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Interview with Anish Kapoor: “I really do believe that making art and looking at art are very difficult”

The sculptor won the Turner Prize in 1991

The Art Newspaper: You have made sculptures from many materials—plaster, resin, steel, slate, sandstone and limestone—and many of these have incorporated powdered pigment. Recently you’ve been working with white alabaster. Could you describe these new pieces?

Anish Kapoor: It’s curious that the hardest thing in the world to do is to talk about work that you’ve just made. They’re fairly rough, squarish blocks of stone, and they have geometric openings—circular, square and rectangular—smoothed out from the inside. These make very simple volumes on the inside of the block—volumes that are all light of a particular quality, which seems to come from within the rock. I’m interested in them because they are translucent and after working for a good many years with things that are dark, I’ve moved slowly towards working with lightness in a more concentrated form. These are really about the light within the block.

There is also a clear resin piece in the show which contains a bubble of air. Is this another new departure?

I hope so. It’s a block of resin with a bubble of air or space inside it. One of the things I’m really interested in is the moment when space becomes object. I’m interested in that sense of things in the process of becoming, so that in a sense as you experience it, it’s changing, it’s happening in front of your eyes. That’s what all the void pieces are about. The first time I showed one, someone said “can’t you switch that thing off?”

In the past it was sometimes unclear what your sculptures were actually made of—especially the pigment coated ones. Whereas here it seems that one of the things that you are doing is making the materials speak for themselves, albeit in surprising ways.

Perhaps. I’ve always had this strange relationship with materials. For many years now I’ve worked with stone. But most of my stone pieces on some level deny the fact that they are made of stone. There has always been that tension and I find it important. It is one of the basic thematics of what I’ve been working with over all this time: what they are, and what they are not—or what they are by what they are not. One of the subtexts is a notion about origin, about the beginning of things, about original moments—utopian moments, if you like—and the way in which that kind of denial of materials seems to link to first forms, before things become themselves.

How do you want people to respond to your work?

I’m afraid that I’m probably very old fashioned and I really do believe that making art and looking at art are very difficult things to do. I’m not interested in narrative; I am interested in content, however, and I am interested in beauty. But beauty can’t be there without content or it becomes decoration. If there is one overriding concern—and not just with this exhibition—it is to do with trying to hold things to a certain stillness, where beauty, content—even narrative enter the frame of looking without ever being spelt out, so that somehow one is forced to slow down enough, to look, to measure with perhaps a little uncertainty in the eye, so that you have to put your hand out to affirm that what you are looking at is really there. A certain kind of disorientation that I hope reorientates, something to do with that good old notion of the sublime—both as the space beyond in the sense of Caspar David Friedrich, and also as a space reflected, as a thing where the gaze is returned, rather than just pulled away.

Future Projects?

One man shows in 1998 include a new installation at the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, Santiago, Spain in January; a major exhibition utilising the entire Hayward Gallery in London opening on 30 April; and shows at CAPC Bordeaux and La Chapelle de Salpetrierre in Paris in September/October. Kapoor has also been commissioned to produce a major work for the French Ministry of Justice to be sited outside the new Bordeaux law courts, designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership.

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Currently Showing: Lisson Gallery, Bell St, London NW1 50A, Tel: +44 171 724 2739 (until 28 February)

Represented by: Lisson Gallery

Background: b. 1954, Bombay, India; 1973-77 Hornsey College of Art, London; 1977-8 Chelsea School of Art, London.

Track Record: 1990 Awarded “Premio Duemila” at the Venice Biennale; 1991 Winner of the Turner Prize. Solo shows include 1985 Kunstalle Basel, 1990 British Pavillion XLIV Venice Biennale; 1990-91 Tate Gallery, London; 1991 Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; 1992 San Diego Museum of Art (travelling show); 1993 Tel Aviv Museum of Art; 1995 DePont Foundation, Tillberg; Nishimura Gallery Tokyo; 1996-97 Kunst Station Sankt Peter, Cologne.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 78 February 1998