Anish Kapoor at Serralves Park
Some artworks were not made for human understanding. Humans have their very own, unique relationship with time, which is guided by rhythms and cadences that are often incompatible with art. The time of humans is not that of animals or beings biologically timed in total harmony with natural cycles. It is not that of plants either, an infinite time, passive, attentive to the surrounding world; a time that is, ultimately, close to that of art. Furthermore, the slowness of plants is neither slow nor nimble. These classifications obey to a hegemonic, methodological and normative view of humans who reject other views from their peers, including those from other living beings with whom they share the cosmos. A vision of the universe where living creatures would live together as equals, in complete communion, is still to be written.
Art, however, can be a catalyst of this cosmogony in progress by forcing human understanding, sensitivity and temperament to submit to a plurality of times, aligned with a world of which humans have lost the essence.
Anish Kapoor’s installations and sculptures at Serralves Park in Porto encourage meditative observation. Their proximity to nature offers a new perception, radically different from the experience provided inside a museum. Here, sensorial stimuli come one after the other uninterruptedly and give an overflowing vitality to the works. Over there, a bird is singing, from a place inaccessible to humans, and the leaves, apparently indifferent, dance to the wind that goes around, comes back and gives life to the ensemble.
In the Bétulas clearing, Sectional Body Preparing for Monadic Singularity (2015) interacts beautifully with the magnificent Serralves museum conceived by Pritzker Prize laureate Álvaro Siza Vieira. Inseparable from a green coat that spreads around it, the piece is a strange mass: a black cube disemboweled by two blood red vases, which formal passivity creates, in reality, violent contrasts. A microscopic blood clot or an organ, enlarged beyond imagination, allows us to have a peek at its insides, its biological composition; its structure made of interconnections sucks and absorbs voids, landscapes, sounds and lights to then release them into another dimension.
As is often the case in the artist’s work, the body and corporality of his pieces are omnipresent. In the museum, numerous models – in particular of Flesh (2002) – remind us of an open wound metaphorized through studies for real sculptures. The introduction of biological elements is a return to nature and to a monadic union: uterine and vaginal shapes, and the liquefaction of objects.
Meanwhile, surrounded by a very different atmosphere and nestled in the formalism of a small French-style garden, Sky Mirror (2018) defies physical rules and perception by inverting the order of things. The lightness of the sky descends onto the earth or, on the contrary, the weight of the earth ascends to the sky in an optical and mathematical process that shatters the logic of reality. The reflection of a child, head upside down in the center of the gigantic eye, whipping bushes with an innocent yet very human malice, reminisced a surrealist assemblage endlessly stretching onto the concave surface. From a materialist and conceptual point of view, we are facing a technique and an execution often associated to Kapoor who uses stainless steel, a curved shape and the precise and powerful construction of an atmosphere.
At Serralves Park, the path continues among eucalyptus trees, oaks and pines and leads to meticulously designed and well defined gardens to finally end in fragrant and disorderly woods. In fact, every piece displayed by Kapoor is inseparable from the sensory experience provided by the park and gardens of Serralves: from fragrances to textures, from the humidity of the lakes to the light of small openings, from the chromatism of leaves to the cold earth tones of northern Portugal.
For an artist whose reputation was built upon the colossal and violent dimension of some of his pieces, which imposed an immediate confrontation to the sites where they were installed, Language of Birds (2018) seems unusual in its subtlety. Nevertheless, the inspiration is identical – origins, roots. Out of the four works presented at Serralves, this last one truly requires visitors to slow down in order to allow a complete immersion in their environment. The simplicity is disarming and the gesture precise: a spiral staircase takes us to the canopy, closer to the birds. Ease off and meditate. Close your eyes, free yourself from the totalitarian and oppressive vision, and listen to the language of birds, to the distant echoes of their calls, to the rumor of the wind and foliage. Leaning against the cold railing, we awaken facing the rising sun that illuminates the grazing fields. The rays take shape through the mist, only disturbed by the flight of a black bird.
This artwork, however, belongs to a proto-object that is part of a larger creation and hosts, each week, a bird singer. The artwork is nothing more than the support for a very real fable that comes from a certain mythological religiosity. The work and its concept establish together a moment of oration and of radical dialogue with species and nature.
And if the term transcendence is often associated to the artist, immanence, what comes from within, certainly is too.
Finally, installed on a shapeless green stain, surrounded by the urban morphology of Porto, Descent into Limbo (1992) highlights a certain propensity to the great religious themes of art history that Anish Kapoor incorporates in his work. Earlier, in Sectional Body Preparing for Monadic Singularity, we found a macabre and frightening episode of Apollo flaying Marsyas, and similarly, in Language of Birds, the Sermon of Saint Anthony to the Fish. Here, with Descent into Limbo, the artist sends us back to the silence and the darkness of limbo of Andrea Mantegna’s famous work, Christ’s Descent into Limbo. We are left in suspense. Again, he is inviting us to slow down, meditate, just after making us sign a disconcerting and suspicious consent form. Art can also hurt.
The imposing concrete cube looks like an original addition to Álvaro Siza Vieira’s work, while in reality it is only the elementary vessel of an obviously religious experience. A bottomless hole is dug into the ground. If we were to fall into it, we would fall for all eternity. Limbo is the fall, the perpetual palpitation felt when one falls in a dream. And, because that is how the work is made, the ink of this hole never dries. It remains viscous, slippery and dirty, covering us with only one color: that of nothingness, void, and deformity.
To get out of this cube implies the revelation and the expiation of all our mistakes and of all our sins. Inundated by the sun and the verdant environment, the eyes claim obscurity and the soul capitulation.
And thus, back to the world, we carry on. Toward the same indifference, the same automatic gestures, but now baring a scar opened by art.
Anish Kapoor: Works, Thoughts, Experiments
curator : Suzanne Cotter
Foundation Serralves, Porto, Portugal
Though February 2019, 17th