Anish Kapoor is an artist at odds with the spaces his works are displayed in. Often either fitting awkwardly within a space, taking a whole space up or forcing us to consider the space in a different and interesting way, ignoring an Anish Kapoor installation is simply not an option.
Works such as “Marsyas”, 2002, the behemoth of an installation housed within the turbine hall of Tate Modern as part of the Unilever Series, demonstrates Kapoor’s fascination with the physical and metaphysical. Subverting perceptions of negative/positive space along the lines achieved by Rachel Whiteread’s molds, but on a much more awesome scale, “Marsyas” appears as some kind of manifestation of a physical theory or scientifically biological structure that hints at childhood anatomy classes. The title of the work is extracted from the Greek myth of Marsyas the Satyr who was brutally flayed by Apollo, demonstrating Kapoor’s intention to evoke a fleshy image. The colour red features heavily throughout the work of Kapoor and is indicative of his wish to connect the objects he creates to an organic element, recognisably meat-like and establishing a connection to bodily construction and function, a sense of discomforting familiarity is created as we observe, study and participate in each work.
The participation of the viewer is a key element in all of Kapoor’s works, whether it is becoming part of the work through reflection, distortion and movement such as in “Cloud Gate” in Millennium Park, Chicago, or in experiencing the active “taking over of space” in the Royal Academy. The exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, featured reflective panels, distorted spaces, bumps on walls and sculptures created from powdered pigment that force you to re-evaluate the space you occupy and the physical laws that keep your feet on the ground and your head in the air. Scale is still challenged with many of the works but the assault on the gallery space has never been more literal than with “shooting into the corner”, 2008-9, consisting of a canon shooting mortars of thick, dark red wax into the corner of the opulent and richly decorated Royal Academy gallery space, inducing gasps, as people approach the work with a sense that a desecration of a sacred place has just occurred. “Svayambh”, 2007, translated from sanskrit means ‘born by itself’ referring to its passive creation by the space it occupies. Consisting of a large block of wax, set on a trolley attached to a rail on the floor, the block is forced on a slow journey through several arches, literally forming itself. Much in the way a child explores the properties of play-doh™ on the freshly painted wall of their mothers kitchen, “Svayambh” leaves traces of itself around the arches, on the floor and within the rails it glides upon whilst slowly taking the reverse form of the arch it has just assaulted. Observing this taking place, it is possible to overhear other viewers in the gallery remarking their disbelief that the RA is being physically disturbed in this way and this is exactly how Anish Kapoor intended this work to be, awe inspiring, provocative and on many levels discomforting to the uninitiated Kapoor fans.