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Anish Kapoor: Dismemberment Of Jeanne d’Arc, The Old Municipal Market, Brighton
More than 70 years ago, the slums in Circus Street were cleared, giving way to a gleaming municipal market that would soon reverberate with the cries of traders and the steady rumble of delivery lorries and porters’ barrows as the rest of Brighton slept.
For the past five weeks, The Old Municipal Market – which closed its shutters for the last time in 2005 – has witnessed a peculiar echo of its former life, as the cavernous space has rung with the cries of a specialist construction team and the sound of its drills, cherry pickers and generators.
They have been working on Anish Kapoor’s imposing public sculpture The Dismemberment Of Jeanne D’Arc, a piece the Turner prize-winning sculptor was commissioned to create as a component of his guest artistic directorship of this year’s Brighton Festival.
Not one for understatement, this breathtaking work comprises a 2m deep pit in the centre of the floor, two great mounds of red rubble and a pair of 20m by 4m rendered polystyrene limbs – a “dismembered body” in the words of its creator – that together pick up on his previous preoccupations with female sexuality and extend them to the mythology surrounding the martyred Joan Of Arc.
With its enormous mounds at one end of the 40m by 60m space, and limbs at the other, with an (ahem) opening in the centre, the sexuality is not so much implied as mapped out on the dusty floor of the building.
Four weeks in, its vivid red tactile surfaces already looked otherworldly against the chipboard and steel and broken windows of the market, but the piece promises to appear yet more extraterrestrial when – saturated in red light – it is opened to the public tomorrow.
Kapoor himself was on-site last week to check on the progress of the piece and said his reaction on seeing the transition from the scale model in his studio to near-finished piece was “weird”.
“The first thing you see is everything that’s wrong!” he says chuckling, “I think the scale is right for the space. But the thing that’s interesting for me is that it’s far more complex than I thought it was. You can imagine it with a model, and what it would look like, but you can’t imagine everything, like the strange optics – you can’t imagine how the hole will look from certain angles.”
Kapoor, born in India in 1954 before moving to this country in the early 1970s to study at Hornsey College Of Art and later at the Chelsea School of Art and Design, will also bring the stunning Sky Mirror (pictured far right) and C-Curve (also pictured) to Brighton as part of the festival. This is public sculpture from an artist who has said in the past he loathes public sculpture.
“God knows on the whole it’s rather boring. Over the recent past it’s become a kind of emblem rather than a whole symbolic core which it once was,” he says.
“But public space can be very mesmerising… difficult, but mesmerising.”
He says sites such as The Old Municipal Market afford him the kind of physical space he wants for his work.
“Scale is a very important tool of sculpture – and it isn’t always to do with physical size, it’s also to do with meaning. In this case, scale is to do with matter, physical stuff.”
The Dismemberment Of Jeanne D’Arc, a work Kapoor says he “had been thinking about for a long time” follows similar pieces exhibited at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York, and will be succeeded by another piece at the Grand Palais in Paris two years from now. It is a process he likens to “conducting one’s education in public”.
Despite his record of public work, including the 35-metre tall Tarantara at the Baltic Flour Mills in Gateshead and the extraordinary, five-piece work-in-progress that is the Tees Valley Giants, it is the first time Kapoor has taken up this kind of guest directorship at a festival.
“I’ve never really been involved in a festival before,” he says. “I’ve done it in little bits, like Avignon, but not this way before. The festival in Brighton has been very much about theatre and music, traditionally, but I was very excited to engage with it on a visual level.”
He says the work he has chosen to exhibit in the festival – which also includes smaller pieces Music Boxes, 1,000 Names and the Salman Rushdie collaboration Blood Relations (an exploration of the Scheherazade’s creation of the stories of 1001 Nights) has some element of overlap with other mediums.
“The thing that was most interesting for me was the sense that over the years I’ve made works that can be read in terms of other art forms. In Fabrica, there is a work with Salman Rushdie. I didn’t intend it to be that way, but it ended up being to do with Scheherazade. It was work that seemed in some way to link with something festival-related.”
The Dismemberment piece will tie in overtly with another medium when it becomes the eerie backdrop to a performance of Salvatore Sciarrino’s orchestration of Rossini’s Giovanni D’Arco, itself an homage to the Maid of Orleans.
At the opposite end of the spectrum to the imposing, public piece at the Old Municipal Market is an altogether more private affair at The Basement in Kensington Street.
Imagined Monochrome (Massage) is another specially-commisioned piece for the festival, which comprises two rooms: a waiting room and a massage room, where visitors will experience both a massage and – in the blurb publicising the piece – “monochromatic colour”.
There’s a discernible sense of mischief in Kapoor’s eyes when he talks about the piece.
“I can’t tell you too much about it, you have to go. The idea of the work is that you go into a room, lie down and the massage causes you to imagine the monochrome.
“I wanted to make a work that was fairly experiential. Brighton is a place where it could work – it has this... hippy past that seems to accept things and doesn’t seem to misunderstand things.”
Kapoor has an almost playfully contrary sense of his work, something exemplified in his involvement in a series of talks about some of his overarching themes and their implications for the wider world over the course of the festival, a decision that seems at odds with his previous assertions that his work “has nothing to say”.
“I’m not uncomfortable talking,” he says. “But what do I mean when I’ve said I have nothing to say? For me, it comes down to, ‘is this new?’, ‘is this not new?’. I want to see the work as an opening language of its own, but that’s quite different from commenting on the world.”
Two of the talks in the festival will address the notion of barbarism, an easy thread to identify in the immense figures that now occupy the Old Municipal Market. The enormous limbs of the piece, not unlike huge red Twiglets, are sure to prompt a response from visitors. But why those shapes?
“God knows! I’ve said before there’s no hierarchy of form, and all form is as good as other forms. And why not that shape?”
“There have long been certain preoccupations in my work – red, a certain implied and very overt sexuality – and this is part of that language. One has to test one’s instincts. Take the risk. If there’s no risk, there’s no possibility. With things like this it’s almost always a process and about following one’s nose.”
Time will tell how the city responds to such a vivid, outlandish piece. For many visitors, this will be the first time they have set foot inside a building that was once the early morning hub of the city’s food trade. Those who have been inside before should be prepared for a space that has been enlivened, transformed, and made utterly strange.
Runs until May 24. Free. Festival guides will be present from noon to 8pm.
Anish Kapoor’s work at Brighton festival IMAGINED MONOCHROME (MASSAGE)
The Basement, Kensington Street, Brighton. Open daily throughout the festival
This specially-commissioned piece, Massage will comprise two rooms – a waiting room and a massage room. Visitors will be massaged as they experience “monochromatic colour”. The piece is about the power of imagination, and Kapoor’s conceit that artists create myths rather than physical objects.
Timed appointments half-hourly between 10am and 6pm. £12. Age 16 and older.
BLOOD RELATIONS/1000 NAMES/MUSIC BOXES
Fabrica, Duke Street, Brighton. Open daily throughout the festival.
The story of Scheherazade’s creation of the stories of 1001 nights runs around the outside of Blood Relations (2006). Written by Salman Rushdie, the text asks the reader to keep walking around the piece.
1000 Names (1979-1980) is part of a series of pigment pieces and explores Kapoor’s relationship with intense colour.
Music Boxes (1995-1996), as its title suggests, is a collection of music boxes, created by Kapoor and his composer cousin Brian Elias.
SKY MIRROR (2006) Pavilion Gardens, Brighton. Open daily throughout the festivalThis stunning-looking piece will open up a new perspective on the Pavilion estate and literally brings the sky to the ground. Previously seen in New York and Nottingham, the piece is a breathtaking, 8ft diameter concave mirror made of polished stainless steel.
Free. Festival guides will be present between 12pm and 8pm.
C-CURVE The Chattri, South Downs.Open daily throughout the festival Relating to the concepts of reflection and the infinite, C-Curve is placed near the Chattri Memorial to the Sikh and Hindu soldiers who died while in Brighton and Hove hospitals during the First World War.
Directions to the Chattri memorial By Car from Brighton: Take the A27 towards Lewes, at the second small roundabout (with a slip road to Lewes) take the north exit into Braypool Lane and immediately turn right. Park up and walk to the Chattri by following the sign-posted footpath.
By bus and on foot: Bus Route 5 or 5A (six buses per hour, three on Sundays). From the bus stop at The Ladies Mile Pub walk up Vale Avenue towards Horsedean Recreation Ground. Turn right and follow the track to the right keeping between the trees and the fence at the back of the houses. Bear left following the sign to the Chattri and Windmills and cross the footbridge over the bypass.
Follow the concrete road left down the hill and then continue up to the other side of the valley to a junction where you’ll see car parking space down the hill.
Turn right and pass through a small gate to the left of the track taking you into a field. Follow the Sussex Border path through the field until you come to a gate under the electricity pylons. Go through the gate and keep left following the path towards Chattri. C-Curve is on the brow of the hill behind the Chattri. Retrace your steps to return.