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Interview with Sculptor Anish Kapoor

Aired December 7, 2012 - 05:30   ET



ANNA COREN, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN INTERNATIONAL (voiceover): It's Britain's largest piece of public art. Designed by one of the country's most renowned artists. Twice the size of New York's Statue of Liberty, the Orbit, in London's Olympic Park, stands at 115 meters and has raised eyebrows of fans and critics alike. And it's just one example of what Anish Kapoor considers art.

ANISH KAPOOR, SCULPTOR: This is a work, but looks to question the whole concept of what towers can be in the 21st century.

COREN (voiceover): Known for manipulating form and perspective, the Mumbai-born British artist has fascinated the public with his bean-shaped sculpture in Chicago's Millennium Park, turned New York's Rockefeller Center upside-down with his 11 meter Sky Mirror, and dwarfed art fans with his enormous installation of Marsyas, in London.

KAPOOR: I just want to make a mess of it. Like a big mess of a wall that's possible.

COREN (voiceover): This week, on "Talk Asia", we meet Anish Kapoor in Seoul, as he brings his eye-catching pieces to the East.

COREN: Anish, what inspires you to create something like this?


KAPOOR: Mad, isn't it? At one level, this is pretty, pretty crazy, really.

COREN (voiceover): Plus, he opens up about why he dedicated one of his most high-profile projects to Chinese dissident artist, Ai Weiwei, even though they've never met.

KAPOOR: I've also discovered for myself that, in supporting him, that I have a voice.


COREN: Anish Kapoor, welcome to "Talk Asia".

KAPOOR: Hello.

COREN: You are one of the most famous sculptors in the world, and many believe that you are responsible for changing the way that people view sculpture. How do you think you've done this?

KAPOOR: I don't know that I have, but, you know, we live, of course, in a world of objects. And we measure ourselves and our whole environment through the objects we interact with. Sculpture can question or kind of pose problems in this complex relationship that we have with objects.

COREN: Well, some people would say your work is very hard to explain - difficult to categorize. How would you describe your work?

KAPOOR: I expect it is hard to categorize in the sense that I'm looking for philosophical conditions in the way that objects are propositions about a way of thinking or a way of coming to perceive the world. Art's very good at intimacy. Good at the thing that says, you know, "Come and join in".

COREN: Anish, your background is quite fascinating. You were born and raised in India. Your father was a hydrographer with the Indian Navy. Your mother, an Iraqi Jew. Tell me about your childhood and were you creative as a child?

KAPOOR: Yes, I grew up in - I was born in Bombay and brew up in a place called Dehra Dun, which is in the north of India. My childhood was pretty ordinary, really. I wasn't - like all good Indian boys, I grew up thinking I was going to be a professional. You know, an engineer or something like that. Something professional in any case.

And when, sort of, in my late teens, I decided I was going to be an artist, my poor father was horrified. But I sort of knew that it was what I had to do. And I never - once I knew it, I knew it. I never thought about it again.

COREN: You moved to London and started art school. And I believe that you said you felt utterly liberated. What did you feel liberated from?

KAPOOR: You know, if only it was that straightforward. But anyway, I think I felt for the first time, I was doing what I really wanted to do. That there was a sense of discovery. A sense of adventure. And I think that's what's lived with me over these last 35 years, or whatever it is that I've been, so-to-speak professional as an artist.

The sense that making a work is a kind of discovery. You know, the studio is more like a laboratory than it is like a place of manufacture.

COREN: You have lived in London since 1973. When you go back to India, does it feel like you're going home? Do you still have that connection? Or is the U.K. now very much home?

KAPOOR: Well, I've lived in the U.K. for, you know, almost 40 years. And I'm deeply connected with things Indian - with my Indian roots and so on. But in a way, I guess I feel like a foreigner in the U.K. and a foreigner in India. So, it's become a perennial condition. Like many of us, in a way, it's a kind of modern condition, isn't it?

COREN: Anish, in 1990, you represented Britain in the Venice Biennale. And you say it was a moment that changed your life. How so?

KAPOOR: Well, you know, what you do as an artist, especially as a young artist, but always, I think, is - I suppose you don't really just make objects. What you're doing is making a kind of mythology of the object, whether it's a painting or a sculpture, whatever it is. Or a performance. But you're making a kind of mythology of yourself as an artist.

And there comes a moment when you don't have to tell the world what you're doing. They tell you what you're doing. And I experienced that in a very real way in Venice at the Biennale, when I represented Britain, as you say. And that was a real revelation.

COREN: Well, the following year, you won the Turner Prize. I mean, that must have just been mind blowing.

KAPOOR: Yes, yes. We had to - I say we - my colleague artists and I had a certain disdain for the Turner Prize.

COREN: Why is that?

KAPOOR: Prizes. We're not really - in the art world or - we don't put ourselves against each other. And of course, it is one of those things where you're up against your colleagues. So, anyway -

COREN: But looking back?

KAPOOR: -- it's better to have won it than not, let's say.

COREN: Looking back on that win, though? And at that particular time in your life?

KAPOOR: Yes. Yes, I mean, in - I forget when I won the Turner Prize. In 1990, I think. Yes, it was then, in a way, in its first few years. And had a certain - there was a certain wow about it, I suppose. Yes.


KAPOOR: So, this is - the main work in this gallery here is a work called, "My Red Homeland". And, of course, as I've been saying before, color is a real motivator for me.

COREN: You love red, don't you?

KAPOOR: I love red. I've worked with red a lot. So, what's happening here, to describe it, is that the arm is moving this big block that's simply just moving round very, very, very slowly. So it's almost like a kind of geology taking place.

COREN: Anish, what inspires you to create something like this?


KAPOOR: Mad, isn't it? At one level, this is pretty, pretty crazy, really.



COREN: Do you think your works are confronting?

KAPOOR: Oh, definitely. And they can be rather frightening. I mean, I think that's very important part of the process.




COREN: How do you feel when you see your works in different countries, different landscapes from what you originally -

KAPOOR: Yes, that's part of what they have to do, is they have to stand up to the challenge of being seen in different spaces. So here you see, this is in a way, a space full of mirror.

COREN: That is amazing. It plays with your eyes. You can't look at it for long or you move.

KAPOOR: Right, right. And I'm quite interested in the way it's almost like a cinema.

COREN: What made you decide that you wanted to use mirror in y our works?

KAPOOR: I'm really interested in the way sculpture activates space. And that what these are, or works like this - so it's like a painting. It's like it's bringing the sky down to the ground. It's also almost like a hole in space. It's almost as if the object doesn't exist. It's sort of endless passage through. Sky Mirror turns the world upside down.


Now, I wondered if it was possible to make a mirrored space. By making a concave-form mirrored, what I found was that this wasn't just a mirrored object, this was, in a way, a space full of mirror. It then occurred to me that maybe one could turn it up to the sky and have it reflect the sky, since it turns everything upside down. And it became - it comes to be almost like a landscape painting. And I was fascinated by that.

So I set out to make this great big Sky Mirror, about 10 meters in diameter, much bigger than that thing, in fact. And we put it at Rockefeller Center. This was post-9/11, so I was also interested in the way that it would turn -- bring the sky down to Earth in New York and turn that building upside down, being another iconic monument, if you like, of the New York skyline.

COREN: One of your best-known sculptures is Marsyas, which you did in 2002. It was shown at the Tate Modern, seen by 1.8 million people, making it one of the most visited works of sculpture in the world.

KAPOOR: The Turbine Hall at the Tate is, you know, one of the biggest spaces that there is for indoor sculpture. I decided to use the whole of the space. Up until then, I suppose artists have used one third of it. That's big enough. But I'm mad about these things. I really believe in scale. I think scale is very interesting.

COREN: Because I'm sure that does scare off a lot of artists - using such a grand scale.

KAPOOR: Well, you know, scale has a bad name because the theory is that as a thing gets bigger, it gets less meaningful. I'm not sure that's really true. So I think big objects can do something poetically wondrous. So you walk into a space and you go - without even realizing that that's your innate body response. I wanted to do something like that for the Tate, with Marsyas. And I wanted to see if it was possible to make an object in that very, very big room which was, in a way, bigger than the room.

So, you know, Marsyas is a stretched membrane. And I called it Marsyas because it's like a flayed skin. And of course, the myth of Marsyas is that he played the flute more beautifully than Apollo and, for that, Apollo had him flayed. And so, it's his stretched skin. Famous painting by Titian.

And the idea was that it was somehow bigger - you couldn't see it, all of it, from any one place. And it was a question of walking around the three or four points that offered a view and then almost having to put together - put the object together in your head. It was bigger than the space, which is huge already. That's what I was after.

COREN: How does something like that come to life? How does that start in your mind?

KAPOOR: Well, the thing about big objects is - or projects like any of those projects, is that there's no rehearsing them. You know, you can make a model, but a model doesn't really tell you very much. Not really. There's no accounting for scale. You know, scale and its effect are only - they only work at the real scale. The first time I see it is the first time the public sees it, or whoever.

COREN: So tell us about the process. I mean, it starts as drawings and then you make small models?

KAPOOR: Often there's drawings, yes. Drawings or models or quite often no drawings, no models, just make something. Whatever at whatever size.

COREN: Just play with whatever materials are in the studio?

KAPOOR: Yes, yes, exactly. I mean, I think that is often the process. So I have a few people who work with me in the studio. Sculpture is a very long process. I can't actually do it all myself. So we work as a team. Making things.

COREN: Cloud Gate, which is truly stunning, it's officially known as "The Bean" in Chicago. They had a budget of nine million, it blew out to 23 million. And I think every single person who's seen it absolutely falls in love with it.

KAPOOR: The good citizens of Chicago have a civic pride like one rarely sees. I don't think there are many cities where there is that commitment to the community and to the city as there is in Chicago. They asked me to make Cloud Gate, and I simply, you know, in front of a group of worthy citizens, I did a little drawing and said, "This is what I want to make and this is what I want to do". And bless them, they ran with it. As you say, with a budget that actually was a lot - even smaller than $8 million, as it was at the time. Of course, I'm thrilled that it's there. And it's interesting when an object like that comes to be part of the sort of myth of the city. It's as if it's now one of those things that tourists go and see.

COREN: And embraced by the city as much as it is.

KAPOOR: Indeed, and so it comes to have a colloquial name, you know, "The Bean", etcetera, etcetera. I think that's quite an interesting place for an object to go to.

COREN: And I understand that it's cleaned every day.

KAPOOR: It's cleaned every day because there are thousands of people who visit it and touch it every day.


COREN: Tell us about Cave.

KAPOOR: Well, it is more or less as described. It's this big steel object that is rather like a cave. And wound-like and interior. It's also, of course, architecture. When I was making this, I was thinking about, you know, how to make a really dark object. An object that is completely void. That is sort of literally nothing to look at.

COREN: do you think your works are confronting?

KAPOOR: Oh definitely. And they can be rather frightening. I mean, I think that's very important part of the process is that there is a sense that you lose yourself. I think it's a work that's very important to me. Out of so much other work grew and continues to grow.

COREN: Why "Untitled"? Why don't you name something like this?

KAPOOR: Sometimes they need titles and sometimes I feel I don't know what I can say about it. I don't know what a word would add. A title is almost like another bit of form. It's like another bit of content. You bring something else to it. And it's just not necessary - I don't feel it's necessary, anyway.



KAPOOR: I think it's awkward. I'm not surprised people love it and hate it.




BORIS JOHNSON, MAYOR, LONDON: I think this is a true and beautiful original Kapoor work of art. The more you study it, the clearer it is that Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond have come up with, I think, a truly magnificent piece of public art. A gigantic, mutant [UNCLEAR] were how I described it. Because people will compare it to a hubble (ph) bubble (ph) and a gigantic skeleton, a mutant trombone. And all that kind of thing. But even more important, I've absolutely no doubt it will bring people to Stratford from across this country and from abroad. And will help to revitalize this part of London.


COREN: Anish, your most recent and controversial sculpture, Orbit, is in London Olympic Park. Some people love it, other people hate it. How do you feel about it?

KAPOOR: I think it's awkward. I'm not surprised people love it and hate it. Like all awkward objects, it does have -- it's peculiar. It's important, may I say, before you judge it, go in it. It's very much about experience, again.

But towers have always been built symmetrically. They're, you know - and Cecil Balmond and I - Cecil, the engineer, and I - have worked together on this as a collaboration. And one of the decisions we made pretty early on was to see if we could build an asymmetrical tower - a kind of deconstructed tower. I'm amazed they let us do it. So there it is. But I think, because it's deconstructed, because it's asymmetrical, it takes a while to understand what it is as an object.

COREN: Why do you describe it as awkward?

KAPOOR: Because it is awkward. Look at all of its elbows sticking out like this and it's a very strange form. I hope - and, of course, on the London skyline, there aren't, you know, that many new objects on the skyline on a yearly basis, so they're all hotly debated. So it should be. It should be debated, criticized, and all of that. That's part of the deal. And I feel that's - that's correct. The object needs to go through that process.

COREN: Well, how do you deal with criticism?

KAPOOR: Depends on who's giving the criticism.


KAPOOR: Do you know - look, you can't do what I do and not be criticized. And it's part of the deal. It's OK, you know, I've learned to live with it.

COREN: Do you read the reviews?

KAPOOR: Sometimes it's useful, too. Yes, I do read my reviews. I do. Sometimes it's useful. Rarely is it useful, but sometimes it's useful.

COREN: Anish, it's estimated that you've made something like $130 million from your art, which is a lot of money. Does that inspire you? Does it motivate you to do what you do?

KAPOOR: You know, how can one put it? I think one has to have a relatively straightforward view of money. Money has always followed good artists. So, I guess it's part of what there is. I don't either feel shy about it or feel apologetic about it or any such thing. It's part of the way the art world works nowadays. It wasn't always so. So I guess we have to be very thankful - I have to be very thankful.

COREN: I've heard you say that you don't necessarily have anything to say - that there are no particular messages with your works. So what is it that you want the audience to get out of it?

KAPOOR: Yes, I have often said that I don't have anything to say as an artist. Because I have a feeling if I did have things to say, they'd just get in the way. And I think part of what I'm interested in is this sense that, in the engagement between the viewer and the object, there's a kind of contemplative stillness that we all recognize - that we all know about. That we don't really need to be told about. And that that, in the right way, can be quite profound.

COREN: I now want to move on to Chinese artist and dissident, Ai Weiwei. He's someone who's obviously caught your attention, along with the rest of the world, with his outspoken stance against the Chinese government. As a result of his detention, you cancelled your exhibition to China. How was that received?

KAPOOR: Well, I made a work in the Grand Palais, in Paris, called Leviathan, which I dedicated to Ai Weiwei. I've never met him. I mean, we are friends - colleagues and friends - but we've never met. I felt and continue to feel that what he's doing is vitally important.

I've also discovered for myself that, in supporting him, that I have a voice. Which, in a way, I didn't properly recognize until that. So, you know, I suppose one never does anything without some selfish motive. So that's kind of interesting, too. And then it's led me to discussions over a period of time with, you know, the foreign office in the U.K. and so on and so forth.

And what I found is that the traditional way in which dialogue is had, particularly with the Chinese government, is to talk tough, so to speak, in private, but be very polite in public. Now, that's been going on for the last 30, 40 years and longer. I'm sure it's the wrong way to do things.

COREN: Anish, can you see a time in the future when you stop creating? When you stop being a sculptor?

KAPOOR: I hope not. It's so much fun, more than anything else. You know, I'm - as I say, and it's also a kind of - it's, of course, fundamentally a journey of self-discovery. So I can't see why I'd stop.

COREN: Well, we hope you don't. Anish Kapoor, a pleasure to meet you.

KAPOOR: Thank you, thank you.