Marina Abramovic is not an easy woman to counter, especially on matters of art and immortality. But this didn't deter Anish Kapoor, who was in especially mischievous spirits at a panel discussion at the Royal Academy (RA) on Tuesday (6 March) to launch the pair’s new virtual reality (VR) artworks. These have been developed in association with Acute Art and get their full airing at the HTC lounge at Art Basel Hong Kong (29-31 March).
Abramovic’s VR work, Rising, offers users a face-to-face encounter with an avatar of the artist who is trapped in a rapidly filling tank of water, dictated by rising sea levels due to global warming. Only by pledges from the participants to be more eco-friendly can the virtual Marina be rescued from perishing. By contrast, Kapoor’s Into Yourself, Fall takes the form of a vertiginous tumble from the surroundings of a forest glade down through a meaty vaginal tunnel and into various disorientating cosmic interior spaces.
While Abramovic was being asked by the RA’s artistic director and the evening’s moderator, Tim Marlow, about the role of new technology as a means to preserve her performative legacy after her demise, Kapoor vigourously interjected, “Oh Come on! Do you give a shit about when you die? I think about death, but fuck it!” Abramovic countered that she came from a culture obsessed with the drama of death—to which Kapoor responded that in her famously large repertoire of Serbian jokes she must have at least one devoted to dying. (Instead Abramovic good humouredly responded with an “abuse joke” that could only be appreciated if heard directly from her...)
While both were in agreement that their sorties into VR were still “works in progress”, Kapoor continued to provoke with the suggestion that once inside Abramovic’s piece he would be tempted instead to “press the button for more global warming”. Later he proposed that rather than being bound by ethics, maybe VR should offer the possibility to “let go and not be contained by the constraints of society”.
However, despite their differences of approach, the tone remained jocular throughout with Marlow cheerily concluding their conversation by observing that any experience of VR was not as bizarre as sitting on the stage between his two panelists. He also noted the appropriateness of the fact that these frontier-blazing works were being launched in the very same room in which, in 1858, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace delivered their papers on the Origin of the Species. Who knows what kind of presence, virtual or otherwise, Abramovic will have evolved by 2020 when she has her solo show in the RA’s main galleries?