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Anish Kapoor
National Gallery of Modern Art - NGMA Delhi
Jaipur House, India Gate, 110003 New Delhi , India
November 27, 2010 - February 27, 2011

Meditation on Kapoor's Optic Antics
by Himali Singh Soin

Anish Kapoor’s deep well of color and shapes make your eyes burn.  The outside is inverted with the inside, images are miniaturized and hyperbolic, too close or too far, lateral, converse, perverse, and incongruous with any rational imagination.

You feel these things that frustrate and exhilarate you. You wonder about the universe, you wonder about yourself. You think about love, about loneliness, emptiness and character. You wonder how such artificial, solid structures could evoke such visceral, organic reactions. Your eyes burn. Your mind churns. You walk inside to find yourself outside and you look up to find you really looked down.

You play with these self-reflective surfaces and yearn to grow feathers, and with bird-like instincts knock back and forth into the steel in which you see yourself, not quite right.

You yearn to fly above them, around them, in them. They expand and contract, merge and converge, divulge and bulge, beam and squint, they confuse scale, they bemuse, they relieve, they excite. But divorced from the cognitive thematics that the erudite artist dialogues with, his work, placed in such intense proximity to one another at such a grand scale, are claustrophobic, intense, passionate, sexual, emotional. Their endless depth and lack of beginnings seem to cage you in their mutually spiraling sense of infinity and endless freedom.

That’s the thing (as hard as the thing is to pin-point): your expectation of what you see and feel is never realized, let alone forgiven.

Anish Kapoor utilizes primary colors and seemingly simple materials in complex manners, altering our sense of our very essence as we look—and search and continue to wonder—into them. Any trace of process or the past is invisible, silent, and empty spaces are filled to the brim with a paradoxical void, darkness and light merge, with illusion the medium of everything.

At the NGMA in Delhi, 18 large scale pieces in four dimensions—it is impossible to ignore the sense of time, or timelessness, as the case may be—squeeze and swell, almost into each other. Some say that you need distance to look at Anish Kapoor, but I think the distance is entirely in your psyche. Because you never really look at his work, rather you feel it, experience it, try and comprehend it. The haunting and ominous feeling of yourself jammed between two illusions is existential, at the least.

Two pieces, "When I am Pregnant" and "Shelter," in adjacent corners of the room, are inexhaustibly mesmerizing. "When I am Pregnant" looks—appropriately—simply like a big white bump in the gallery wall. It’s almost funny. But when you get closer, it seems to recede into the wall and from a different angle protrude from it. It is as though his usual steel surface has been painted over, and hidden behind the wall, made to extend its convex side outwards. It is all-seeing, yet it is invisible. Is the bump in the wall God? This is the extent of delirium that sets into the mind.

"Shelter" is not as de-stabilizing; rather it evokes an almost meditative aspect.  As you gaze into it yoat ere enveloped into a deep convex bowl that echoes your voice and forces you to be silent-- to just look inward. As the small red book you receive on your way in describes it: It is insistently itself.

In the next room you walk in and out of halls (in the shape of an infinity) studying the miniaturized architectural models of Kapoor’s sculptures around the world. In a way, this formalistic miniaturization reflects the artist's own aesthetic: in each of his reflective surfaces, scale metamorphoses with light and distance. His work is set in the most unlikely of places—a steel bubble below an office building on Leonard Street, a steel bridge amid a very English countryside, a large red elastic trumpet structure in a concert house, and a similar red shape in the valleys of New Zealand.  In the perfect BBC video made about him, Kapoor mentions that he enjoys retaining a sense of mystery in the work that can never be completely revealed.  Somehow the outside of a piece seems smaller than the inside. Kapoor’s experiments with the inner and the outer and the subsequent effect of displacement might have to do with his identity as a ‘contemporary Indian artist in England,' or perhaps with his own personal life, which, like the process behind his product, he keeps hidden. Both, however, seem inconsequential, especially when viewed in light of the gashes he punctures into the gallery walls. These gashes are painted red from the inside, but are clean, blank white on the outside, sans context; a façade of piece.

Open wounds allow us to create, he seems to say, and look inward. But not without reason, sound effects, and judgment (though his spurting blobs of red wax at Mehboob Studios in Mumbai might contend this).

After going in spirals, you find the exit sign. You look around. Which side have you come out? Or are you still inside? You hug the person next to you just to feel the pinch of flesh. The winter sun is strong, but everything still seems shrouded in haze. Nothing feels true, right or real again.

-- Himali Singh Soin

(All images courtesy of NGMA and the artist.)

Posted by Himali Singh Soin on 1/17/11 | tags: installation

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