Anish Kapoor. Leviathan in the Grand Palais.
The Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor is well known for his intriguing large-scale public sculptures, for which he has been awarded the prestigious Praemium Imperiale (2011), and early in his career the British Turner Prize (1991). He was also commissioned by Tate Modern to display work in the challenging Turbine Hall (Marsyas, 2002).
His most recent projects are Leviathan, a large-scale installation displayed in the Grand Palais building in Paris (2011), and the Arcelor Mittal Orbit, a tower with a viewing platform designed to mark the 2012 Olympic events in London.
In his artworks Anish Kapoor often addresses the idea of physical or symbolic transgression, and of movement between different worlds, one known, and the other one unknown and dangerous because of its ability to subvert a definite, stable reality. The reflecting objects, which feature in his works distort the real image of the surroundings, and have the potential to coagulate people around them, in a public space, to make them become part of two worlds at the same time. In this sense, Cloud Gate (Millennium Park, Chicago, 2004-2006) is an invitation to think about the public space of modern cities in terms of other coordinates besides the vertical and the horizontal. The object absorbs the city and its dwellers almost in an attempt to frame, to reduce to other dimensions and shapes the transitory elements of daily city life with its anonymous movements and events.
Invited as a leading artist in 2011, Anish Kapoor displayed a tubular PVC structure (35 meters tall and 13,500 meters squared) with four spherical terminations within the Monumenta exhibition in Paris. The visitors enter the Grand Palais building and a dark hall leads them into a second architectural structure. This is the Leviathan tunnel, a textural space, in a high-key colour, a bright, visceral red, alluding to a womb or to the interior of an imaginary body, or an inverted continuation of one’s own body. The enclosure is not, however, totally separated from the exterior whose carcass shows on the inside the shadows of the Grand Palais’ metal bars. The play between exterior and interior is at the core of this work, just as in previous works such as Turning the World Inside Out (1995), or Non-Object (Door) / Non-Object (Pole) / Vertigo (2008).
This type of overwhelming architecture might point as well to cosmic motifs, or to the human condition often dwarfed by large-scale formal structures, such as the state. In fact, the artwork borrows its name from the book of the seventeenth century philosopher Thomas Hobbes who compares the state with the enormous, monster figure of the Leviathan. Some may argue that the flash-like interior may inspire feelings of awe and of wonder, but the latter is rather an attribute of children, which seems to be rekindled in adults by means of powerful visual and tactile stimulation.
It seems, however, that contemporary art projects of this scale seek to infantilise the spectator and to offer a collective experience of surprise, a sense of disorientation and of confusion of the senses, so that one comes out of the tunnel and sees the reality with different eyes, probably more aware of one’s own body as an object placed in space. Is it not a privilege, though, to be able to look at an art object both from within and from outside, and further to imagine what would mean to reflect on each and every thing of one’s life both from inside, and from a distance?
Image 1 – Vincent Desjardins
Image 3 – bibi web