One thousand images

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Sculptor Anish Kapoor’s themes of fluidity and formlessness serve to compel and confound,

Enter the gallery on level 3 at the Museum of Contemporary Art and you feel like you have stepped into your childhood fantasises. A hall of mirrors, beaming psychedelic reflections back at you, bigger, smaller, fatter, thinner, coloured, twisted and broken into a million pieces. What you see and what you don’t – a hundred different versions of reality.
All this courtesy Anish Kapoor, an Indian-born British sculptor, regarded as one of the foremost artists of our time. His works adorn galleries around the world including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern in London, and the Guggenheim in Spain. Born in Mumbai in 1954, he moved to London during the 1970s where he has lived since. He won the prestigious Turner Prize in 1991 was elected Royal Academician in 1999. Even if not familiar with his work, pictures of his ‘ArcelorMittal Orbit’ are hard to miss. Constructed for the London Olympics in 2012, it is a towering structure of twisting steel that dwarfed even the Olympic stadium nearby.
Anish Kapoor, the exhibition of his work, is on show at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It runs as part of the Sydney International Art Series 2012-13, an initiative supported by the NSW Government, which brings some of the world’s most outstanding art exhibitions to Sydney.
Visitors to Circular Quay are greeted by Kapoor’s Sky Mirror on the lawns outside the museum, a dazzling image of the inverted sky on a huge, highly polished concave stainless steel mirror. The sculpture attempts to bring an image of the sky down to earth and reflects the constantly changing landscape.
The Padma Bushan awardee’s sculptures tend to be ambitious in size, and awe inspiring. Like Memory, a huge 24-tonne steel sculpture, rust coloured and resembling a disused rocket or a zeppelin, an early flying machine.  It occupies an entire room in the gallery, making it impossible to see the object in its entirety from any point. The idea of course, is that the viewer looks at it from different points and then pieces together the images from memory.
Doesn’t sound like your cup of tea? To many of us from India, modern art remains at best obscure. We are able to appreciate the finer points of an intricate painting or a temple sculpture but modern art with its abstract images, its blobs and peculiar arrangement of objects leaves us baffled.
So why would you spend your hard earned money to see this exhibition? Because the abstraction forces you to think and feel. It draws you in and makes you a part of the experience. Much of Kapoor’s work tends to be inward looking, an attempt at representing that inner space within us in a material form. And keeping this in mind helps us relate to what we see and create our own experiences. Many of the sculptures create illusions – bending our perceptions, creating distortions and forcing us to question our perception of reality. Like Oracle, which is a huge sandstone boulder, smoothened on one side, with a black rectangular void. The void appears to be limitless, signifying nothingness or negative space, and seems to “extend beyond the actual depth of the stone”. (Kapoor fans may have seen his Void Field in the permanent collections at the Art Gallery of NSW: four sandstone boulders scooped out from within).
A Thousand Names, one of his earliest works, is poetic and profound. Kapoor uses coloured pigments in powder form, to construct geometrical shapes. The title refers to the 1000 names of Vishnu, seemingly an analogy to a formless entity like powder taking on a thousand different shapes. In the words of the artist, “While making the pigment pieces, it occurred to me that they all form themselves out of each other. So I decided to give them a generic title, A Thousand Names, implying infinity, a thousand being a symbolic number.”
In his work My Red Homeland Kapoor attempts to replace the traditional role of the artist with a machine. In this machine-generated sculpture, a rotating motor arm moves in a circular motion, through 25 tonnes of viscous red wax, constantly changing and shaping it. The sculpture forms as we look at it. And the deep red colour, suggesting organic matter and blood, leaves an unforgettable impression on the viewer.
The biomorphic theme is apparent again in My Body Your Body, a deceptive-looking rectangle of blue pigment on the wall. It is only as you walk towards it that you realise that it changes shape so that it seems to have something deeper within it, a recess that reveals itself at certain angles. Similarly Untitled 2012, a polished and coloured fiberglass shell, draws the viewer in and creates unsettling experiences if looked at for too long.
And then there are the mirrors. The C-Curve and S-Curve are highly polished mirrors, concave and convex surfaces that reflect and distort. They change the shape of ordinary objects and make things seem not what they are. Most children who visited the exhibition enjoyed themselves here, pulling faces at their distorted reflections. Another Untitled sculpture in this collection, is a round concave mirror composed of hundreds of tiny pieces, it reflects a hundred different images, to dizzying effect.
There is much in this collection that manages to compel and confound, and raise questions in our mind. And with that the artist accomplishes his purpose.
Anish Kapoor is on at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, until 1 April, 2013.

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