‘All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts’
‘In terms of the fact that the traditional sublime is the matte surface, deep and absorbing, and that the shiny might be a modern sublime, which is fully reflective, absolutely present, and returns the gaze. This feels like a new way to think about the non-objective object ... I am interested in sculpture that manipulates the viewer into a specific relation with both space and time’
Standing in front of Anish Kapoor’s Untitled (2012), the viewer is faced with an inverted reflection of themselves and their surroundings: drawn into the virtual space of the work, we become physically implicated in a vivid, living theatre, our world turned upside-down in its concave surface. Unashamedly mythic in scope, Untitled invites a profound and unnerving self-consciousness that seems to redefine our very state of being. In altering reality in this mirrored disc, Kapoor emphasises the illusive nature of all appearances, revealing the world as a stage or pantomime. Hovering in the liminal space between fiction and actuality in its revelatory power of transformation, the object itself appears to transcend the physical realm, gaining an almost magical aura – what Kapoor has called an ‘oneiric’ quality that he highly prizes. This is heightened by the complete lack of any trace of the artist’s hand in the work. Kapoor aims to evoke the sublime Hindu aesthetic of svayambh or the ‘self-made’ object, creating an entity that is generative of independent meaning through its interaction with the surrounding environment; he has said that ‘the space contained in an object must be bigger than the object which contains it. My aim is to separate the object from its object-hood’ (A. Kapoor, quoted in H. Reitmaier, ‘Anish Kapoor in conversation with Heidi Reitmaier,’ Tate Magazine, July 2007). Indeed, encountering this almost magical presence can be a disorienting experience. As Nancy Adajania has written, ‘Kapoor’s works oblige the viewer to become sensitive to the continuous processes of cognition and imagination, instinct and dream, sensation and inference, by which the mind constructs the world. Indeed, in such an act of aesthetic response, the mind has a sudden and uncanny experience of looking at itself’ (N. Adajania, ‘The Mind Viewing Itself,’ in Anish Kapoor: Delhi, Mumbai, exh. cat. British Council and Lisson Gallery, 2010).
Kapoor’s art, as well as his sense of performance, conjures a powerful sense of mysticism. Using illusion, the dizzying power of the sublime and the seductive force of light and colour, sculptures like Untitled are persuasive in their mythologising of the world and invest it with a Romantic sense of mystery and meaning. Achieved through the apparent emptiness of formal abstraction, this numinous strain in turn invokes a profound sense of innate spiritual unity underlying the veil of Maya – the thin and permeable screen-like surface of phenomenal reality on which the fleeting illusions of life are said to appear, like images at the cinema. Like many of the more ambitious works that Kapoor has made, Untitled is a sculpture that demands the physical co-operation and participation of its viewer in order to be fully appreciated. Much as Barnett Newman commanded that to receive the full spiritual impact and intention behind his work the observer should view it from a specific point, many of Kapoor’s latest works also demand a ‘performance’ from the viewer: as Kapoor puts it, ‘If you perform, they perform’ (A. Kapoor in conversation with R. Cork, Institut Français, London, December 12, 2007). Concave works like Blood Mirror stand at the heart of Kapoor’s practice, emanating an almost divine force; while existing in real space, the work and the viewer are both transported and transformed to somewhere new. ‘I have worked with concave mirror space for twenty years now because concave mirror space is in front of the picture plane and it is a new kind of space and a new sublime. A modern sublime, a “now” sublime, a “here” sublime’ (A. Kapoor in D. de Salvo, ‘Anish Kapoor in Conversation,’ in D. Anfam (ed.), Anish Kapoor, London 2012, p. 403).