Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Staring Into The Vortex

Sculptor Anish Kapoor talks about his work at the Kochi Muziris Biennale and says that Indians need to develop confidence in their contemporary culture

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: With Anish Kapoor. Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram 

Anish Kapoor looks a bit anxious, as he stands besides a nine-feet high container. It is embedded in the floor of a large room of the Aspinwall House, a site of the Kochi Muziris Bienalle. A propeller, which has been placed at the bottom of the container, that contains blackish water, is not turning at the speed that Anish wants. Workers mill around. Anish has a chat with his assistants. Instructions are passed. Nuts are tightened, wires are re-laid, and buttons are pressed. Finally, everything falls into place.

As the propeller increases in speed, there is a swirling effect in the water, and, right in the middle a vortex is formed. A visitor says, “When problems mount up in life, it would seem as if we are sucked into a vortex.” When Anish hears this, he nods, smiles and says, “As human beings we bring all our meanings and possibilities to a work of art. Artists have to provide the scene in which those things can arise.”

Incidentally, the work, 'Descension', is the first that Anish has specifically made for an event in India. And he looks happy. “I have always had a connection with Fort Kochi,” he says. “My father was in the Indian Navy. And I remember coming here when I was ten years old and staring at the sea.”

Like the place, Anish also loves the Biennale and states that it is making an important statement. “India has a wonderful old culture, but there is almost no confidence in contemporary work,” says Anish. “In arts, music and architecture, we are stuck in the past. Bollywood is just not enough to give a re-interpretation of the past. What this Bienalle is saying is that we must have confidence in today's culture.

Anish is one who has never been short of confidence. Born in Mumbai, to an Indian father and a Jewish mother, he studied in the Doon School at Dehradun. In the early 1970s, after a brief stay at a kibbutz in Israel, he moved to London to study at the Hornsey College of Art, followed by postgraduate studies at the Chelsea School of Art, London.

In the 1980s, his work consisted of geometric sculptures, made of granite, limestone and marble. And soon he made his mark. In 1990, he was awarded the Premio Duemila Prize at the Venice Bienalle, and the prestigious Turner Prize in 1991.

His well-known sculptures include the Cloud Gate (Chicago's Millennium Park), Sky Mirror (Rockefeller Centre in New York), and the ArcelorMittal Orbit, situated at London's Olympic Park,which, at a height of 376 feet, is the largest public art project in Britain. Each of his works sells for two million pounds, on an average, and his net worth is estimated at 100 million pounds. In 2013 Anish was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his services to the visual arts. And this year, he received an honorary doctorate degree from Oxford University.

Asked whether he is living a charmed life, Anish says, “Yes, I spend all day doing what I love to do. And when I think of people all over the world who have to struggle to earn a living, or are jobless or in poverty, I know that I am unbelievably lucky.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

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