Anish Kapoor on the Power of Concave Mirrors

Installation View. Photographer: Dave Morgan, Artwork © Anish Kapoor, courtesy Lisson Gallery
Installation View. Photographer: Dave Morgan, Artwork © Anish Kapoor, courtesy Lisson Gallery
Installation View. Photographer: Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, Artwork © Anish Kapoor, courtesy Lisson Gallery
Installation View. Photographer: Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, Artwork © Anish Kapoor, courtesy Lisson Gallery
Installation View. Photographer: Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, Artwork © Anish Kapoor, courtesy Lisson Gallery
Installation View. Photographer: Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, Artwork © Anish Kapoor, courtesy Lisson Gallery
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The Turner Prize-winning artist often plays with optical illusions that create the impression of infinite depth and his work is the perfect dialogue to Soane’s use of mirrors and domed ceilings.

Text: Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop
Images: Courtesy of Pitzhanger Manor and the Artist

 

The British architect Sir John Soane (1753‑1837) used strategically placed mirrors to enhance visual perspectives, and so it seems befitting that Anish Kapoor’s hypnotic mirror were chosen as the first artworks to be exhibited in the new art space of Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery, which has just reopened after 3 years of extensive restoration.

Pitzhanger Manor was designed by Soane and built between 1800 and 1804 in then London’s rural countryside. Today its grounds, Walpole Park, provide an oasis of calm in the busy west London borough of Ealing. The adjoining gallery, where Kapoor’s work is now being shown, was built in the 1930s, on the site of the old house’s kitchen black, it includes architectural elements such as three skylights that uses the same amber glass Soane uses in the manor house.

 

Installation View. Photographer: Dave Morgan, Artwork © Anish Kapoor, courtesy Lisson Gallery

 

“I’ve always loved Soane, but I didn’t set out to make an exhibition that was ‘Soane-ian’, I don’t think one can, really. But it’s interesting that certain things overlap almost unintentionally, and I kind of like that. One of them is the amber light [Found in the gallery’s domed skylight]; Soane was obsessed with this warm Italian, I think almost Turner-esque yellow, rather melancholic, light and that’s something that you will see in and around my works. It wasn’t intended, but it’s there,” Kapoor said at the opening.

“The other thing is that for many years, I’ve worked with concave mirror forms of all kind, and concavity induces, or invites interiority which is why I’m interested in it. It turns the world upside down, but it weirdly has a conversation with Soane, and his idea of repeated mirrors, like in the Library here, that create endless reflections. So these things overlap, and all one can do is hopefully make one or two reasonably good works, and make the conversation happen by itself,” he added.

The exhibition presents a range of recent works by Kapoor, including Red to Blue (2016) – three large concave disks, whose colours change as one moves around them, subtly echoing the gallery’s round amber skylights — while the two round forms of Glisten Eclipse (2018), a corner artwork, recalls how Soane would use convex mirrors in the corners of a faceted glass dome to intensify the light in the space below.

 

Installation View. Photographer: Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, Artwork © Anish Kapoor, courtesy Lisson Gallery

 

At the centre of the room, the freestanding stainless-steel sculpture Non-Object (Sphere 1998‑2013) at once reflects the entire gallery as one moves around it, while also funnelling visitors’ perspectives beyond the gallery space and towards the manor’s surrounding parkland.

Ahead of the opening we spoke with the British sculptor about his fascination with concave mirrors and their meaning in art practice.

 

The use of concave mirrors has become very important in your practice over the last 30 years; what first attracted you to them?

In the late ‘80s, I was making a group of works that were basically concaved forms that were painted with a very, very dark blackish-blue, and what I discovered with them is that they were not void objects, but it was as if the space of these objects filled up with this darkness, and there is a difference. I then made Descent into Limbo [in 1992, a cube-shaped building with a 2.5-metre hole set into the floor, which [the hole] was painted black and it wasn’t about a hole, but a hole full of darkness. I then had the idea somewhere that one could do the same with a mirror, a concaved mirror could fill itself up with ‘mirror-ness’. The convex mirror (or fish eye mirror) has been in art since the Etruscans, more or less, but concaved mirrors were only really an instrument used in sciences as discovered in the 15-16th century and used in telescopes, used as an extension of the lens, but it does the strangest thing. For example in this work, Alice-Square (2017), if it was a painting, one would say that the space of the painting would be from the picture’s surface deep into the interior, that’s the traditional space of a painting. The concave mirror as a painting, if you like, first of all turns the world upside down, but its space is in front of you, and it physically affects your body, it gives you vertigo, making you wonder, ‘Where is the object?’, and that’s what I’m particularly interest in.

 

Installation View. Photographer: Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, Artwork © Anish Kapoor, courtesy Lisson Gallery

 

So the concave mirror is an exploration of space?

Of space and of course by extension an exploration time, because as you move in front of that mirror something very weird happens; there is the opposite movement, and you’re upside down. Symbolically, that’s anthropic, symbolically that’s an image of death, the upside down figure. So while it’s a game at one level, it also has this quite serious and confounding spatial quality. ‘What am I looking at?’ It’s another void object, which I refer to as the non-object. So in way it’s the opposite of Jacques Lacan’s recognition of self [the French psychoanalyst who developed the “mirror stage” theory, describing when a young child starts to identify with its own image in a mirror]

 

That’s because you’re not using a flat mirror but a concave one?

Precisely, which is why I refer to many of the works in this show with an ‘Alice’ title, as in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ falling down the hole. This vertigo of falling into an interior space.

 

But in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ you go through the mirror and enter another world, is that the same in your work, or is it bouncing back at you?

Well, it’s doing all of these things. You are entering another world, but it is also telling you that the world is not what you think it is. The floor is the ceiling, the ceiling is the floor. It gives you this sense of tumbling in. Obviously I’m kind of toying with all these potential ways to think. For example, in Glisten Eclipse [two concave, semi mirrored surfaces set at an angle] I’m trying to say that the space between these two objects is full, it’s full of colour, it’s as if they are taking over each other, one is becoming the other. And then actually there is nothing, it’s just mirrors with one reflecting the other one, but the space is very confusing. It’s as if the object is coming at you and it’s very aggressive.

 

Installation View. Photographer: Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, Artwork © Anish Kapoor, courtesy Lisson Gallery

 

At first glance, your works are disorientating, but also quite playful, yet, you are also talking about death; that’s a pretty serious matter.

Yes, I hold that it is pretty serious. When Rembrandt is making a self-portrait, he’s looking at himself again and again. There is technique, a way of putting a brush mark. One way of looking at it, it’s a trick, it’s an illusion, the eyes reading a pictorial form. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have deep psychological intention. I think we have to be rather thoughtful in our modern era, where we have other ideas about skills. It isn’t just about rending the image, making the image, it’s also about this very complex question of where the self is. ‘Who am I? Is it just a game, or is it a game with deeper intention?’ and I think these things can overlap.

 

You’ve talked about space and time; what about light, how important is that?

A mirror brings in everything, it brings in its own space. So it has its own light and I’m not that bothered about it

 

What about playing with colours?

Over the last 10 years, I’ve been making painted mirrors. Earlier on [when talking about Alice-Square], I talked about painting with a concave mirror and the fact that it has a space in front; but when it’s a painted like a painting, it does both. It’s the space of painting, the traditional backward space that can stay out of focus and faded, but it’s also in front, and I’m quite interested in those confusions that arise out of a very particular kind of activity with the concave mirror, and that’s why I keep exploring it.

 

Installation View. Photographer: Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, Artwork © Anish Kapoor, courtesy Lisson Gallery

 

 

Anish Kapoor
16 March – 18 August 2019
Pitzhanger Manor, UK

 

 

About the artist

Anish Kapoor was born in Mumbai, India in 1954 and lives and works in London. He studied at Hornsey College of Art, London, UK (1973–77) followed by postgraduate studies at Chelsea School of Art, London, UK (1977–78).

Anish Kapoor (b.1954 in Mumbai) has lived and worked in London since the early 1970s.  One of the most influential sculptors of his generation, his invention of sculptural language and form has constantly challenged the way we view the world.   Large-scale commissions include Marsyas (2002), for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, Cloud Gate (2004) in Chicago’s Millennium Park, Leviathan at the Grand Palais, as part of Monumenta (2011) and Orbit (2012) at the Queen Elizabeth Park London.

Recent solo exhibitions include CorpArtes, Santiago, Chile (2019); Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery, London, UK (2019); Serralves Museum, Porto, Portugal (2018);  ‘Descension’’ at Public Art Fund, Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 1, New York, NY, USA (2017); Parque de la Memoria, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2017); MAST Foundation,Bologna, Italy (2017); Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC), Mexico City, Mexico (2016); Couvent de la Tourette, Eveux, France (2015); Château de Versailles, France (2015) and The Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, Moscow, Russia (2015). He represented Britain at the 44th Venice Biennale in 1990 with Void Field (1989), for which he was awarded the Premio Duemila for Best Young Artist. Kapoor won the Turner Prize in 1991 and has honorary fellowships from the University of Wolverhampton, UK (1999), the Royal Institute of British Architecture, London, UK (2001) and an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford, UK (2014). Anish Kapoor was awarded a CBE in 2003 and a Knighthood in 2013 for services to visual arts. Large scale public projects include Cloud Gate (2004) in Millennium Park, Chicago, USA and ArcelorMittal Orbit (2012) in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, UK.

 

 


 

Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop is an established freelance journalist, who has written about art in Asia since 2002 for numerous publications, including The New York Times/International Herald Tribune, Newsweek, South China Morning Post, and Prestige. She was the editor in chief for Europe and Asia at BlouinArtinfo.com between 2012 and 2016.

 

 

 
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