The soft sound of the sea hums through the corridors of Aspinwall House. But in a corner of the historical venue of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, this symphony turns a tad dissonant. Dug 10-odd feet below the ground is a water vortex. This is Anish Kapoor’s Descension. “It goes right till the centre of the Earth,” chuckles the Mumbai-born British artist, “I don’t want it to be an artwork, I want it to be a phenomenon.”
Dressed in shorts, he is seated on one of the ramshackle piers that jut out to the sea. The busy port is visible. “My father was a hydrographer with the Indian Navy and was posted here more than 40 years ago. I love coming back,” says the 60-year-old. Alumni of the prestigious Doon School, Kapoor studied art at the Hornsey College of Art, UK and at Chelsea School of Art, London, and earned a living by designing furniture for decorator Nicky Haslam. A trip to India in 1979 was to impact his fate. “I suddenly realised all these things I had been making at art school and in my studio had a relationship to what I saw in India,” he says. His now-famous pigment pieces — raw, powdered pigments on the floor and the wall — followed. He is an excavator, minimalist and the designer of towering sculptors. If his 115-meter tall sculptor The Orbit is stationed at London’s Olympic Park, Millennium Park in Chicago has the celebrated 110-tonne Cloud Gate. He was awarded the Premio Duemila at the Venice Biennale in 1990, won the Turner Prize in 1991, and was elected as a Royal Academician in 1999.
The work at the Biennale appears to be an outcome of his engagement with emptiness. “I have been attempting this work for some years now; I tried it earlier but failed. The fact that it is in the ground gives a certain uncertainty,” says Kapoor. He terms this as “opposite” to his acclaimed work Ascension. Installed at the 2011 Venice Biennale, the work had clouds of smoke ascending from the floor to a huge extractor fan on the ceiling. “The work in Kochi is more aggressive. It will have that gurgling; it is the navel of the universe,” says Kapoor. He terms it most appropriate for Kochi, “where water is the past and the future”.
This is his second art outing in India. In 2010, he had a solo at the National Gallery of Modern Art. “It is gallant what they (Biennale organisers) are doing. It is a great shame that they haven’t yet got proper government support. There are so many things that come from this even at a pure economic level. You can’t have economics without culture,” he says, “This is contemporary culture. How will India grow into the nation it wants to be, without some assessment of its own cultural place.”
The crowd is waiting outside his exhibit hall for the water work to start and his team wants him back. After all, he is one of the stars of this Biennale.