A film is as faithful to a sculpture as a tee-shirt is to a movie.
Much of Anish Kapoors work has, at its foundation, the premise that sculptures can only be known through the fact of being in their presence, and that everything that is not the sculpture itself, is merely anecdotal interpretation. Visit a sculpture and you know the sculpture's affects on you – but if you read about the same sculpture, you only know someone else’s opinion, which is seldom sculpture.
So I have put this video here, partly to illustrate the rather laboured point above, but also because the text, as a form, deserves to be made accountable to those who might want to study it, deconstruct it, or maybe just couldn’t make the five widdershins that it takes to read it all, without getting dizzy (only happens in glorious 3D reality - yep, its a sculpture).
A film is as faithful to a sculpture as a tee-shirt is to a movie.
Once the Herris fencing was removed, the joint forces of entropy and opinion went to work. In a few short hours the diversity of life in Brighton had reacted in one way or another. Children and clowns saw something to climb over, the intellectuals something to discuss, the Daily Mail readers flexed their best lay critique, and a busker playing a sitar added, I think unknowingly, some serious context.
If there is one thing that Brighton’s living room isn’t short of it is art. Soon enough the celebrity art was the subject of a small, independent, derivative work.
'Empyrean Speculum' mirrored (pun intended), many aspects of the Sky Mirror and its contexts, questioning scale and intent by a simple substitution of values. Like much good art, it amused some, and annoyed others.
Jonathan Gilhooly's performance achieved something that is rare in my experience. It actively raised the issue of the cost of the work, diffusing the ubiquitous, “waste of money” complaints by spreading word that the Anish Kapoor sculptures have all been loaned to the City free.
Micheal O'Connell, security guard for the occasion, has contributed an interesting essay on the event for AN online www.a-n.co.uk
C- curve is a game of significances, it is literally a trick done with mirrors, that inverts the world in more than one sense.
If you think about it, this object, just one of many in AK’s body of work, contains the entirety of his subject matter, much like the way a fragment of a fractal, portrays the whole.
The nothing in everything ~ everything in nothing
To begin with, the one thing you never see is the sculpture itself; instead you are distracted almost immediately by the rest of the world reflected in it.
Being given the rare opportunity to see the world in a new and particular way is completely beguiling; you forget the sculpture and your pre-conceptions almost at once, and find yourself playing with the thing, or rather this world mediated by the thing.
You twist, you turn, making new sightlines, aligning distorted horizons, wishing you had a better camera, or that the sun would set, or the crowd would move, or you could fly, or….
And there you are, by a trick of mirrors you have become divided.
While your intellect is off gambolling across the downs, thinking it looks like this, or it reminds you of that; the rest of you, the bits that respond to the sub-intellectual, entirely experiential fact of sharing a space with an object, is getting the full effect of this thing.
For once allowing yourself to let a sculpture have its way with you, not worrying about what it means, just a simple experiential pleasure, in a strange way confirms your physical existence without reference to your intellect.
It is deeply enjoyable, especially if you can lose all thoughts of its being in anyway important.
Much has been said about Anish Kapoor’s pre-occupation with the contrasts between simple objects, complex meanings and our compulsion to seek complex answers, where questions may not even exist (the nothingness in everything).
This bit of shiny bent metal epitomises the same contradiction; thanks to all the clutter of reflected stuff, you can only comprehend it as an actual form intuitively or conceptually.
The simplicity of its form is elegant, beautiful even, but the engaging mass of its reflected context is overwhelming.
Imagine seeing the C-Curve sprayed white, or with a course powder pigment, the textural inverse of a mirrored surface.
The sculpture neatly illustrates how easy it is to confuse our points of reference. Describing the world seen through the sculpture is like describing the subject of a photo as though it was a real view, not the object it really is: a flat piece of paper.
To consider a sheep via C-Curve is essentially irrelevant to the object, even though it may be an interesting by-product. There is a parallel here with Anish Kapoor’s theme of ‘fictions’, or the factoids we obscure the actual immediate experience of all his sculptures with.
Jeanne d’Arc and all that she brings with her may well just be a reflected sheep.
Anish Kapoor often plays with the ambiguous relationship between object and subject, ones-self and the external. How much of what we know is directly from within ourselves, or is from some external ‘authority’. How little we differentiate between first hand knowing and collective knowledge. How myth is socially agreed yet has intimate relevance. How the portrayal of an anatomical part can at once represent ourselves, someone else, mankind in its entirety, or simply be a misunderstood lump of red polystyrene.
You are the sculpture ~ the sculpture is you
The new vision of the rest of the world that you get reflected in C-Curve seems fascinating at first: you move, everything changes.
Before too long your attention shifts from the static landscape to the more active reflections that other people make, random groupings, somersaults, strange magnifications of body parts, lone figures far away, even sheep licking their own reflections.
Then of course there is you yourself, the one thing that you can easily choreograph, the one that you know from other mirrors, your familiar standard figure for mirror viewing and your primary tool for manipulating the screen before you.
The whole of your perception of C-Curve is entirely dependant on you; your perspective and your unique location in space; even though it may be a shared experience, it is intensely personal (yet another feature of the sculptural).
You soon find that you are using the sculpture to interrogate yourself, both visually and intellectually, that the sculpture is for you, about you and the particulars of your position. No-one else sees what you see, no one else sees the same sculpture – or the same world, yourself included.
I find it revealing that photographers get very excited about this sculpture. It has to be said that it is a gloriously photogenic phenomenon, borne out by the increasing numbers of delightful images posted on flickr etc.
In these photographs the sculpture itself has become relegated to a bit of photographic kit, a fabulous lens, it is as absent from the photographs as the camera itself.
Compare both experiences; looking at photographs, or being in front of C-Curve.
The sculptural exists somewhere in the difference.
Anish Kapoor's work describes both the most basic sculptural experience and the most complex of reflected associations, and how these two aspects of a single object at once contradict and depend upon each other.
But that title, ‘The Dismemberment of Jeanne D’Arc’ appears to be a red herring. The real Jeanne D’Arc was not dismembered, and you can bet that Anish is under no illusions that she was, and he is not one to be flippant with his titles, so there must be some good reason.
Of Jeanne D’Arc we do know that she was burnt on a pyre and her ashes were disposed of in the sea to foil relic hunters. The C-Curve sculpture is located at Chattri, on the spot where funeral pyres burned the bodies of Sikh and Hindu fatalities of world war one, whose ashes were then disposed of at sea. (Muslim fatalities were sent to Woking for burial)
The source of these bodies was the makeshift hospital for Indian war wounded set up in the pavilion complex, the site of the Sky Mirror sculpture.
The surviving Indian soldiers migrated in large numbers to the slums that once stood on the present site of the Jeanne D’Arc installation. They went there for sex, scandalising the town and effectively turning the area into a red light district. Here we seem to have another correlation, Jeanne was most likely raped while imprisoned.
Three of the sites for Anish Kapoor’s sculptures during the festival share key roles in the Indian history of Brighton and through their aspects of sex and death offer a passing analogy with the fate of Jeanne D’Arc.
The Sky Mirror in Pavilion Gardens also has a formal relationship with the hole in the Jeanne D’Arc sculpture, in that the sculpture is a disc of sky brought down to earth, or a view into the heavens. The vagina hole of Jeanne D’Arc is also a projected circle, when you stand between her legs, you see a similarly sized disc that is a view into the ground, the depths exposed, fitting for the bodily theme.
There are four venues that house sculpture by Anish Kapoor during the festival, three are perhaps linked, what of the fourth?
Fabrica is a deconsecrated Methodist church. If there is a connection here with the subject of Jeanne it is not anything to do with the Indian heritage of Brighton. Perhaps it balances the cultural duality of AK himself, but I think it hints at a deeper, less visceral aspect of the Jeanne D’Arc story, one that centres on faith, religious dogma and the nature of questioning.
While Jeanne D’Arc was being tried she was asked whether she was in a state of grace. To answer 'yes' would have been heresy, as only god can know his will. To answer ‘no’ would have proven her guilt. To the amazement of theologians this 19 year old illiterate peasant answered “If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.”
What makes this relevant? Anish Kapoor like many artists, is dealing with universal questions and the essence of truth through his work, in fact you could say that all of his work arrives in its vicinity sooner or later. His chosen method of dealing with the ‘big’ subject is to continually contrast absolute simplicity with confusing complexity.
Jeanne illustrates nicely the partisan nature of questioning and how, like sub-atomic particles, question and answer can shift depending on what you wish for. Also like Jeanne, he has a knack for not giving compromising answers to questions where the futility of the answer is already established.
Of course there is a whole load more to it than this ~ and a lot less...
[Remember this is not science]
When I heard that they were throwing Ovid, Murasaki Shikibu and a whole host of other classical sources into the mix, I had to remind myself that if anyone could avoid either bludgeoning its audience with academic authority, or dumbing down in disneyesque proportions, it would be Fabrica.
The respected literary elders have been invoked for a series of associated events called ‘Blood & Ink’ that have been organised by Jane Fordham the painter and Jackie Wills the poet.
Blood & Ink was initially conceived as a development on the working process of Anish Kapoor, in an attempt to understand his ‘fictions’ and how they work, to explore some of his explicit references and to broaden the field. Blood & Ink events are an opportunity to put yourself in the artists place, taking possession of a range of classic myth narratives and exploring them as your own personal source.
Each event is an informal reading with a subliminal trace of performance. They are not all exactly what you would call participatory, but somehow they seem to involve you personally in the interpretation of the narratives. These are far from dry retellings of old stories – each event so far has had a very particular atmosphere, a vitality stemming from the dynamic of the story, reader and listeners combined, they leave you energised and inspired.
Having been to several of these events I get the feeling that they will be responsible for quite a lot of new work from those who have attended.
Last Saturday, watching Ovid being read, coming alive once again after all these centuries, with the power to stop passers-by and quieten small children, to huddle together and be delighted by your own mental imagery, I realised what Fabrica does that is special, and what sets it apart from the majority of galleries.
Fabrica is artist led, it recognises that the arts are fundamentally participatory. The majority of Fabrica’s work is aimed at the artist in you. At Fabrica an exhibition such as AK’s Blood Relations is the focus for a host of process related activities such as ‘Blood & Ink’, that are arguably where the real creativity occurs. Such an approach makes contemporary art extremely personal, you have a stake in it, it is what happens when you engage, right now in the instant, your own individuality with your culture.
When Contemporary Art is approached as a spectator sport, a catalogue of what the great are doing, we all become little more than train-spotters in our own culture, confined to the platform looking for the bookshop.
Strangely enough Ovid is there too.
Blood & Ink details
Tempting as it is to drag Schrödinger’s cat screaming from Plato’s cave to explain this thought, I’ll resist in favour of a plain description.
As the work is effectively ‘by appointment only’, chances are that if you haven’t booked your ticket, the closest that you will get to the work is going to be a verbal form, however for those who would like to reconstruct the experience with friends, the following may be of some help.
- 2 masseuses – Indian head variety (preferably), dressed in white.
- Several ushers.
- 1 dark industrial basement (ex-print works is recommended)
Containing: ~ 2 specially fabricated interconnecting rooms within the space.
- Room 1 (approx 10’x10’ x8’ high) painted neutral mid grey.
- 2 doors, each in opposite walls opening outward from the room
- 2 low plinth-like seats, white with no padding – against doorless walls
- 2 flourescent lights – one behind each seat.
- 2 short text instructions (Wait Here, Do as instructed, What to expect, etc) painted on wall above seats in black.
- 2 doors, each in opposite walls, one closed, one leading from previous (grey) room.
- 1 massage table plus blanket (all white)
- 1 bright daylight-white luminaire in ceiling immediately above massage table (luminaire approx same dimensions as massage table).
Met in basement by masseuses, confirmed as fit, given instructions then put in grey room to adjust and wait.
Masseuses prepare, open interconnecting door and invite subject to de-shoe and lay upon massage table (fully clothed) face up.
Massage commences, during which a ‘monochrome’ condition is, or isn’t successfully imagined, depending on the subject, and prevailing conditions.
Subject leaves, sculpture leaves with them.
Clearly all of the concrete elements of this sculpture are common objects that can easily be encountered in a normal situation, however the sensory effects that mark this as an Anish Kapoor are more fugitive.
I have interviewed 3 people about their experiences during this process:
- Patient A (Little Hans) Imagined nothing unexpected.
- Patient B (Fräulein Elisabeth von R.) Had a visual sensation of colour consisting of two horizontal fields; a softly dappled green above and a rather muddy violet below.
- Patient C (Fräulein Lucy R) Experienced a highly animated range of imagined colours almost immediately the massage began, these increased in intensity until the temples were massaged, at which point a fully polychrome dragon made its appearance across the entire visual field.
I also spotted in the gallery assistants information pack this photocopy of Descent Into Limbo (1992), a sculpture Anish made for Documenta IX. It was constructed from concrete and stucco but I like the distortion that multiple duplication adds to what was once probably quite a crisp image. Nothing beats photocopying.
Before C-Curve arrived, the Chattri was one of those secret places unknown even to most Brightonians. If they did know about it, they kept it quiet, because the Chattri is a bit special.
I wish I could have gone to see the full moon over the white marble and the mirrored curve, but I had to spend the night keeping 1000 names and blood relations company.
The security guards that watch the Chattri have told of their surprise at the numbers of people visiting, even at 4AM and the friendliness of those making the pilgrimage. Seems I needn’t worry about my secret spot after all.
Being that it is the first time he has been a guest director of anything, and that he has made 2 new works. I thought I would remedy the situation so I posted the following text to wikipedia…
In 2009 Anish Kapoor became the first Guest Artistic Director of Brighton Festival. As well as informing the content of the festival as a whole, Anish Kapoor loaned 4 significant sculptures of his to the town for the duration of the festival; Sky Mirror at Brighton Pavilion gardens, C-Curve at The Chattri, Blood Relations (a collaboration with author Salman Rushdie) and 1000 Names, both at Fabrica. In addition to these existing sculptures, he also created 2 new works: a large site-specific work entitled ‘The Dismemberment of Jeanne d’Arc’ and a performance based installation entitled ‘Imagined Monochrome’.
As you must know, wikipedia is open to edit by anybody, so if you disagree with my description or you wish to amend it – feel free. In fact it would be good if someone changed it, just so that there is no doubt that it is not self advocacy.
A note to wikipedians: I realise that there is a tendency to remove text that appears on any other site in case of plagiarism, so let me say that the above text was posted on wikipedia before it was posted here.
I also noticed that Fabrica doesn’t have a page on wikipedia. So while you are at it…
To make amends I have spent approximately 3 minutes assembling a thoroughly cheesy short movie that will in no way suffice – to the accompaniment of an antique polyphonic music box. You can be sure that the missing Music Boxes are the antithesis of this, wherever they may be.
Having done this I can fully understand why AK pulled the sculptures, a bad 1970s documentary feel can be the only result. How Jolly. It should really end with a test card.