply interested

in that sense of the anxiety,

both of the looker, of the viewer

and of the object itself.

It's the complexity that it engages

that I think is compelling, not just when we look,

but when we look again and again and again.

Narrator: "When I am Pregnant," 1992.

"Mother as Mountain," 1985.

Kapoor: I've often said that, you know,

I don't really have anything to say as an artist.

I'm not really interested in what I have to say.

It's not the point. Who cares what I have to say?

You know, it's -- I don't know more than anyone else knows.

I think the process in the studio

is very important, however --

the practice of the studio.

So, the studio is a place

where an experimental thought process takes place

and it's lived in objects of different kinds

or images of different kinds.

The moment one begins to reflect

on what's going on in those objects or images,

there's a certain process that takes place

between me and the object,

which is not that different from a psychoanalytical process.

In psychoanalysis,

one might say that, you know, you have the analyst,

the so-called patient,

and if you like, an imagined third.

It's an imagined third presence,

which is the result

of some kind of psychic contact between the two.

So there is this imagined third. It's somehow always there.

Now, the studio, too, is full of those ghosts --

the same ghosts, the same imagined third.

And the process of making the work

is often a process of giving form to that all

or allowing that unknown to either remain unknown

and invisibly present

or giving it a kind of reality.

And it's that sort of dialogue,

which has quite objective criteria.

It isn't my kind of inner psych or world.

Who cares, you know?

I don't care about that.

And nor should you as a viewer.

It's when we occupy that third object that it's suddenly

an object that you, too, as a viewer will recognize.

And I think that's the...

And it's a subtle, kind of complicated bit of --

bit of figuring out.

But actually, it's a poetic object.

In the end, it's a poetic object that you know and I know

and we all know somehow, especially when we call it art

and give it a particular physical presence.

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On the whole, I think I feel that the thing really only needs

to be as well-made as is needed for the purpose, and no better.

We're not after a kind of crafted object.

That is not the point.

So, mirrored objects,

in order to do what they have to do,

have to be made unbelievably well,

because it's only when the mirroredness

is of a certain perfection

that the space of the object becomes active.

Before that, what you look at is the surface.

When it's beautifully made and perfectly finished,

you end up looking at the space of the object.

It then becomes a philosophical object.

Until then, it's a bloody object.

You know, I'm not interested in objects.

I'm interested in the moment that an object becomes,

if you like, this other thing.

And in order to occupy this particular kind of space,

it needs to be made incredibly well.

And as I say, it then becomes

a mathematical or a philosophical object,

an object that does something else with its objecthood.

That's what I'm interested in.

[ Tools whirring ]

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Narrator: In his studios,

located in the south end of London,

Kapoor creates sculptures

which are often mirrors or biomorphic objects,

reminding bodily forms.

Over weeks, his assistants shape, carve, varnish,

and polish the skin up to perfection.

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Models are conceived for future monumental creations

such as "Cloud Gate" in Chicago,

a building in Manhattan,

or a subway station in Naples.

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Kapoor: I think to make new art,

you have to make new form, new space, new time.

There's no question about it.

You have to, somehow.

But newness may not come out of newness.

Newness may come out of oldness.

There's a wonderful, wonderful story from Rilke,

who's one of my favorite poets,

in which he speaks about being a schoolboy.

And as a schoolboy,

the gramophone had just been invented.

And in class, they were required

to make a recording of their voices.

So they had the wax disc

with a little contraption with a little needle,

and it made a little shaky line. And then they played it back,

and it was this wonderful sound,

almost as if from some other time, some other space.

Years later, he's studying anatomy in Paris.

And one of the objects that he comes across, of course,

is the skull.

On top of the skull, rather like the fold in my hands,

is a little, you know, joint

between the two halves of the skull,

a little crack that we all have.

And Rilke remembers when he sees this

that it reminds him of the crack in the gramophone record.

And he wonders,

what is the sound of that line in this skull?

So the ancient sound

of the joining of the two halves of our skulls.

To me, this is a wonderful work, of course,

but it's also, if you like,

inventing a new object out of a very, very old one.

And it has incredible grace.

It goes to the beginning, in a way.

Narrator: Kapoor's studio is more of a laboratory

than a factory.

And his warehouse looks like a museum

rather than a gallery --

an archeological exhibition space

of accomplished or unrealized works of art.

For Kapoor, the new is born from the ancient,

and all success derives from failure.

[ Bell dings ]

Kapoor: The studio, of course, is a place of experimentation.

So what I want to do is to fail,

and fail often, fail fast, not take months and years

to fail at something. That's terrible.

I want to go through ideas as quickly as possible

and fail at them if they have to fail,

but fail fast so that there is,

if you like, this continual process of excavation.

It is completely archeological.

It is an excavation.

And while it has some kind of inner content,

it is mostly objective.

And that relationship is the one that matters.

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So, you know, the studio is a place

where I'm always trying something out,

not necessarily a place where we --

me and my assistants who work here with me --

where we make things.

You know, making things is sometimes -- it's a byproduct.

It's really not a factory. It's not a place of manufacture.

It's a place

to kind of try it out, see if it works.

And if it doesn't work, well, good.

Let's make the next one.

[ Low hum ]

Narrator: "Past, Present, Future,"

2006.

"My Red Homeland," 2003.

Kapoor: "My Red Homeland" has been interpreted

as referring to India.

As far as I'm concerned, it may or may not.

It's not really the point.

For me, I'm really interested in red.

My homeland is red.

And it's red because

red is not a color just like any other color.

You know, we are red.

And it's that redness the title of the work refers to.

But really, for me, color relates to light.

That's what Turner's all about.

That's what most great adventures in the history

of color are about -- radiance.

Color's also very good at darkness

you know, and the opposite of radiance.

And red makes a kind of darkness

that you can't get with blue or with black.

Red darkness is much darker than blue darkness or black darkness.

And the reason is very simple. It's psychological.

It's because we know red, in a way, at an interior level.

You know, the wax pieces do this in a very particular way,

because it's not just color.

Again, it's color and stuff --

very meaty, fleshy stuff,

and huge quantities of it.

That's how I see the color

as operating in a kind of darkness.

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Narrator: In November 2010, Kapoor returns to Mumbai

for his first retrospective exhibition

on his native soil.

In a Bollywood studio,

his assistants prepare a showcase

confronted with much emotional expectation.

Back to the origins, or merely another exhibition?

Kapoor keeps refusing to be considered

an Indian or English artist.

To his mind, his art can do without borders.

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Kapoor: I think there's always been this sort of idea

that there's a fundamental difference in view

between East and West.

I'm not sure that it's really true.

In many different directions,

what we have to do is to understand

that we have to de-compartmentalize

our way of thinking of people and culture.

We have somehow to break that compartment,

because what it does is exoticize.

It says there's some exotic place out of which

people from, you know, wherever else come.

That --

It's too touristic a view. It's too simplistic a view.

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My work as an artist over many years has been to say,

you know, please stop thinking of me as an Indian artist,

because it's not helpful.

What's important is to say that, you know, artists search,

if you like, through all sorts of languages,

whether they are so-called the languages of the East

or the languages of the West,

to find a way to speak as an individual.

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[ Birds squawking ]

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"S-Curve," 2006.

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"Stack," 2007.

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"Non-Object (Plane)," 2010.

"Non-Object (Spire)," 2008.

"Shooting Into the Corner," 2008-2009.

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[ Indistinct conversations ]

Kapoor: The early pigment pieces proposed the idea that,

you know, as the pigment falls on the floor

or with the objects on the wall, spreads itself on the wall,

it almost defines the surface of the floor,

and out of it comes an object.

But like a kind of iceberg, there's an invisible object

under the ground or behind the wall.

It's as if it's only showing a little --

like the fin of a shark, in a way,

showing a little part of itself.

Also, I think I'm really interested in the idea

that color, when it's like stuff,

when it's material, when it's a physical thing,

is playing, if you like,

with the idea of a kind of two-dimensionality.

It's a three-dimensional thing, it has full mass and volume,

and yet it's ephemeral. It's almost not there.

So it's another kind of invisible or non-object.

Narrator: "To Reflect an Intimate Part of the Red," 1981.

Kapoor: Monochrome, in any case,

has this propensity to depth and uncertain edges,

especially when it is in a kind of field condition,

meaning especially when it's as big as your peripheral vision,

that it occupies the full field.

Barnett Newman, for example,

would have certainly worked with that notion

that monochrome in a field does something uncertain.

But from that, the idea that when monochrome

is in a spatial condition,

when it's kind of in a space, in a volume,

it has additional uncertainties.

It ceases to be a surface.

It ceases to have a kind of fully material means.

When you see, you know, a space full of yellow,

it does something physical to your body

and your -- your vision.

But then, very quickly,

it also does something very strange to time.

So, once you enter into the magnetism of the object,

it begins to play at different levels.

So, at one level, it is a phenomenological problem.

But very quickly, the phenomenological problem

becomes a kind of psycho-poetic problem

and it doesn't remain just as a physical phenomenon.

And I think that's why I use very traditional means

to do that.

You know, presumably, one could do that with light.

You know, one could do that electronically or whatever.

But I have a feeling that the means there are...

are such that one's trying to work out the trick.

And that space, if you like, of just dreaming with the object

is -- is -- is, um...

more potent

when it's -- when you know that it's just an object and paint.

Narrator: Kapoor's sculptures captivate

for their beauty and their perfection,

and yet they can also irritate, disturb, or repulse.

For one of his last series,

he designs a sort of 3-D printing machine.

Neither the artist nor his assistants touch the material.

The device is the one that makes.

Kapoor: One of the fictions of the object

is that the object makes itself,

that the object is not made by the artist,

that there is no artist, that there is no hand.

That the object, if you like, has its own interior formation

and it is of itself made by itself.

So, I kind of have looked for many, many ways over the years

of-- of this auto-generated,

auto -- auto-object.

And one of them is the machine that, um...

that -- that I made to print these objects,

to actually lay them down in layers

as if like a printed object.

So, they're made of cement,

and the printing technology,

while it is relatively high-technology,

gives these very low-technology objects,

these objects that are, if you like, primitive.

They're almost as if they're made by an animal.

It's an endlessly repetitive process.

That is, if you like, scatological --

between s * t and architecture,

between s * t and its ability, if you like,

to stand up and be in architecture.

So, it's very bodily.

So, it has this sort of bodily counterpart.

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Narrator: "Here For Alba," 2008.

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"Marsyas," 2002.

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Kapoor: Titles are like another part of the sculpture,

another part of the object.

They give at least some information

as to how to look

and how to understand what you're looking at.

So titles are pretty important.

I very carefully chose that title "Marsyas"

for the work at the Tate

because Marsyas was flayed --

flayed by Apollo for his vanity.

The work is, of course, a skin.

It's also kind of sexual.

It's also very, very bodily.

It seems to make sense.

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I've often been interested in this idea

of the skin of an object.

In a work like "Marsyas," "Taratantara" before it,

and then, of course,

the work that I'm making now for Monumenta,

are kind of directly dealing with this idea

of the object as a skin, as a kind of a membrane.

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Narrator: An eternal adventurer who enjoys taking the risk

of technically failing,

Kapoor chooses for his exhibition Monumenta

at the Grand Palais in Paris,

a process which he had never used before.

He inflates 15 tons of PVC

in order to form a gigantic 40-meter-high balloon.

Sculpture becomes space and a world of its own --

the world according to Kapoor.

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Kapoor: A project like this is all about taking the risk.

And the risk is that it won't work,

that we've got a technical problem or whatever.

We won't know until we actually do it.

But in a way, that's the point of my work as an artist.

It is experimental. There's no certainty about it.

There is the sense that one is daring to go to a place

and try something out with the risk that it'll fail.

But that is what the creative process is about.

So I take it on as it's given.

There's no choice, it seems.

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Narrator: "Leviathan," 2011.

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[ Indistinct conversations ]

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