Selected Interview (Part I):
Anish Kapoor & Richard Serra
Interview by Ossian Ward, 2008
How would you describe your main concerns as a sculptor?
Richard Serra ‘A lot of my work is about the duration of bodily movement through space and how one understands those sensations and experiences. The location for each piece drives this movement, so I look at how I can deal with the space in the most singular way I can. You can hang a lot of different images on old structures, but I’m interested in the invention of form.’
Anish Kapoor ‘I’m always returning to a similar set of problems about our body’s relation with things in space, but the challenge of the work is that it needs to confound expectations. It also has to do with the sense that an object is only of real significance when it has an immaterial counterpoint, so it’s the materiality and beyond.’
Your work is essentially abstract but also about the body. How do you reconcile the two?
RS ‘The subject matter and the content of my work is you. Is the experience of walking through “Open Ended” abstract? No, because after a point you lose the room. Then you have to deal with where you are in relation to your own psychological subjectivity, and duration is key, because time is one of the most defining things about our individuality. How each of us deals with our own time has a lot to do with the moment and context we were born into.’
AK ‘Sculpture isn’t simply an object in space. It lives through the processional or returning view. In a normal scale object – a Rodin or Donald Judd for example, the living process is the walking around its three-dimensionality. We’re used to the mise en scène, in which the first view is the whole view, but you have to keep reviewing sculpture, just as you do with Rodin, because the front of [his statue of] Balzac is not the same as the back. Instinctively I don’t want a narrative but it’s an essential part of knowing the world, which is also 3D and temporal.’
Is size ever important in art?
RS ‘Robert Smithson was one of my closest friends but I was never into making land art, as most of it was shot from the air and so was essentially graphic. If I deal with landscape at all, it’s in elevation and bodily movement. People call my works monumental but I don’t know of any abstract monuments. They’re always representational or even have a specific iconography, like: if it’s a statue of a horse with two legs up in the air it means you died in battle, if it’s only one leg then you were just wounded and so on…’
AK ‘At some levels scale has a bad name in sculpture, but it’s an integral tool when dealing with space. My work is not architecture, but can be architectural in scale. The models [currently on show at RIBA] are of 40 quasi-architectural projects since 1984 and I’ve been deeply interested in this moment where sculpture creates another reading of space for the past 20 years.’
How do you approach enormous commissions like the ‘Monumenta’ series at the Grand Palais?
RS ‘If you really want to get that space you have to see it in its entirety. Everybody has their own way, but I walked it for three days just to get the measure of the place, before coming up with the idea for “Promenade”. I didn’t know if we’d be able to build it, as there was no way to mock it up beforehand.’
AK ‘That’s the most terrifying space ever. It’s too big to be indoors and not big enough to be outdoors – truly frightening. These major projects are risky but also really interesting, as one doesn’t know what’s going to happen. I can figure out the practical realities now but I’m not sure about where the art will come from yet.’
Is there a danger of your practice becoming more like an architect’s or engineer’s?
RS ‘No, man, I’m a little cottage modelmaker, I use a hammer and nails! There’s myself and one guy in a small room, then my wife and a secretary. We try to get the pieces built and moved but we’re not into big merchandising. The works themselves are not computer dependent or generated, although sometimes they evolve or change if the computer tells me they’ll have tendencies to overturn, for example.’
AK ‘God, no, I’m very much studio-based. I employ a few people, because you can’t do it all yourself, but the studio is all; every problem, every issue is here. I can’t solve them in a plane or in my head and I don’t believe that an intellectual practice is enough. Maquettes are an essential tool, because drawings alone just don’t explain it.’
When you started sculpting, did you know where it was going?
RS ‘The first thing I did was completely idiotic; I ordered 35 feet of lead in a roll and then Philip Glass [Serra’s assistant in the ’60s] and I unrolled it and then rolled it back up. We looked at each other and said, what do we have here? Something or nothing? We didn’t know. If it’s steel slab, it’s a steel slab. If it’s a sculpture, it’s a sculpture. I made art – not because I wanted money or even to make art – but for an alternative life, I wanted to study myself.’
AK ‘When I started out in art school in the 1970s I did it just to exist, there wasn’t a hope in hell of making a living from it. The current hurry-hurry art world saddens me, because there’s a difference between making work for the market and just saying to yourself that hopefully this is a growing voyage of discovery. I don’t know what I’m doing; I’m still looking for it.’
Do you have a sense of what your career contribution might be?
RS ‘I don’t see myself from the outside like that, but I suppose I took the procedures of steelmaking and brought them into the subtext of art in the same way that Warhol manipulated the interface between art and commercial design. I admire a lot of people who have had long stands, and it seems like particular cultures don’t want to give artists their second, third or fourth acts. Your life’s a nanosecond; if you have a contribution to make, then make it. Don’t bitch about it, just do it.’
AK ‘Sculpture takes a hell of a long time. One keeps doing the same thing, it’s only over a period of time that the repetition leads to innovation. A work has one kind of life inside the studio and another outside. Of course, there’s no accounting for the public’s perception – it either enters the psyche or becomes just one more thing in the world.’
Selected Interview (Part II):
JOHN TUSA: Why do you say that you have nothing to say?
ANISH KAPOOR: One of the currents in the contemporary experience of art is that it points to the experience of the author. That is to say it dwells in the author. It seems to me that there’s another route in which the artist looks for content, which is different from meaning. It may be abstract, but at a deeper level symbolic content is necessarily philosophical and often religious. I think I am attempting to dig away at – without wanting to sound too pompous – the great mystery of being. And that, while it has a route through my psychobiography, it isn’t based in it.
JOHN TUSA: So at least you are walking away from what the romantic idea of the artist, that it is the life of the artist, the view of the artist, the experience of the artist which is absolutely central to the art, and you take the artist with the art bag and baggage.
ANISH KAPOOR: I am. I think I’m saying that there is another position. Maybe it is my Indian roots that prompt me in that direction. Of course, I also see a connection thereby with the minimal art of the sixties and seventies. The idea that the object in a sense has a language unto itself, and that its primary purpose in the world isn’t interpretative, it is there as if sitting within its own world of meaning.
JOHN TUSA: You make the distinction between subject matter – and one can certainly see that your pieces are not about subject matter – and content. Your sculptures are full of content. But just fill out that antithesis.
ANISH KAPOOR: Putting aside subject matter is saying that a content can arise. It does this seemingly out of formal language, considerations about form, about material, about context. When subject matter is sufficiently out of the way, something else occurs; maybe it is the role of the artist then, as I see it, to pursue this something that one might call content.
JOHN TUSA: And can that content at a certain stage even migrate into something that is more like subject matter, without being explicitly a subject?
ANISH KAPOOR: Yes, I think it can. Let’s just underline this by saying that artists don’t make objects. Artists make mythologies. When one sees a work by Picasso, let us say, what we look at is the mythological context in which Picasso worked. It’s as if one’s looking beyond the image, beyond the work as displayed. One is looking at Picasso’s mythology, which is about money, fame and a life lived in truly creative endeavour, or so the story goes.
JOHN TUSA: The moment you mention Barnett Newman I immediately think of his series ‘The Stations of the Cross’, which after all that is very strong subject matter. So how does this distinction between content and subject matter work out in the case of a series like that?
ANISH KAPOOR: The important thing there is to look at the work. On the face of it you are absolutely right. The moment that you are, as we all had the opportunity recently to do, in front of those works, they seemingly have nothing to do with the Stations of the Cross. They are a series of black and white canvases with “zips”: – these areas without colour, without painting; nothing to do with the Stations of the Cross other than that he has very carefully made the title part of the content. It’s as if the words then act as another form in the process of looking. So therefore one has to ask oneself the question about where this content arises. Is it about whether the content is resident in the viewer, or whether it is resident in the work? Now that’s a subtle yet very clear manipulation of the act of looking.
JOHN TUSA: If it wasn’t in the work though, you can’t always invest what you take to it can you? There has to be something immanent in the work.
ANISH KAPOOR: Precisely. There’s something immanent in the work but the circle is only completed by the viewer. Now that’s a very different position from a work with a subject matter, where the work itself has a complete circle of meaning and counterpoint.
JOHN TUSA: It tells a story, you recognise that story, you tell it back!
ANISH KAPOOR: But here is an incomplete circle which says “come and be involved. And without your involvement as a viewer, there is no story!”: I believe that that’s a complete kind of re-invention of the idea of art.
JOHN TUSA: And is that what you hope and think people do with your art, because after all now, after twenty-five years or so, people come to an Anish Kapoor and they expect to see eternity don’t they? So they arrive in the gallery and say I’m going to lose myself. Now is that a helpful thing for you?
ANISH KAPOOR: Well, as I was trying to say earlier on, artists make mythologies, not objects, so perhaps this is one of those mythologies that’s come to reside in and around my work.
JOHN TUSA: Did you set out to make it?
ANISH KAPOOR: Yes. And I could also say no, in that meaningful mythologies – after all things don’t get to be even remotely mythological until they have some deeper resonance – I believe that one cannot set out to make a work that’s spiritual. What does it mean? What is a contemporary iconography for the spiritual? Do we know? Is it some fuzzy space? Is that enough? I believe these things come to be because there are other resonances.
JOHN TUSA: Are you aware that you have changed what you do because people suddenly started saying “I go to a Kapoor and I see eternity and I lose myself etc”:? Has there been any reflex back from viewers’ reactions to you?
ANISH KAPOOR: It must be there to some extent, but one doesn’t make art for other people, even though I am very concerned with the viewer. It is in that abstract eye of the beholder that the circle is completed. I make art for myself.
JOHN TUSA: So if there were no commissions at all, what would you do in the morning?
ANISH KAPOOR: Oh that’s great, I’d love that. I would come to the studio and do my thing. What one does in the studio in fact is to pose a series of problems to oneself. You can come in and say, yes I have this funny notion that I want to make a blob of gooey mass of certain dimensions, that has a certain effect. And then, having made it, I’ve got to look for some deeper meaning, for some reason for this thing to be in the world. There’s enough stuff in the world anyway!
JOHN TUSA: But you can’t invest it with a meaning after you’ve made it.
ANISH KAPOOR: Oh, those processes are complex. One can find a way to do precisely that. Naming is one of those ways. Context is another. What happens if I put it next to another object? How does that change its reason for being, its effect on the body? One of the phenomena that I’ve worked with over many years is darkness. Darkness is a fact that we all know about, an idea about the absence of light. Very simple. What interests me however is the sense of the darkness that we carry within us, the darkness that’s akin to one of the principal subjects of the sublime – terror. A work will only have deep resonance if the kind of darkness that I can generate, let’s say a block of stone with a cavity in it can have a darkness, is resident in you already; that you know already. This is not a verbal connection, but a bodily one. That’s why sculpture occupies the same space as your body.
JOHN TUSA: Do people ever say that they are frightened particularly by those bottomless black pits? Of course, they’re never pits, they’re usually quite shallow, but that’s the point. Do people say that they’re frightened by them?
ANISH KAPOOR: It has happened. I showed a work at Documenta in Kassel, in Germany, in 1992, a work called ‘Descent into Limbo’, after Mantegna – “Christ descending into the limbo”:; you entered a room about six metres cubed. In the floor, a space, in fact a hole, but made in such a way that it was a space full of darkness, and read like a black carpet on the floor. One makes a room, closes the door of course, there’s always a line, people stand outside and wait, which in this case took about forty-five minutes. There were people who went into that room and hugged the walls, they were terrified that this kind of omphalos at the centre of the room would suck them in. There was a man, who stood in line for forty-five minutes and went into the room, took his glasses off, he was so furious, he’d done a lot of things in the name of contemporary art but never stood in line to look at a black carpet! So he took his glasses off and threw them. And of course then they disappeared into the void of the work! This is total success in my terms.
JOHN TUSA: But your other colours, your blues, your reds in particular, these are the most intense, sensuous, light-affirming colours as well. And actually, I’ve never found your blacks that terrifying, they are restful, the eyes just shut out. But your blues and your reds, I mean they couldn’t be more about life could they?
ANISH KAPOOR: Red is a colour I’ve felt very strongly about. Maybe red is a very Indian colour, maybe it’s one of those things that I grew up with and recognise at some other level. Of course, it is the colour of the interior of our bodies. Red is the centre.
Brancusi’s great adventure in form, it seems to me, is a proposition which is modern, which is about upwards, onwards, the rocket, the form that’s phallic and forward. Donald Judd’s great adventure in form, it seems to me, was to close form, was to enclose form.
JOHN TUSA: Squares, rectangles..
ANISH KAPOOR: Exactly, and to bring colour into space. I think, if I might be so bold as to dare to put myself in that lineage, I’m interested in the idea that form in a sense turns itself inside out, that the inside and the outside are equivalent to each other, that we don’t just enclose. The form is continually in a warp, and continually turning itself inside out. Now I have a feeling that’s a very contemporary idea about form.
JOHN TUSA: I’m interested you mentioned phallic because I get the impression sometimes that when people look at your works, the one thing that they feel they can’t quite mention in their English way is that of course they are womb-like. Womb-like is the easy bit. Vaginal and things like that.
ANISH KAPOOR: Anti-phallic, the opposite of Brancusi. Inward. Downwards.
JOHN TUSA: Downwards!
ANISH KAPOOR: If one took a platonic model, one might say the back of the cave, away from light towards darkness.
JOHN TUSA: But you actually penetrate to the back of the cave, and penetrate is the word.
ANISH KAPOOR: Rather than the front of the cave, which is light and forward and out towards the open world.
JOHN TUSA: But the fact is that your shapes are very apparently simple, even when they are deceptive. What I’m curious to know is that you have this intense and complex theoretical basis; but when it comes to making things, you’re doing things with a deceptive simplicity, and that’s a very interesting transfer isn’t it?
ANISH KAPOOR: Yes, the eye is a very quick instrument. The eye gets it immediately – I’m interested in that moment of immediate recognition. An object lives in a space in a particular way, you walk into the space and then you say “yes that’s it!”: or “that’s not for me!”: – whichever way it goes.
JOHN TUSA: Yes, or it’s just a black carpet!
ANISH KAPOOR: But it’s an immediate translation. The theoretical stuff comes later, it’s sort of irrelevant. I’m much more interested in the effect that the body has, or that the body receives from a work.
JOHN TUSA: Let’s talk practicalities for a moment. You said that you’re a terrible carver – indeed you do very little at all – so what makes you a sculptor? Is it an instinctive three-dimensional urge?
ANISH KAPOOR: I think I understand something about space. I think the job of a sculptor is spatial as much as it is to do with form. The idea that an artist has to make everything themselves is…
JOHN TUSA: It lingers there doesn’t it?
ANISH KAPOOR: Well, it lingers, it’s certainly not true however, it’s certainly not necessary, and I doubt that it’s ever been true. The problem with stone carving is that it takes months and months and months, I have a very dedicated, wonderful team of young fellows who do a lot of the preparatory work for me. Roughing out a stone is just damned hard work.
JOHN TUSA: But finishing it off you’ll do?
ANISH KAPOOR: Well I’ll do some of it, where it’s necessary. Much of what I make is geometric, and has a kind of almost mathematical logic to the form.
JOHN TUSA: Yes. You’re getting the proportions right.
ANISH KAPOOR: The proportions, of course. I have a small stone yard in Battersea where I go every morning, talk through the current projects with the guys. They then do a day’s work and I’ll see it the following morning. And then, of course, as we come to finishing something then I’ll spend more and more time there trying to resolve things.
JOHN TUSA: You work both with organic materials and with inorganic materials. Clearly I would say the appeal of the organic – the rock and the stone – is in no way greater than what you can get, the subtleties, the effects, with the inorganic. That’s not a barrier for you in any way.
ANISH KAPOOR: No. I do like the idea that artists nowadays work in all sorts of materials. I’ve just shown you a work I’ve been making with smoke. To be an artist, in any of a huge number of ways, seems to me to be a huge psychological liberation. (Picasso?) He worked incredibly hard to liberate himself. You know he was able to fracture the world and make cubism, and then to reconstruct the world and make these very whole organic kind of images, and then very sexual things towards the end of his life. We can now, if we can liberate ourselves enough, open the possibility. The art world is so much more open.
JOHN TUSA: Yes, in the work you’ve just mentioned, pushing smoke into a room, then extracting it so powerfully that it turns into a column of smoke; the moment I say column of smoke then I think of course of the biblical references, the column of fire and so on. And I was wondering why isn’t that a work of art, but only for a second, because I will remember that as much as many other flat painting on a wall!
ANISH KAPOOR: Let’s think of Moses and the burning bush. One can hardly make a move in the right context without calling up a whole series of mythological references that are already in our cultural pot.
JOHN TUSA: Simply because you choose to have them in your cultural pot, and of course you are Indian and you are part Iraqi and you are part Jewish. Were you formally taught these things, were they formally or casually talked about in the family conversation?
ANISH KAPOOR: Somewhat. My grandfather was the Cantor in a synagogue in Poona – a small town not far from Bombay – but my parents were fastidiously a-religious. So while some of this was around, its much more that I feel that the symbolic world, which I insist is the nub of a problem for an artist like me, is latent in most actions I would wish to make as an artist. And the work is to find that latent content.
JOHN TUSA: But it does sound as if you have a great deal of this in your own cultural and personal bedrock.
ANISH KAPOOR: I feel it’s important, yes. I mean one can hardly be Indian and not know that almost every action, which hand you eat your food with, for example, has some deeper symbolic level of interpretation.
JOHN TUSA: But quite a lot of the time, understandably, you wanted to avoid the Indian tag. I was rather shocked when I came across an article from 1998, not that long ago, which said “you’re the most successful Indian artist living in the West!”: Nobody would say that now, so is that why you can talk about the Indian influences much more openly, because you’re not pigeonholed?
ANISH KAPOOR: In the late seventies, when I first started making work as a professional artist, I was making objects out of colour pigment. They looked more Indian than some of the things I’m doing now. What was interesting or problematic for me then was that they were referred to as exotic. The exotic is a tag that seems akin to the touristic, as if one was viewing the work from the outside. My job was to get a view from the inside.
JOHN TUSA: It’s a bit like decoration as well isn’t it?
ANISH KAPOOR: Precisely, you have to get beyond that seemingly decorative façade. The exotic’s always been a real problem for me. However I am Indian, that is part of me, and I’m proud of it. Indian life is mythologically rich and powerful.
JOHN TUSA: And incredibly rich in colours. Just because you use bright colours, which Western artists are frightened of using, why should you have the exotic label stuck on you?
ANISH KAPOOR: Well things have changed now. The art world has changed, but maybe the way we have learned to look has changed in the last twenty-five years, and the exotic is much more acceptable. There are many artists now, younger artists, who work out of the exotic.
JOHN TUSA: Chris Ofili. Extremely exotic. And who could be more respectable than that at the moment?
ANISH KAPOOR: Indeed.
JOHN TUSA: What do you think of the idea though of cross-culturalism, when it is raised? Does it mean anything to you?
ANISH KAPOOR: If what we’re saying is that we’re building a kind of bridge, in Heiddeger’s sense, between one bank of a certain cultural reality and another bank of a different cultural reality, then maybe there is a moment of crossing. “Mister In-Between”: can be powerful and new. If on the other hand , rather Madame Butterfly-like – it all comes back to the conversation about the exotic – from which one can extract those bits that are attractive, and have them reside in a resident culture, then it’s cheap and trivial.
JOHN TUSA: It’s bells and whistles isn’t it?
ANISH KAPOOR: Yes, precisely. “Mister In-Between”:, I think has opened a whole host of possibilities, which are tremendously exciting.
JOHN TUSA: But what you’re not saying is “I’ll take a bit of English because I’m here, I’ll take a bit of Indian because I’m there, and I should put in all the cultural references of which I’m a part because that acknowledges them all, doesn’t reject any of them, and is fantastically politically correct!”: That is certainly not you!
ANISH KAPOOR: Yes, but then one wouldn’t be taken seriously as an artist if that’s how it went.
JOHN TUSA: There’s quite a lot of talk about that sort of multiculturalism in the art world isn’t there?
ANISH KAPOOR: Yes and it’s extremely trivial, and to be put to one side.
JOHN TUSA: Which we’ll happily do! Back to when you come in to work – I think this is important – what do you feel as you’re coming in to work?
ANISH KAPOOR: Either immense determination that on this day I am going to do so and so and so and so, or – which is equally interesting and much more difficult – I don’t know what I’m going to do today.
JOHN TUSA: Are you frightened by that?
ANISH KAPOOR: No. Having said what I’ve tried to say about uncovering a symbolic world, I’ve learned over the years it is in that cloud of unknowing that something new can occur, that it is precisely in those moments when I don’t know what to do and boredom drives one to try. (WORD?) I don’t know what to do, I’m going to try so and so today. And then just trying it out. Then maybe there’s a host of possibilities, which one might pursue for weeks or months or days, or whatever it is, either getting somewhere or not.
JOHN TUSA: Do the dead ends worry you?
ANISH KAPOOR: No, I think the dead ends are really interesting. I used to empty the studio out and throw stuff away. I now don’t. What I find is that there will be a whole series of dead ends, constantly, that a year or two down the line I’ll come back to them and wonder why didn’t I see this before – it’s so obvious! In a sense re-investing in little moments of insight. There isn’t a project. I’m trying to say one does not set out with the idea that “I’ve just had a great idea and now I’m going to go and perform it”:. Almost all art that’s made like that doesn’t go anywhere, even if it appears to at first.
JOHN TUSA: Except when you did your huge PVC and metal figure for the Tate Modern, “Marsyas”: – that was a project.
ANISH KAPOOR: That was a project that came out of a whole lot of other projects. I started making, two years before, a little model out of cardboard and stockings.
JOHN TUSA: Yes, it’s over there in the corner of the studio and it’s twelve inches by six inches.
ANISH KAPOOR: Exactly, which proposed the idea of some kind of quasi-architectural space with this membrane stretched across it. Now I didn’t realise when I was asked to take on the Turbine Hall that that’s what I’d end up doing.
JOHN TUSA: And you already had that in your mind?
ANISH KAPOOR: Yes , including the other model on which it sits, which is a proposal for a visitors’ centre for the Salvation Army down on the South Bank.
JOHN TUSA: And the interesting thing about that other model is that while one could recognisably see it as being related to “Marsyas”:, what you then did was the twists and the turns in the membrane – that’s what makes it different.
ANISH KAPOOR: What we’re saying is that work grows out of other work. That there are very few “eureka”: moments of “here is a completely new, unforeseen idea”:. For me anyway, all ideas grow out of other ideas.
JOHN TUSA: But you also say that you’ve got to be ready when you come to work to face emptiness. Is that worse than boredom or just a different way of expressing it?
ANISH KAPOOR: I think it’s more resolute than boredom. Boredom is that terrible time after you’ve had your sandwich at lunchtime when all those endeavours seem fruitless, but vital to live through that seeming, day after day “oh God, what-am-I-going-to-do-with-myself-feeling?”: The fear of the emptiness that it implies, the fear that is have I got something else to do, have I done what I have to do, and how can I encourage myself to keep on going? I’m not an artist who has an agenda that’s set by the work. That is to say I haven’t made a decision – unlike some very great artists of course – to make work out of steel, or whatever. I do all sorts of things, and tie them together by some emerging content. So they may be diverse in their form, but not their content.
JOHN TUSA: And everything you say about the continuity, that has a rather reassuring sound to it. But are there moments when there really is the emptiness that you described when nothing seems worth doing and you don’t know what you’re going to do next anyway?
ANISH KAPOOR: Well I haven’t had one of those periods for a good long while. The last time that happened to me was rather interesting. It was in the early eighties. I’d just done a show in New York, the first time I’d ever made a show in New York, and at the time all the galleries were in SoHo and every time I’d go out of the apartment I was staying in, I’d meet people on the street and they’d tell me how wonderful I was. I was probably about twenty-five years old. And do you know what, I believed every single word of it! I loved it! You know as I look back on it, it was a good show but it wasn’t the best show I’ve ever made. It sold within the first three minutes, and I came back believing all that stuff. I came back to the studio, which was empty, there was no-one to tell me how wonderful I was, and I spent the next two and a half years making almost nothing. A deep lesson not to believe in ones own mythology, I’m glad it happened so early, I’m thankful it happened so early. Emptiness is what artists have to live with. The difficulty is to not rush to fill the emptiness up.
JOHN TUSA: And how did you get out of it?
ANISH KAPOOR: By slowly getting back into the studio and making some new things. It took me two and a half years, which is a long time and not a long time. A long time if one has to live it every day, but in the bigger span of things perhaps not.
JOHN TUSA: And now, if you get a bad review, or somebody says “Marsyas is big and heavy and clunking!”:
ANISH KAPOOR: Which happened!
JOHN TUSA: Which happened.! You take that in your stride. But it would be difficult though if everybody was saying “Kapoor’s run out of steam, he’s repeating himself!”: Can you imagine how you would keep your sense of self-belief and integrity under those circumstances?
ANISH KAPOOR: Well one doesn’t know those things until they occur. And these things happen. I remember William Feaver writing about my drawing show that I did at the Tate, and said “this is the worst show the Tate’s ever done”:. Well, that flawed me for a little while, and then you kind of get on with it. I sort of think of it as column inches; little does it matter, in a way.
JOHN TUSA: It’s said sometimes, “oh Anish Kapoor’s very ambitious”:. Now that can say more about the person who said it than about the person about whom it is being said, but still, how ambitious are you?
ANISH KAPOOR: I am very ambitious.
JOHN TUSA: To be what?
ANISH KAPOOR: To challenge myself. To make art that I’ve not made before. As I was trying to say earlier, the modern world has a huge range of formal possibilities, whether one’s talking about spaces to show in, or materials to make work with. I’m ambitious to try and occupy as much of that territory as I can allow myself to. So what I see this as is me battling against my own limitations. The image that I’ve conjured here of Picasso liberating himself in order to be able to go to a fractured world or a whole world is a battle that he fought with himself. At least that’s the way I see it. And I think there is something about opening one’s heart to the possibilities that one doesn’t even truly or readily know are there – emotional possibilities as much as anything else.
JOHN TUSA: What are your limitations as a sculptor?
ANISH KAPOOR: Oh they’re manifold. I don’t know. Do you know, much of the work that I’ve made over many years now proposes the idea that for every form there is a kind of counterpoint in non-form. One of the things that I see myself battling with now is not the non-form, because in a way I feel I’ve done some of that, but the form. So what happens when there’s form and no non-form? Where can I go with that? That’s a battle I need to investigate, fight, whatever.
JOHN TUSA: The phrase you used about Picasso, about integration and disintegration. It strikes me what would be really interesting is what happens when you decide to explore disintegrated forms rather than the amazingly integrated forms, or is that what you’ve just been edging towards?
ANISH KAPOOR: It may well be, it may well be. It’s very hard to imagine what that looks like. We live in a fractured world. I’ve always seen it as my role as an artist to attempt to make wholeness. Do I have the emotional wherewithal to be able to recognise the fractured nature of the world, and take on the death that that implies, rather than the resolved completeness of the death that is implied by my background, which understands death as part of life. There is something else.
JOHN TUSA: Is it almost a rediscovery of how, say, cubism might apply to your work, what happens if you apply those principles?
ANISH KAPOOR: Quite, that’s what’s been hanging around in the background here. Yes, I don’t know if I’ll go there.
JOHN TUSA: You’ve observed that there are at least three stages of an artist’s life – the first ten years they say, “oh that’s very interesting, haven’t seen that before”:; in the second stage, they say, “oh we’ve seen that before, but it’s still quite interesting!”: Then you come to stage three. Now presumably you are at stage three where you are having to say, what am I going to do next? Do you feel that you’re at that stage?
ANISH KAPOOR: Unfair question number seventy-five here! Let’s see. Well I’m certainly not in stage one. It’s very hard from my perspective, from within the story so to speak, to know whether one is in one’s mid-career; I expect I am in my mid-career. And I think I do feel that there is still everything to prove. Being an artist is a very very long game. It is not a ten-year game. I hope I’ll be around making art when I’m eighty, and I think the idea that somehow one has done what one has to do and therefore you can kind of steadily carry on – well it’s not something I recognise. I feel there’s everything to do yet.
JOHN TUSA: So you never think I wish I’d been an engineer, and how simple life would have been?
ANISH KAPOOR: Not at all. I feel this is an immense gift. And one does afford oneself the luxury to be able to come into the studio and all day, every day, spend one’s life making aesthetic propositions! And what an immense luxury, and one that I hope I will carry on doing.