W.R. Bion, Cogitations1
The important thing is that at a given moment one arrives at illusion. Around it one finds a sensitive spot, a lesion, a locus of pain, a point of reversal of the whole of history, insofar as it is the history of art and insofar as we are implicated in it; that point concerns the notion that the illusion of space is different from the creation of emptiness.
Jacques Lacan, Ethics2
Is it my role as an artist to say something, to express, to be expressive? I think it’s my role as an artist to bring to expression, it’s not my role to be expressive. I’ve got nothing particular to say, I don’t have any message to give anyone. But it is my role to bring to expression, let’s say, to define means that allow phenomenological and other perceptions which one might use, one might work with, and then move towards a poetic existence.
The True Sign of Emptiness
It may be the most valuable insight into Anish Kapoor’s work to suggest that the presence of an object can render a space more empty than mere vacancy could ever envisage. This quality of an excessive, engendering emptiness is everywhere visible in his work. It is a process that he associates with the contrary, yet correlated, forces of withdrawal and disclosure, ‘drawing in towards a depth that marks and makes a new surface, that keeps open the whole issue of the surface, the surface tension’.4 Consider, for instance, the figure of Adam. A cavity set so deeply in a stone that its pigmented pitch defies the depth of the rock, and floats weightless to the surface. Suddenly the stone has shifted its mass leaving only its shadow, making more ground than it stands on. Or, walk around the silent swelling of When I am Pregnant. Trace the shape as it grows obliquely out of the wall and then suddenly when you stand in front of it, face to face, it is there no longer; only a luminous aureole remains to return you to the memory of fullness, as the wall turns transparent, from white to light. The monumental and noumenal address of Kapoor’s work should not obscure these uncanny experiences which suggest that his vast tolerance of empty space expands the space available into another ongoing disruption of ‘time’.
Too often we are summoned by critics to stand before Kapoor’s voids, bearing witness to those modernist virtues of verticality that Rosalind Krauss justly describes as the process by which ‘apparent disorder… [is] necessarily reabsorbed in the very fact of being bounded’.5 But the expansion of available space – the making of emptiness – never fails to register a lateral movement, a transitional tremor, that disorders the boundedness of the void. The void slips sideways from the grasp of frame and figure; its visual apprehension as contained absence, made whole and present in the eye of the viewer, is attenuated. The enigma of the void is now discernible in the intimation of a movement that obliterates perceptual space and supplements it with a disruptive, disjunctive time through which the spectator must pass – ‘reverse, affirm, negate’. It is this transitional temporality, effected by the expansion of emptiness, that Kapoor seeks to inscribe into the very passage of time and movement that makes the exhibition the phenomenological experience that it is. The Double Mirror works provide a motif of the material techniques and the metaphorical possibilities of ‘making emptiness’, which is the subject of this essay. Listen to the artist:
… The curious thing about double mirrors, concave mirrors, when you put them together, is that they don’t give you an infinite repeatability… . What interests me is that from certain angles and positions there’s no image at all in either mirror. I’m very interested in the way they that they seem to reverse, affirm and then negate… . To place the viewer with these blinding mirrors in this narrow passage… this transitional space… somehow at an oblique angle to the mirrors’ ‘visuality’ or the viewer’s visibility is to be caught in the contest of mirrors. They cancel each other out in one moment and yet demanding that they be looked at from a strange, oblique perspective… .Where time and space are seemingly absent, at a standstill…, in that narrow passage, paradoxically there is a restlessness, an unease… . As I said before, a transitional movement – reverse, affirm, negate.6
The tactile experience of transition is caught in the virtual space in between the double mirrors. The perspectival distance between subject and object, or the mimetic balance between the mirror and its reflection, are replaced by a movement of erasure and inversion – ‘reverse, affirm, negate’. It is as if the possibility of pictoriality or image-making, associated with visual pleasure, has been unsettled to reveal emptiness, darkness, blankness, the blind spot. However the purpose of Kapoor’s work is not to represent the mediation of light and darkness, or negative and positive space, in a dialectical relationship in which emptiness will travel through the darkening mirror to assume the plenitude of presence. Kapoor stays with the state of transitionality, allowing it the time and space to develop its own affects – anxiety, unease, restlessness – so that viewing becomes part of the process of making the work itself. The spectator’s relation to the object involves a process of questioning the underlying conditions through which the work becomes a visual experience in the first place: how can the conceptual void be made visible? how can the perceptual void be spoken?
These questions remain true to Kapoor’s purpose. Not true in the mimetic sense of reflecting the ‘real’ or revealing the perfection of aesthetic form. True, however, in the way of the homo faber whose eyes stay true to the process of fabrication – straightening, levelling, smoothing, sharpening – in order to move beyond the measure of the ‘maker’ or the material, so that ‘a man’s products may be more' – and not only more lasting – 'than he is himself'.7 Kapoor's sense of making the void more empty is the process by which the artist's reach exceeds cloying grasp of 'personality', refusing to allow the source of the work – its originality or identity – to rest in the shallow signature of style.
Style, at first, celebrates the uniqueness of ‘quality’, the singular challenge of the author or artist; but once established as a ‘name’ or a signature, value becomes ever more consensual and commodified. To treat the void as style is to read its emptiness as no more than a plea for the pictorial; what Clement Greenberg has defined as ‘the look of the void’8: ‘The geometrical and modular simplicity may announce and signify the furthest-out, but the fact that the signals are understood for what they want to mean betrays them artistically…: wraiths of the picture rectangle and the Cubist grid haunt their works, asking to be filled out – and filled out they are, with light-and-dark drawing.’9 In turning away from the look of the void, we suggest, instead, that the truly made void is fabricated from the ‘sign of emptiness’. To speak of the ‘sign’ of a work is not to substitute theory for practice, nor to consign the visual experience of art to the language of writing. The ‘sign of emptiness’ can neither be fixed as form, nor preserved as an image or an idea. It is ‘true’ to the making and the materiality of the object but after its own fashion. It emerges, in Greenberg’s terms, when the ‘signals’ of figuration or technique are prevented from articulating what they want to mean; when the void’s plea to have its vacancy filled is resisted; when the signature of style can no longer name or claim to control the aesthetic logic of the work. Kapoor’s voids, standing before us as sculpted objects – blue powders turning into the colour of far, fetching distance – are distinct from his creation of emptiness.
If you think that you have seen ‘emptiness’ as that hole at the heart of the material’s mass, surrounded by a planished facade, then think again. To see the void as a contained negative space indented in the material is only to apprehend its physicality. To figure the depth of the void as providing a perspectival absence within the frame or the genre is to linger too long with the pedagogy of manufacture or the technology of taste. The practice of ‘true making’ occurs only when the material and the non-material tangentially touch. The truly made thing pushes us decisively beyond the illustrational, the ‘look of the void’; the sign of emptiness expands the limits of available space. Kapoor says:
I believe very deeply that works of art, or let’s say things in the world, not just works of art, can be truly made. If they are truly made, in the sense of possessing themselves, then they are beautiful. If they are not truly made, the eye is a very quick and very good instrument… . The idea of the truly made does not only have to do with truth. It has to do with the meeting of material and non-material… . [A] thing exists in the world because it has mythological, psychological and philosophical coherence. That is when a thing is truly made…
The reason I seem to return to the same material possibilities is, I think, because the polished surface is in fact not different from the pigment. In the end it has to do with issues that lie below the material, with the fact that materials are there to make something else possible; that is what interests me. The things that are available, or the non-physical things, the intellectual things, the possibilities that are available through the material… . The material changes… . The method of manufacture is not the point. The question is whether or not an object is well and truly made.10
To get to the heart of Kapoor’s thinking and making we must register the difference between physicality of void space, and truly made emptiness. Let us use Heidegger’s beautiful parable of the jug for these purposes.11 What does the potter make when he shapes the jug? Of what material is the jug made? The potter forms the sides and bottom of the jug in clay to provide the means for it to stand, to be vertical; to make the jug a holding vessel, however, he has to shape the void. ‘From start to finish the potter takes hold of the impalpable void and brings it forth as the container in the shape of a containing vessel… . The vessel’s thingness does not lie at all in the material of which it consists, but in the void that it holds.’ If I might coin a term suited to emptiness, then I would say that in the ‘be-holding’ of the jug, there is no simply discernible outside (clay) nor a penetrative inside (void), no easily distinguishable negative and positive spaces. These apparent binary oppositions bear a liminal relation to each other. They are held together with the sheer, glancing force with which the surface of a sheet of air intersects the line of the sea’s horizon, the elements spliced, stapled together in a slanted slash of a white sail that stands the pressures of wind and water, just precariously out of balance – a tense textile, holding the void, withstanding the vessel. In that impalpable moment or movement in which material and non-material touch in the jug there is the exertion of an oblique relation of force: the clay is rooted by gravity to stand, while the void, enlightened by emptiness, becomes empowered to ‘hold ’ air or water. They come together, in this uncanny relationship, by virtue of the difference that holds them apart; a contest between surfaces, elements, materials or meanings that conjures up one, or the other, through a ‘third’ dimension. This is the dimension of doubling and displacement: the jug is ‘double’ in the sense that it is no longer a unitary object but at once a relation through clay (material) to void (non-material). And once we restructure the unity of the jug in this way, then the standing (material) and the holding (non-material) are related through an ‘otherness’, an alterity, an unabsolvable difference. The truly made work find its balance in the fragility of vacillation. It is the recognition of this ambivalent movement of force, this ‘doubleness’ or ‘otherness’ of the literal and the metaphoric, the empty and the void, their side-by-side proximity, that inhabits Kapoor’s work. Such an articulation through displacement allows us to decipher emptiness as a ‘sign’, ‘where we have really an exteriority of the inward’12, rather than to pander to the look of the void as it signals its need to be fulfilled.
I once saw the sign of emptiness rise from the dark void. It was a day of rain and dust as AK and I drove into the stoneyard. You said, ‘I want you to see something’, pointing to a shrouded dark stone, its light blinded by dust (Ghost, Kilkenny limestone). As we approach the rough-hewn stone, its irregular mass effortlessly, unconsciously awaits our audience. Svyambhuv, the Sanskrit word for the ‘self-born’ aesthetic (as distinct from rupa, the man-made form imposed through human artifice13), has been a long preoccupation of yours and, from one angle, Ghost resembles one of those ‘irregularly shaped protuberances’.14 But then, suddenly, the facade belongs to rupa. I am always struck by the formality of the openings you cut into your stone pieces. Doorways, elongated windows, thresholds, finely finished portals, lintels with razor-like edges, that contrast with the raw halo of encrustation and crenellation, the chemical activity of the ages, around them. The torqued, ambivalent movement of the stone is unmistakable: svyambhuv:rupa, and then, in a flash, rupa:svyambhuv – self-made/man-made and then, in an iterative instant, back again, man-made/self-made. Front and back not opposed to each other, but partially turned towards, partly away, from themselves, catching side-long glimpses. A strange diagonal gaze. The whole stone is caught in a act of torsion: turning away from an earlier state, emerging from another time, half-glancing away from us, only partly there, obliquely revealed, a mise-en-scène in transition.
Your formal portals and frames are interruptions, interventions in an ongoing history of the material, not a primal past, but the obliquity of the present, just beyond reach, but not-as-yet the future either. In transition, between the material and the non-material… as you put it.
Stand there, you say, just slightly to one side…
I move, at an angle to the stone. I am again puzzled by another aspect of the entrance to the work that has now become obliquely apparent. There is something uncanny about its scale. It is an almost-human opening but not quite made in the image of man, nor in the dimensions of the divine or the measure of the domestic. The entrance does not embrace you; but neither does it evade you: it places you, across from the stone itself, in a corresponding state of transition, or transitivity, of the truly made – not fully human/not wholly natural, the passage between stone and a poetic existence. Ours, now, is that state of ‘bewildered calm’, as our looking is taken over by an affect of tension and anxiety that Heidegger associates with the impending disclosure of emptiness, as the wholeness of the stone shrinks back or turns back and forth, ambivalently, between its double and displaced lives, svyambhuv:rupa. As the one turns to face the other, it encounters a blind spot, the necessary void: ‘it discloses these beings in their full but concealed strangeness as what is radically other – with respect to the nothing’.15
And then suddenly – with respect to the void – in the emptiness that holds the rock, I see the ghost. It doesn’t rise; nor does it descend. It does not allow the eye to seek the satisfactions of origin – does it come from within? from without? from where? Nor does the ghost lend itself to the fixed dimensions of distance and nearness – does it live inside? outside? before? behind? As in Heidegger’s jug or Brancusi’s Endless Column, ‘sky and earth dwell’ in the making of Ghost.16 The light of emptiness that emanates from Ghost, like the void in the clay or the wind in the sail, falls obliquely, across these material dimensions and divisions: it moves the depth of the stone to the surface, taking the weight off its verticality and holding it, for a moment, in the fine transparency of a film-like column. But then as the dark clouds scud by, the column of light is partially broken, shadow pouring into its emptiness with such a dark presence that it illuminates the deep mirror of the stone. It is, once more, the movement of the material in and through the non-material, the ghost in and out of the stone, that gives the work its character: like Hamlet’s father, Ghost walks the night, wafting us to a more ‘removed ground’.
On Moving Ground
A ‘removed ground’, Shakespeare’s phrase, is truly made for the appreciation of Kapoor’s work. Not, however, if it is understood to refer to the pure ground of theory, or to art’s realm of autonomy, the perfectibility of form. But if the phrase is read with an eye to the restless light emitted by Ghost, and the bewildered calm of our response to it, then ‘a removed ground’ makes us aware of a gesture that repeats persistently in Kapoor’s works, whether they are the deeply pigmented wall voids or the quicksilver underworlds of the stainless steel floor pieces. A sudden disappearance of surface in a deep, dark hole literally cuts the ground from under our feet; the body loses its direction and density; the eye hovers, horizonless, homeless. Each step we take towards the work places us on moving ground; each time our gaze is suspended between a frame, a lip, of fine luminosity surviving just above the shadow-line, and then all view is lost; vertigo. It is an emptiness more extreme and exploratory than mere vacant or ‘negative’ space can ever accommodate.
Kapoor’s voids force us to recognise that making art out of emptiness is not a process of the figuration of absence or presence, the image of the empty or the full. To fulfill its destiny, without pandering to what Greenberg called ‘the look of the void’, the work must repeatedly renounce and restore its density through the sign of emptiness that lives in between those contrastive or contradictory states: ‘It is on the basis of this fabricated signifier, this vase, that emptiness and fullness as such enter the world, neither more nor less… .17 And such interstitial spaces can only be represented in the movement of quality and quantity within the work’s representational core which is displaced by a mode of repetition that circulates at its periphery, disturbing the dimensions of negative or affirmative space, the framed and the free, what is inside and outside. This is a complex thought that addresses Kapoor’s own concerns about the true making of his work: ‘I seem to be making the same shape, each time with a different purpose’, he recently wrote to me, echoing his comment to an interviewer in 1996, ‘I am doing the same things that I was doing when I first thought that it might be possible to work as an artist. Some interests have deepened, but really the central issues have remained the same.’18 How do we understand the ‘sameness’ of shape in the service of differing purposes? What is the repetition that accompanies the inventions of the void? These questions make us reconsider what we understand to be the ‘identity’ of a work.
Take, for instance, Untitled, 1997, a monolith in stainless steel. Its mirror surface does not turn the world upside down as much as it re-assembles it as a whorled vision of shapes and shards, earth and sky, walls and faces – surfaces that blur together in a gestalt that draws everything into the deep inscape of the great steel box. And yet the darkness of the void is deceptive, its illusion of space quite elusive. For the mirror’s magic reduces both the depth and the weight of the world into a skin that floats on the surface of the steel, emphasising the nothingness of the object itself. It is no longer the cavernous ‘inside’ of the piece that signifies the void; the creation of emptiness is now, like the mirror itself, everywhere and nowhere, as interiority and exteriority fail to preserve their determining dimensions. If the mirror sucks in, it also spits out – it reflects and refluxes. Such a reading illustrates the motility embodied in the reflective surface of the mirror and exemplifies those ‘non-physical things, the intellectual things, the possibilities that are available through the material’.19 But this gyration of the mirror’s void does not come to terms with the question of repetition of form, the question that Kapoor poses in his description of true making: why the return to that void shape, the same shape, and its material possibilities?
To see the void as a sign of emptiness, circulating through Kapoor’s oeuvre, takes our enquiry in a metonymic direction. Kapoor’s excavations must be read laterally, as hollows that move across materials, from polished surfaces to pigments, functioning like punctuation marks in a narrative process. The artist describes this aspect of voiding:
There is a history in the stone and through this simple device of excavating the stone it’s just as if a whole narrative sequence is suddenly there… . I’m trying to formulate a notion of a resident narrative. I’m not in the business of setting out to reveal, that doesn’t interest me…20
To continue the linguistic metaphor, the ‘resident narrative’ requires us to imagine a double inscription: the void as shape, as physical presence, may remain the ‘same’ but, as the sign of emptiness, that something ‘other’ that animates the material of true making, it is always different. What repeats in the resident narrative, at the point of excavation, is this relationship that shuttles from shape to sign, from the poise of the physical to the restless invention of material. Moving laterally, or diagonally, across from the mirror-void (Untitled, 1997) and its metallic vigilance, we are led, retroactively, to another material possibility, the meditative recess of My Body Your Body, 1993. The narrative of repetition leaves an elliptical trace in the work. As the viewer enters the oblique membrane of pigmented blue, the void speaks of the elusive object of the body: the father’s absent body, the mother’s missing body, the lover’s longed for body, my empty body. Then, the work shifts, and from the darkness of loss there emerges a fold of light and longing; a fluctuating form of a rim, a lip, a lid, a limb, a line of life… a fragile meeting of space and emptiness, and in that ambiguous adoration, the discovery of your body, my body…
I’m very interested in that condition that seems to be abidingly static and
at the same time dynamic. It’s hard to name but it’s a condition that I just know exists when it happens… and it’s there, for instance, in Ghost, in My Body Your Body. It’s as if something is taking part as you look at it… . Something that Richard Serra is doing too. I’m interested to frame that effect: it’s the effect of an enormous weight… out of balance. An apparently out-of-balance form.21
What is out of balance must not be confused with a loss of balance. Truly made works are apparently out of balance in a sense more profound than any immediate visual experience or physical description can convey. For what is ‘out of balance’ in form is, ironically, a result of what is out of sight, yet integral, to the transitional, shaping spirit of the material. Kapoor’s description of materiality, you will recall, makes it quite clear that ‘a polished surface is in fact not different from the pigment. In the end it has to do with issues that lie below the material, with the fact that materials are there to make something else possible… the non-physical things, the intellectual things, the possibilities that are available through the material.’ Material, then, is like living tissue, a contingent and relational medium; its transitional powers reside in an on-going temporal process. The process of ‘making’ does not stop with the manufacture of the object for it is the ambition of the homo faber to make the work that is more than its moment and other than its maker. True making lives on in the invisible, unnamable energy that haunts the double life of the material itself, enabling it to survive beyond what Kapoor calls ‘the end of the process’:
… at the end of the process… there occurs… a very technical thing and very strange thing, all at once… . It’s the way in which the stone is not stone, the way the stone becomes something else, becomes light, becomes a proposition, becomes a lens…22
The ceremony of passing through to something else is not the transmission of the ‘essence’ of stone through light or lens, nor is it the epiphany of the stone transcending all material forms. Trueness lies not in what pleases the eye, nor in what passes through the host of the hand. True making often finds itself in resisting the physical and the transcendental; in bringing to expression, and keeping open, the in-between temporality, that something – the strange sublimity of technique – that locates the object in between the static and the dynamic, in a transitional state:
I want to mention another artist, Jackson Pollock… . There’s an extraordinary way in which the drip paintings are in the process of making themselves as you look at them. As if the all-overness of that continuous play, that continuous depositing, if you like, makes them be, and feel, as if they are in a flux, as if they are moving backwards and forwards, as if they are making themselves, as if they are not finite and, of course, I could go on… I will go on, I think it’s really important. You know how Barnet Newman discovered that, as you extend the field in the painting, the eye begins to operate in the same way, pulls in and pushes out… back and forth… side by side…23
If form is out of balance – pulling in and pushing out… back and forth – is time out of joint too? The answer lies in that veiled ‘something’ – the sign of emptiness, the blind spot – that discloses the transitional state of true making. As we are wafted to a removed ground that moves under our very feet, we cannot access the object of art without being obliged ‘as the whole of psychic life is obliged, to encircle it or bypass it in order to conceive it.’24 Once we refuse to fill out the look of the void ‘with wraiths of the picture rectangle and the Cubist grid’25, then, from its emptiness, there emerges a gaze that can hold together those diverse spatial elements and disjunctive temporal qualities that are involved in the performative movement of the work – that continuous play, the depositing of measure and meaning, the scale of the drip and the syntax of the all-over. The performance that translates spatial relations into temporal movements empowers art to produce what Richard Serra calls an anti-environment, ‘the potential to create its own place and space and to work in contradiction to the spaces and places where it is created… to divide or declare its own area.’26 The true void – out of balance, caught between one temporality and another – becomes such a gathering place that stands in an oblique relation to itself and others. As a ‘diagonal’ event it is, at once, a meeting place of modes and meanings, and a site of the contentious struggles of perspective and interpretation.
The work that follows the diagonal direction is less an object and more a mise-en-scène – an anti-environment – that displays the quick change of scene, the rapid transition between the perceptual and the conceptual, those qualities of attention that move us hither and thither in the experience of abstract art. For the process by which, in the artist’s words, stone is not about stone, but about something else… about light… about a proposition… is part of a circulatory exchange of difference and similitude, the repetition of the shape and the revision of the sign, that is peculiar to objects in transition. In his famous description of the transitional object, the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott suggests that it ‘symbolizes the union of two now separate things… at the point in time and space of the initiation of their state of separateness.’27 It is, indeed, by conceiving of a condition for the truly made object, where space is conjoined and time separate, and then imagining, vice versa, back and forth, the confluence of time in a contradiction of space, that we can see how Kapoor’s work goes beyond the modernist mastery of ‘pure form’ (‘coordination, unity, structure: visible but unseen’28). Each transitional moment turns stone into light, void into clay, or the sail into a skin that holds wind and water, only because, in each case, they are joined by the fall of a beat, separated by a cut in time, displayed in an out-of-balance form, displaced in a vacillating movement. Such growth by fluctuation is not an incremental increase in space nor a continuous accumulation of time. The truly made work performs the distinction that Kapoor makes between the didacticism of ‘expression’ and the divination of ‘bringing to expression’; it opens itself to an expansion by emptiness. The void’s agonistic articulation of the out-of-balance with the vacillating, transitional temporality resonates with the psychoanalytic concept of introjection: the process by which the human subject transposes ‘objects’ from the outside to the inside of itself through the passageway of the Unconscious. The emptiness of the void, signifying nothing in itself, occupies an interstitial space akin to the unconscious, in which the union of two now separate things takes place ‘at the point in time and space of the initiation of their state of separateness’. The Unconscious is an affective quality of the mind that functions in a way that is notoriously out of balance, articulated in symptoms and symbols and, in its unpunctual displacement of memory and desire, never exactly on time either. This is Nicholas Abraham’s reading of the activity of introjection:
… introjection is defined as the process of including the Unconscious in the ego through objectal contacts… . By broadening and enriching the ego, introjection seeks to introduce into it the unconscious, nameless, or repressed… . Thus it is not at all a matter of introjecting the object, as is all too commonly stated, but of introjecting the sum total of the drives, and their vicissitudes as occasioned and mediated by the object… introjection confers on the object, and on the analyst, the role of mediation towards the unconscious. Moving back and forth between ‘the narcissistic and the objectal realms’.29 [my emphasis]
The truly made work is thus enriched because it introduces into the expanded field of the object, that displaced movement of ‘thirdness’, the diagonal relation, that inscribes something that remains nameless, that something that moves the material beyond itself, towards the other, surviving at the point of invisibility, sustaining the unthought. This is the strange moment when the technical turns into the affrighted reflux of the sublime; when the drip painting gathers in order to move back and forth, and the eye, in the extended field, pushes in and out. For in true making, as in the introjective process, the identification with the object is never with the sum of its parts. Its diagonal aspect – the agonistic gathering, the conflictual confluence – is what emerges as presence; it represents the vacillation and ambivalence of the material that can never be stabilised or naturalised in the objecthood of art. Like the analyst moves towards the unconscious, the artist of the void mediates our relationship to the emptiness that ensures that the work of true making goes on and on… . Like the incorporative relation, it expands by moving back and forth between the self-made and the man-made, as the virtues and vicissitudes of the work continually emerge, displayed as figure, at one moment, and then displaced in the living performance of art.
Listening to the Wound
Encircling the void, in this indirect and interruptive movement, returns us to the motif of this essay: the difference between the illusion of space and the creation of emptiness. As Lacan suggests, ‘… at a given moment one arrives at illusion… one finds a sensitive spot, a lesion, a locus of pain, a point of reversal…; that point concerns the notion that the illusion of space is different from the creation of emptiness.’30 You can see it in Giacometti’s walking or standing figures, flailing like twists of rope, somewhere between aged wraiths and wizened children. Once again, we are aware of those uncanny dimensions figured in Kapoor’s framed portals, almost-human, somewhat out of balance. Kapoor’s stone frontages prefigure a transitional life, neither secular nor sacred; and here, in Giacometti’s figures, we encounter the marks of transitional being, not-human-enough, and then, suddenly, all-too-human. In the empty space in between stands the figure: veined and ribbed like the relief of a fossil, holding aloft the fragile illusion of a man-shaped space, but only for a moment. Then, in the act of walking or standing, motion and stasis are both unbalanced in the flux of the sculpture. Front and back fibrillate, the body turns and twists (recalling the torsion in Ghost), and the image of man leans on air, holding on by a thread. This is the creation of emptiness.
The aura of the void produces a spectral shadow of man: too much emptiness to be invisible, too much absence to be mere vacancy. An aura that gapes rather than glows. An aura that is like the sail, aligning the vacancy of air with the efflux of water, at an oblique angle, a stapling of sea and sky, a wound in the wind. What is it that holds the body in its diagonal disposition when, in Kapoor’s words, ‘… the body is the stone… the floor or the space’31? What staples the flesh to bone, stone, canvas, paper, in its tryst with what is transitional, the fragile frame of true making? Listen to the void:
The void is not silent. I have always thought of it more and more as a transitional space, an in-between space. It’s very much to do with time. I have always been interested as an artist in how one can somehow look again for that very first moment of creativity where everything is possible and nothing has actually happened. It’s a space of becoming… ‘something’ that dwells in the presence of the work… that allows it or forces it not to be what it states it is in the first instance.32
In voicing the void, Kapoor returns us to the discourse of the diagonal. How does the transitional nature of true making – spatially out of balance, temporally in between – relate to the myth of ‘originality’? I have argued that the shape of the void and the sign of emptiness must be conceived of in a logic of doubling; like the transitional object, they are unified at the point in space and time of their separation and differentiation. Such a mode of representation does not contain, deep within its being, an ‘object’ that unfolds, in its own time, to reveal its unitary presence. Kapoor’s elision of the ‘first instance’ or the ‘very first moment’ does not lead to a final reckoning in which all will be revealed. In this instance, presentness is not grace, to take liberties with Michael Fried’s striking modernist dictum, for there is no promise in the work of ‘a continuous and entire presentness… a kind of instantaneousness… [because] at every moment the work itself is wholly manifest’.33 The ‘delay’ in the presence of the work discloses faces, aspects, elements or media that do not metonymically signify some immanent whole, or some complete, though repressed, narrative.
The process of delay is diagonal in the sense in which each emergent element or aspect of the object evolves its specific locus of signification that will not yield to a more general operation or universal description. These localities of representation instigate a process of repetition and revision in between the material and the non-material, so that nothing can be said of the work that is true for it as a ‘whole’. It is the effect of these ‘performative particularities’ to introject associations, meanings and readings into the experience and objecthood of the work that renders it transitional in the most productive way, by making it ‘think beyond what it thinks’. This phrase comes from Emmanuel Lévinas who developed a notion of ‘deportation’ that resonates usefully with my idea of the transitionality of the truly made work. ‘In its relation to what should be its “intentional” correlate, [the object] would thus be deported, not culminating, not arriving at an end, at the finish [a du fini]… [It] is the very diachrony of time, non-coincidence, dispossession itself’34 [my interpolations]. The delay that dwells in the work commits us to listening to the void in its moment of deportation, as it passes beyond its intentionality.
I once heard such a voice of the void rise from a wound in a wall. A red gash set at an angle in a featureless white wall, The Healing of St Thomas. The wound gathers like a gaping aura, drawing us to it – disciple, artist, writer, viewer – to witness the making of a miraculous rebirth, the Resurrection, through the repetition of a shape, the void, each time for a different purpose. What you’ve called a ‘resident narrative’ has both a visual and scriptural resonance. The story of ‘Doubting Thomas’ from the gospel of St John emphasises the disciple’s scepticism towards the resurrection for ‘unless I see and touch, I will not believe’. And then, there is Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of St Thomas, where the disciples gather around the re-born body, their eyes fixed not on the grace of God’s son but on Thomas’s finger deep in the flesh, while the wound, in a strange repetition of the shape of the void, becomes the eye that sees, the flesh that touches, the mouth that speaks John’s words, ‘Yes it is Jesus! – and He is divine!’.35 But it is not the ascent of Christ’s body, the rectitude of belief, or indeed the ‘truth’ of the image that makes you place us before this diagonal slash on the wall, this site of spiritual and visual doubt. It is that something else that you are after, that lives below the narrative; that something that stirs but will not reveal itself in the first instance, that something that only comes later, on pain of repetition.
You lead me to the precise position and location of the wound.
Just this red slash, and nothing else, and yet, somehow, the space around it comes alive, making an expanded emptiness, beyond the supporting wall, to bear the wound…, I observe.
'That's because it's never central', you say, 'and that is very specific. It's there because of the oblique relationship with the body that I'm after. I want to recall the gash in Christ's side, that's not centred, that's not central… . It has to be like that, at an angle, in order to move from the body to the building and then… from the question of dwelling to the problem of doubt… dwelling in doubt… . More than anything else it seemed aesthetically logical, but I cannot for the life of me explain why.'36
That phrase ‘dwelling in doubt’, when associated with the slanting gash, reminds me of the obliquity that resides in your concept of creativity, ‘… “something” that dwells in the presence of the work… that allows it or forces it not to be what it states it is in the first instance.’ You lead us through Thomas’s doubt to a kind of undecidability, an ambivalence, that lies at the very heart of your work. The first moment of creativity must always be looked for again, so that its priority, its purity, its firstness is deferred. It has to be found again, restored through repetition, reinscribed in another time and place if it is to come alive in the first place. It is this power of delay, this ethic of doubt about what it means to see, to touch to believe, to make, that gives such force to the red gash on the white wall named after St Thomas. For the doubt that dwells in the work forces it to postpone its presence, to delay its disclosure, not to be what it says in the first instance. What is the lesson of the lesion in Christ’s side? What is the meaning of the wound in the wall?
Perhaps, the making of art and the creation of belief share such lagged temporalities – they are narratives of a similar shape, but with different human purposes. For Thomas37, the ascent of Christ cannot be fully accomplished on the cross, sub specie aeternitatis. It is only achieved in the return of Christ, in the reopening of the wound by the oblique entry of Thomas’s finger, and the touching of hands amongst his disciples. In a similar vein, the truly made work does not consist in the triumph of objecthood; it is only when the work enters that third space – ‘a transitional space, an in-between space’ – that the man-made and the self-made, the material and the non-material gather together and tangentially touch in the fevered movement – hither and thither, back and forth – of doubt. The artist’s ‘doubt’ is not about the surfaces of illusion or the veiled nature of reality. Art sows a deep doubt about the mastery of human historical time. In committing us to look again – retroactively, repetitiously – for what can, for that very reason, never be the first instance or the first moment once it is ‘re-found’, we learn not to disavow the primordial or the primary, but to encircle it, touch it at one remove. In the company of the truly made – the ghostly light, the red wound, the dark fold, the mirrored gyre – we have entered the ‘removed ground’, glimpsed the sign of emptiness. At first sight it appears to be nothing; at second light, no resurrection or resolution; then, in a third remove, comes the doubter’s question. The lesson of the void and the wound lies in putting us in the position of the question, that interrogative place which leaves us no option but to incorporate or identify with the object – ourselves, others – through the passageway of what is out of balance, unthought, transitional, doubtful. The apostle and the artist ask the same question each time for a different purpose: does the light dwell in this stone? the void in this colour? the spirit in this flesh?
- I borrow this epigraph from Adam Phillips, On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored, Faber and Faber, London, 1994, p. 75.
- Jacques-Alain Miller, ed., The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book VII – The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 1959-1960, trans. Dennis Porter, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1986, p. 140.
- From conversations between Anish Kapoor and Homi K. Bhabha, 1998 (hereafter, Conversations).
- Yves-Alain Bois and Rosalind E. Krauss, Formless – A User’s Guide, Zone Books, New York, 1997, p. 26.
- Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1958, p. 210.
- John O’Brian, ed., Clement Greenberg: the Collected Essays and Criticism, vol. 4, Modernism With a Vengeance, 1957-1969, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1986, p. 251.
- Ibid, p. 254.
- Sherry Gaché, ‘Interview – Anish Kapoor’, Sculpture, February 1996, p. 22.
- David Farrell Krell, ed., Martin Heidegger – Basic Writings, Harper, San Francisco and New York, 1993.
- Emmanuel Lévinas, Collected Philosophical Papers, Martinus Nijhoff, Dordrecht, 1986, p. 4.
- I owe this distinction to Philip B. Wagoner, 'Self-born' and 'Man-made': Architecture, Aesthetics, and Power at Vijayanagara, MS (a paper presented at the South Asian Regional Studies Seminar, University of Pennsylvania, 5 November 1997).
- Ibid, p. 8.
- Krell, op. cit., p. 105.
- Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter, Perennial Library, New York, 1975, p. 172.
- Jacques-Alain Miller, op. cit., p. 120.
- Sherry Gaché, op. cit.
- Sherry Gaché, op. cit.
- Jacques-Alain Miller, op. cit., p. 118.
- Richard Serra, Writings Interviews, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1994, p. 100.
- D.W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality, Routledge, New York, 1982, pp. 96-97.
- Rosalind E. Krauss, The Optical Unconscious, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1993, p. 217.
- Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok, The Shell and The Kernel, vol. 1, trans. Nicholas T. Rand, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1994, p. 113.
- Jacques-Alain Miller, op. cit.
- Sherry Gaché, op. cit., p. 23.
- Michael Fried in Harrison and Wood, eds, Art in Theory, 1900–1990, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1992, p. 832. In putting together these phrases from Fried, I have stayed true to the spirit of his argument.
- Emmanuel Lévinas, Time and the Other, trans. Richard A. Cohen, Dusquene University Press, Pittsburgh, 1987, pp. 134, 137.
- C.H. Dodd, Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1953, p. 430.
- My account of the narrative of Thomas in the wider context of Johannine Theology is largely based on Dodd’s Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, pp. 431–432, 442–443, and Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John – A Commentary, trans. G.R. Beasley-Murray in R.W.N. Hoare and J.K. Riches, eds, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1971, pp. 693–697.
I would like to thank Anish Kapoor for making his art and ideas so readily available to me, never failing, however, to leave their enigma untouched, so that I could find my own way in their midst. My gratitude to Linda Schofield for being as forebearing and patient an editor as one could wish for. Sheldon Pollock, David Tracy, Hamza Walker and Eric Banks were unfailingly helpful on a range of matters from Sanskrit poetics and Johannine theology to Caravaggio, arte povera and much else. Tom Bebbington’s editorial help has been invaluable.
- © Anish Kapoor