Tall Tree and the Eye: reflections of myself

I travel for India very soon and am enjoying London with that bittersweet sense of leaving it imminently. Today was a warm autumn afternoon and I decided to go to Piccadilly as I wanted to buy some of the honey that is produced from the bees that live on the rooftop hives at Fortnum and Mason, and opposite Anish Kapoor sculptures are showing at the Royal Academy exhibition space.

Kapoor was born in Bombay (as it was called then) in the 1950s to an Indian Hindu father and Iraqi Jewish mother whose family had come to India from Baghdad. Kapoor  has lived in England since the 1970’s. Some of his best known work is on a monumental scale, often evoking a sense of nature in abstract form by the inter play of opposing elements and the dynamic between solid matter and empty space. Some of his smaller sculptures centre around stalagmite tendrils of richly coloured powder pigments inspired by the mounds of pigment sold in markets in India where they are used in rituals and to create Mandalas in Hindu temples. He is also know for his work in the medium of  red wax evoking the transfigurative qualities of the human form, flesh and blood. Many of his sculptures transformed the landscape of Brighton as part of the May Arts festival there this year.

The Kapoor exhibition is a hot ticket at the moment, and the RA is really pushing it…several art reviewers have gleefully noted the cannon which once a day fires a viscous mixture of red wax and vaseline at the pristine walls of the gallery…so it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to find a queue snaking across the inner courtyard of Burlington House right back out into Piccadilly. At least whilst queuing or for those who decide not to stand for two hours to see the exhibition inside, there is a magnificent Kapoor sculpture installed in the front of the courtyard itself. It stands as a towering mass of seventy-six large silver spheres each a meter across rendered in highly polished mirror-like aluminum. Called “Tall Tree and the Eye” it’s definitely a crowd pleaser, and the immediate impulse of most people there seemed to be to get closer for that moment of recognition when you see yourself and friend reflected on the spherical surface of each ball. The effect is multiplied as the balls ascend, cross and overlap; reflections of the onlookers refract inwards as the spheres move up and around the sculpture.

Many people were taking photographs and instantly uploading them on their Facebook pages. This seemed to increase the reflective propensity of the sculpture itself in a kind of virtual Russian doll effect… people taking pictures of themselves as portraits of taking pictures of themselves refracted back endlessly in the mirrored surfaces of the linked spheres, then uploaded and refracted endlessly in cyber space…a never ending sequence of self-watching-self….of the self on display… each spherical mirrored surface reflecting the camera’s capturing of the porous moment between off-line and on-line selves, between what is real and what may be unreal or more real. I had a vertiginous moment of wondering who the real me was as the me was multiplied on the myriad surfaces of the sculpture, with both direct reflections of me and those produced as the balls curved inward mirroring and reproducing images of my image. A child ran in delight up toward the spheres at the base, whilst his mother warned “…thats as close as you can go”! he yelled joyously and resolutely ignored her commands. The moment of observing folds into a sense of dissolving with the sculpture as you look up and see a hundred small “yous”, framed by the square outline of the Royal Academy reflected upside down, forming overall a honeycomb pattern across the spherical shapes. It’s a heady feeling…both delightful and disturbing…

I assume the process of creating and seeing myself refracted in this blog will be no less delightful and at times no less unsettling, I can only hope it will be fun, even useful and maybe even occasionally inspiring as it pings around cyberspace …..




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