[SPACE] Jan. 2013 (Eng./Kor.) The Investigation of Abstract Space through Anish Kapoor’s Work 아니쉬 카푸

삼성미술관 / Leeum 25 Oct. 2012 – 27 Jan. 2013

한은주│Han, Eunju

Introduction: Architecture and Space _

Space is one of the main themes, and at the same time the final outcome, in architectural works. It provides a setting for our everyday life and consists of the built environment in urban space. The physical structure of architectural space is highly connected with the quotidien. However, spatial experience is not as explicit as the physicality of architectural space. We can memorize certain spaces where we have been through diverse nonphysical factors (with whom, why, when we have been, and other notion and knowledge acquired individually) rather than through materials or in terms of the scale of the spaces. This kind of memory can be accumulated and affect our next spatial experience. Most architects consider these nonphysical factors of spatial experience in their works. This is as highly important as tectonic (physical rhetoric of architecture) in an era when the development of technology is changing the paradigm of social evolution. In this respect, the investigation of abstract space through Anish Kapoor’s work is meaningful to the architectural field, where a new spatiality is being sought.

Abstract Space _

Space is a stage on which our life unfolds. Space includes the abstract meanings of our life as well as a means for a physical environment. As we cannot explain our life with a simple expression, space can be also interpreted in multiple ways, depending on the diverse facets of our notion and perception.

When we conceive of space in our everyday life, space means physical enclosures. As we experience physical surroundings, various experiences and memory of physical space can be accumulated, which can expand spatial notion to abstract realm beyond physicality of space. This abstract space can be specified as artwork or architecture, depending on its semantics.

For example, The Cloud Dream and the Nine (written by Manjung Kim, a renowned Korean scholar, 1687) shows the transition between space in reality and abstract space through the structure of plot (the nine dreams of Sung-jin, the main character of the novel). The spatial backgrounds of dreams change nine times, which can be interpreted as the nine dimensions of space. Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan, also adopts a dream as the driving force of the story. The unique development of abstract space in dream is structural and inspirational. We thus expand our perceptions and notions of space and time.

Outdoor Work: Representational Space and Abstract Space_

At the outdoor deck of the Samsung Museum Leeum, AnishKapoor’s three works (Vertigo, 2012, Sky Mirror, 2009, and Tall Tree and the Eye, 2009) demonstrate an expanded spatiality. The materiality of the stainless steel (reflective) transforms the physical surroundings into abstract space. The images of abstraction on the surface of the three works are inserted into the environment of the museum.

Sky Mirror (2009) (Fig.2) is like a gigantic concave reflector, implanting a piece of sky onto outdoor deck of the museum. In fact, I saw this work at Hyde Park last year. It was installed among deep green clearing near the Italian Garden in Hyde Park. The capricious sky of London was laid into the green by Sky Mirror. Here, the sky of Seoul is represented on this architectural space. In the juxtaposition of incompatible spaces(sky and deck), this work is making a pond of notion within ordinary space of everyday life.

Vertigo (2012) is represented by a couple of curved stainless steel sheets. As the reflective surfaces of this work confront one another, representational images are reproduced again on the opposite curved wall. We can identify ourselves inside the representational and reproduced images.(Fig.3) This can render us immersed entirely into the body of the works. In Kapoor’s works, reflection, deformation (by representation and reproduction), and the multiplication of physical environment are conducted at once. The process of creating abstract space is simple, which can expand our notion and perception for spatiality.

Indoor Work: Clever Strategies for Abstract Space _

In the respect of investigations into abstract space, works in indoor spaces adopt a different strategy. They do not apply reflective but absorbant material. This makes audiences concentrate on the works via a different type of abstract space without being involved with physical surroundings. Works in indoor spaces touch our notions and perceptions through adopting a new physicality and utilizing the limitation of our sensory organs. Cave (2012), an ellipsoid made of Corten steel, demonstrating an infinite spatiality where we cannot grasp its border (or edge) through the unstably tilted structure held to one side by a lean steel rod. Once we come to its opening, we tend to feel anxiety and at the same time wonder.(Fig.10) However, these complex feelings might be a fragmentary expression when faced with an unfamiliar spatiality that we have never experienced in our daily life. Beyond these feelings, we can be confronted with a fundamental space related to the birth

and death of our being existence.

Yellow (1999) (Fig.5), My body Your body (1999) (Fig.6), The Earth (1991) (Fig.8), When I am pregnant (1992) (Fig.7), and The healing of St. Thomas (1989-1990) (Fig.9) hang between 2-D and 3-D of optical illusions using light absorbing paint of vivid colour. Their strong colour and matt texture overwhelm this unique museum space, designed by Rem Koolhaas.

Depressed or embossed carvings on the wall of the museum are not that recognized as a part of architecture. Unlike architecture that we can experience spatial narratives while moving, these works (particularly When I am pregnant) is liable make us privy to a story as they are to remain static.

We can read Kapoor’s strategy through these works. At first glance, we cannot distinguish whether they are 2-D or 3-D. The longer we stare at, the more we sink into its cavernous voids. In fact, our eyes are the most reliable sensory organ. When we obtain information, we prefer what we see rather than what we touch or smell. Through these works, the limitation of this reliable sensor (vision) is revealed. The more we chase unrecognizable boundary of the works, the more we are close to Kapoor’s space beyond the limitation of our notion and perception.

Rituals and Abstract Space _

To install Kapoor’s works, a number of preparations were required. For example, a reinforced concrete slab of the museum must be cut (65cm diameter, 100m depth) for The Earth, and a concrete wall for The healing of St. Thomas. To do so, a review of design drawings and safety inspection should be performed. These are not that common at indoor space of museum. Generally, partitioning and painting walls with white colour tend to be conducted to install art works. Even these works for Kapoor’s work are considered as an important part of his works. These works would be like ritual and rite to welcome his works that purify and inspire us.

According to Spiro Kostof ’s renowned book, A History of Architecture: Rituals and Settings, in western architectural history a story of settings for rituals and rites. In fact, rituals and rites exist within our everyday life rather than certain special events: from birthdays and wedding anniversaries to even every dinner where all family members are together at well decorated table. It is also a kind of rituals that we make a name whenever a new mobile phone product is released. In this respect, the stage for everyday life should include abstract space where our notion and perception satisfy beyond function.

Epilogue _

A function-related space simply cannot contain all of our live within. Although some argue that myth was cleared by scientific rationality over centuries, and we achieved the revolution of industry and information, rituals and rites still exist as different types and formats. Although we come to cathedrals less frequently than before, we still need some rituals and rites to cultivate our notion and perception and some place to do. As Victoria Newhouse insists via her written work, Toward a New Museum, museums after the Pompidou Centre play as significant a role as a cathedral of the old days. People in the contemporary era tend to feel full and purified after visiting a museum and appreciating art work, as opposed to that of a cathedral. In this respect, Kapoor’s works provide intimate confessionals through the medium of abstracted space. Although his works include heavy philosophical confrontations and not daily ephemera, a clear and strategic visual language make us experience abstract space without that big effort. We can contemplate the fundamental meaning of relationship between human and space via Kapoor’s strategies of abstract space investigation.

Photographed by Namgoong, Sun


Han, Eunju is an architect and innovation designer interested in the interaction between humans and the built environment revealed by trans-disciplinary approaches. She has recently been investigating locative interaction in urban space through telecommunicative intervention at the Royal College of Art in London and conducting a number of related architecture and design projects. She is currently editor-in-chief of SPACE Magazine.

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