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Anish Kapoor – the habitability of sculpture in Serralves

At the exhibition Obras, Pensamentos, Experiências [Works, Thoughts, Experiments], at the Serralves Museum, we anatomize Anish Kapoor’s plastic universe on different scales. The work of this artist born in India in 1954, now residing in London, has been shown all over the world in indoor and outdoor universes, dialoguing with cities and museums. In Oporto, between the purism of Álvaro Siza’s space and the flexuosities of Parque de Serralves, her first great exhibition in Portugal is presented, curated by Suzanne Cotter, this institution’s former director, under the intent to use this scenario, a National Monument since 2012, as the backdrop for a full-fledged tribute to a different artist every year.

The perception of Kapoor’s encounters with different territories, architectures, times and materialities is perceived in a room with 56 project models that she executed throughout 40 years. A set of pieces that make us plunge into unique experiences that we already lived in cities like London, New York or Chicago, and bring us to the complexity of her studies and mutations. We dive into a laboratory of concepts and skins that unravel them, sharpening the urge to go beyond the mere looking, wanting instead to enter, to feel, to inhabit.

The summoning of the body is, in this artist’s work, symbolic visceral and seductive. Painstakingly, the author chose five specific points to present large-scale works, in a challenging space-time path, where the viewer feels invited to become physically involved with the work.

Whiteout is the sculpture that draws us into the museum. A circulation area which becomes a contemplation and involvement site as well. White, vertical, seemingly straight yet curvaceous, it unveils the building’s light, it invites us to go around it, to reach the first floor and perceive its real relationship with the museum’s architecture. The more we look at it, the more we disentangle its play of shadows and sinuosities. Monolithic, monochromatic and monumental, not because of its size, but because of the infinity that it presents to us.

Sectional Body Preparing for Monadic Singularity shows itself next to the Museum’s auditorium. This gesture of holding hands with the building is daring and effective. We do not need to look for it, it screams at us when we enter, it lures us to go there, it swallows us if we allow it. Between unattainable ellipses and enticing openings, the ingredients for seduction are gathered. Anish Kapoor takes us to the abstract expressionist Barnett Newman and the mythological episode in which Marsyas is skinned alive by Apollo, in a carnal, attractive and disturbing red. Inside and outside, we remain in a limbo of sensations, unable to embrace all its membranes and throbbing for another surprise.

Sky Mirror sculpts the landscape itself. The earth-sky symbolism that Kapoor has presented in different cities is now part of the setting of Jardim do Relógio do Sol, in a not-that-obvious choice regarding its location in relation to Casa Arte Déco, presenting us a new perspective on its orientation. Through a large concave and mirrored surface, the garden, the building and the viewer’s body are sent to a “third space”, where mutability defies perenniality.

Language of Birds edifies a close relationship with the more rural landscape of Serralves. On a pedestal based on the Archimedean spiral, also used in the construction of the 9th-century spiral minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra in present-day Iraq, a bird caller introduces the sound component to the work once a week. Like Saint Francis preaching to animals, the bird caller is not exempt from mythical associations. We find him through the sound, we respect the surroundings, we feel part of a performance that has a transcendental aspiration. We keep questioning if the moment is ours as well or if we should only watch while remaining tiny and motionless.

Descent in Limbo asks: can architecture be a non-object? The dimension of inhabited sculpture or a sculptural architecture reaches us through the finite-infinite clash in what is perhaps the exhibition’s most disturbing work. In Clareira das Azinheiras, we see a white building that in no way disturbs us in the Serralves context, but where something awaits us. We sign a term of responsibility to access it, distrust and curiosity are generated. The title, inspired by Andrea Mantegna’s work portraying Christ descending into the Limbo, also adds to the eagerness of discovery. In a space that outstandingly combines the poetic with Álvaro Siza, we feel immersed in the emptiness, in the darkness. A timid light beam, reminding us of this architect’s inverted tables, makes us defy the proximity to the abyss, where the blue has a place after all, where we do not know where it ends and we question the limits of our body with the edges of the space.

To inhabit Anish Kapoor’s work in Serralves is an experience with many material and immaterial mysteries. The work In the Shadow of the Tree and the Knot of the Earth, thought by the artist for a new reading of this territory’s explanations and occultations, will be built in this park in the coming months. Take a deep breath and let yourself be enticed until January 2019 by an artist who has accustomed us to breathtaking moments.

Fabrícia Valente holds a degree in Architecture from the University of Évora (pre-Bologna) and has training in complementary areas such as video, photography and the production of temporary exhibitions. She is an active curator (eg KAIROS Pavilion), Critic (she is the editor of the online section of Architecture of the Umbigo Magazine and is part of the J–A editorial team) and works in Cultural Mediation (Museu Colecção Berardo and MAAT) on more than 90 exhibitions. She collaborates with several entities in the search for multidisciplinarity between Architecture, Plastic Arts and Music, areas where she develops research works.

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