"for each time you or I treat images as presentations of something else […] we have smashed the image in favour of the idea behind it." james hillman

Went with Rachel to the Anish Kapoor show at the Royal Academy.

It’s worth a pilgrimage and I use this word advisedly because there is definitely something spiritual in Kapoor’s work. There’s also a lot of red wax in Kapoor’s work. Between the pneumatic canon that fires 25 kilo wads of wax across two galleries into a white wall and the 10 ton juggernaut of crimson wax that slowly makes its way along rails through four galleries, squeezing through their doors – red is the dominant tone.

It was amazing standing in the expectant crowd by Shooting into the Corner looking at the massive pile of splattered carnage across the hall. The wax looked nothing other than horse meat. Acres of smashed and shattered flesh in the immaculate surrounds of the Royal Academy galleries. And yet people were excited. Tittering even (myself included). And it struck us that this is what public executions must have been like. A stern, mirthless man in a boiler suit comes out, packs the wax cylinder into the canon and we stand waiting, expectant, breathless even before a massive explosion and a splatter of blood-red gore.

This is the striking thing about Kapoor’s shows. They are beautiful and sublime but also quite visceral and real.

The wonderful mirror art – perfectly concave circular mirrors which swallow you up as you approach them – take you into a weird ‘other’ world. The reality disappears and something unearthly happens. The same effects come with the piece I am Pregnant which is is almost imperceptibly raised bump in the wall which has the disrupts your visual field so utterly that it feels like that wall has some time-portal or worm-hole in it.

And trans-worldly as these experiences are – you have to be there, physically in the room with other people milling around to experience them. They simultaneously make you very present in your body and elsewhere. It’s wonderfully disconcerting.

That physicality is also in the massive redwax piece Svayambh which is unavoidably bodily – as it pushes through the gallery doors, the squeezings are smeared all over the frames, unavoidably like human feces – but also redolent of other meanings, images. The redness and inevitability of it reminded me of childbirth, pushing its way out into the world but also the unstoppable grinding forward of life and inescapably, of death.

There is a whole room of concrete sculpture, made according to computerized patterns but looking like great piles of elaborately arranged turds. Grey, neutral-toned – but none the less excrement. Those shapes are so familiar, so human and yet unsettling. Bodily but also something else.

It made me think about James Hillman (my favorite writer/thinker at the moment). He talks about psyche and eros, about the horizontal and the vertical, the soul and the spirit. Spirit is all about leaps into the vertical, transcendence, timelessness, spontaneity. Soul is about circularity, earthiness, the flesh, desire and history. We live in a culture that totally priviledges the the one (verticality) over the other (horizontally). Even the most secular context is all about instant, better, other, ideal. The flawed, messy, earthy, turdy quality of existence is almost always tidied up. Hillman suggests this leads to illness.

And Kapoor’s elegant but potent events seem to unite these two axes beautifully. Beauty being the operative word.

[picture source]


  1. Rene

    October 8, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    the first picture took me right back to being a teenager.
    ‘path of puberty’ went through my mind.
    when the scary thought rises that being a girl is not
    done by simply wearing a dress and having long hair.
    you discover parts and (monthly) processes you were not aware of
    before. feeling shame, trying to hide it, but thinking
    everyone can see it in your face whats going on.
    then the door at the end..when you understand that the
    path you walked was a privilege and you step through
    having become a woman.

    i love art when it gets you to places you won’t even
    dream of anymore…

  2. Christian Daw

    October 13, 2009 at 8:40 am

    Any chance of twisting your arm to come and speak to our sixth form about meditation?

  3. your admirer

    October 22, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    Alistair, you are probably used to people telling you
    this every day, but I can’t help myself and I am going
    to say this again: you are so gorgeous. Everytime I see you
    or read you I come to the same conclusion.
    You are just perfect in any sense. You are so unique.
    I don’t know how it is possible:
    your terrestrial parents gave birth to someone like you?
    I wish you to be happy. I will be your fan till I die.
    And maybe even after. I wish to be reincarnated as
    your toenail 🙂

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