The Anxiety of the Object

© REUTERS/Benoit Tessier 95901-anish-kapoor Indian-born, London-based sculptor Anish Kapoor's work hinges on the production of simultaneous paradoxical perceptual realities like void/solid, presence/absence, finite/endless space, and so on. His objects possess a symmetrical unity of opposite notions that, together with the viewer's sensations and active imagination, can potentially open up another experience of space-time. The comprehensive survey of his work "Anish Kapoor, Solo Exhibition" is on view at the PinchukArtCentre until September 30, 2012.

Larissa Babij: You have stated, "My role as an artist is to bring to expression" and not to express something, "to define means that allow phenomenological and other perceptions which one might use." In your view, what is art?

Anish Kapoor: What a question! In the modernist era, if Duchamp allowed a space in which all objects are art, then next in line I would put Joseph Beuys, who pointed to the possibility that all objects have to become mythological. I think in recent times the art world has become obsessed with the post-Duchampian position, which is that the objects of the world are enough, as art.

I don't feel I have anything to say. But I do believe that it's the role of the artist to de-school themselves, first of all, and then to recognize the potential in all objects for a kind of psycho-physical space – a post-Freudian, post-Lacanian reflective space where objects are not what objects say they are, where even the objects of the world that declare one intention have another intention; and that we always read all situations with anxiety. So anxiety then becomes the measure of our reading. It's not as simple as saying "all objects are art" or as saying "all objects have mythological possibility"; but it is saying that the language of objects is complex and full of anxiety.

L.B.: I felt that very much today as I was interacting with them. I find it fascinating that in your work you don't give all of the art work to the viewer, like, "Okay, go have your own subjective experience"; and yet it's also not an object that is complete in and of itself.

A.K.: There is this element of the work as a kind of performative space. Often, the work, in a way, happens to you, happens through you, or something like that. And there is a sense of that not being completely innocent.

L.B.: I felt a very real destabilization after some time. But I was struck by the abundance of symmetry in your work, like the duality of everything: it's a void, and yet it's an object-void; it's the object that is not an object; it's lightness/darkness. It's a paradoxical symmetry that holds both these uncomfortable opposites in it. On the other hand, there is this performative aspect of time, which is not symmetrical. How do you think about time while you're creating the work, and in relation to how it may be perceived?

A.K.: As I have said, there is this sense of the performative. You could say the work is becoming; the work is imminent. Imminence is an important notion, that the work is arising, as I hope meaning arises. It isn't delivered. I think that's the reason to engage in so-called abstract art – it delivers meaning in a particular way. The whole idea of the imminent, of the thing emerging, has implications of time in it, kind of old-fashioned ideas about the way that in a certain kind of looking, time either becomes longer or shorter. I'm after it becoming longer rather than shorter. Somehow there is a kind of stretching at a certain moment, and I think that's worth living for (if ever, rarely, it happens). It really is an old connoisseurs' idea about sitting with the work, watching the work, maybe looking at it tangentially rather than directly, but there is something there about that process. And it's a curious thing – you can never do that consciously. Time is one of those things that's implicated in process but you can't force it, and when you do, it's illustrative. Perhaps intentionality matters – hugely. When one somewhere intentions the idea of this long moment, there are things that encourage it. I know that ineffable space – space that you can't quite reach, that's either too dark or too bright or somehow intangible – does that. I know time relates to that in some way. So one can point in some of the directions but you can't set it out.

L.B.: Could you describe your working process? What actions do you take, what do you wait for? How do you identify what's important in a particular work?

A.K.: I almost never work on one work at a time. I'm always doing a bit of this and a bit of that. I am very playful, because I literally don't know what's going to happen. Or I have some notions, but most of the time it's a risk, an experiment, we'll see. And sometimes the "we'll see" can take months and months and months and months, especially with sculpture. It's such a long process. And often, it's disappointing.

I go to the studio a lot. I'm there every day. I work pretty much regular hours, 8 or 8.30 to 7 o'clock or so in the evening.

I think one of the great dangers in our business – this "being an artist" business – is that it's like a business. I try never to make work for a show. I try to make work. I try to maintain as playful and open an attitude as I can muster at any time and to keep the works with me for at least six months before I show them. Otherwise you end up ceasing to play and becoming a kind of manufacturer of stuff. I think that in the end this open spirit of inquiry has to be paramount.

L.B.: So the new ideas come from… just questions that arise?

A.K.: …from just doing stuff. Because sculpture's a long process I have quite a few assistants. It's a great luxury to be able to say, "Try that form out, you do that and you do that, and we'll see what happens here." And let that slowly inform the process of making work. I think there is this wish to kind of immortalize the process that the artist goes through. Yes, it is truly mysterious, but it's only mysterious in those moments, and a lifetime may have a few of them.

L.B.: What role does the process of exhibiting play in your working process?

A.K.: It's a very important thing. One can have all kinds of stories in one's head, or in one's own inner mythology, about whatever the object is. It's only when you put it out into the world, and see it in a space and then see it in another space and then in another space that you understand whether it measures up to any of the expectation that you might have for it.

L.B.: Could you talk about your views on exhibiting in an art center or a museum that's a special art space, versus making public art projects out in the world?

A.K.: Some of the greatest art ever made was public. Michelangelo's David, Rodin's Burghers of Calais, Tatlin's unmade tower… there are many works. Public art in public space functions in a very particular way and has a real magic of its own. I'm fascinated by the idea of those kind of mythical moments of pilgrimage – the Tower of Babel; and even today, especially all those sites of pilgrimage in India, where I come from; the Louvre in France; or Santiago de Compostela in Spain – the idea that by participating you do something to yourself, and to the object, to the place. I think public endeavor as galvanized around an object can have a very powerful and particular energy. And I think that's worth investigating.

L.B.: But here you're describing Santiago de Compostela, which is a place, and it was built by humans, but its lure is something that happened to it; whereas when you're the artist who is building something for an empty space, it's like you're already carrying this massive expectation…

A.K.: Exactly, but I think it comes from all sorts of different things. I'm going to risk this and say that artists don't make objects; artists make mythologies, mythologies even about themselves. When you look at a Picasso on the wall, you're not just looking at the painting, you're also looking at 20-30-40 million dollars. Money is part of the mythology of the object, and so is this fantastically inventive man. All these places were, of course, built by men and women like you and me, and yet they were not. I see it with my piece Cloud Gate in Chicago, there's something that happens to people when they go there. I can't explain it. It has to do with the scale of the object, it has to do with a kind of uncertainty, about what it is and how it got there, and how it got made. It's so big and yet it's not so big. Scale is not just a matter of size; it is a whole question of meaning and time and all these other questions we've been talking about.

L.B.: It sounds like how you deal with the issue of working in public space is similar to how you work with this object/non-object kind of perception. There's always this folding, whereas in the public realm it becomes a more social-civilizational kind of fold. That's really interesting because my experience in today's exhibition in the art-designated space was very asocial.

A.K.: I do feel very strongly that somehow one does have to take that next step towards a particular kind of public endeavor. What's the use in making another more or less interesting object that's out there in public and littering the place? On the whole, I don't like being with people, personally, but I do sense that there's something very compelling about communal engagement.

L.B.: One last question – is time space, and can space be time?

A.K.: Einstein put the two together beautifully. Actually, I think Einstein's right. I think they are together, space and time. Physicists are obsessed with the idea that both space and time started with the Big Bang, that before the Big Bang there was neither space nor time. What is that moment before space and time? I'm not going to give you an answer because I don't know it, but it's a good question.