Please do not touch

By: Louk Vreeswijk

Oct 12 2014


Category: Australia, Oceania

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Focal Length:5mm
Shutter:1/0 sec

Anish Kapoor calls this work of his “Laboratory for a New Model of the Universe – 2006”. This sounds intriguing, maybe a bit over the top, although maybe with a touch of humour too. Who will tell us? Anyhow, it is what it is: an acrylic bloc of 123x134x132.7 cm, with an air bubble caught inside. The transparent mass of acrylic causes refraction of the light, because of which we perceive a discontinuity in the white line and the dark skirting that are partly behind the bloc. Light and dark planes appear in strange, not immediately comprehensible ways. Overall, the object in its environment looks rather simple and clean, even a bit sterile.

But what a different appearance it gets from the perspective in the photo below! The white line on the floor shows multiple, quite amazing refractions. The person – my wife – standing at the other side of the bloc is refracted in a strange way as well. Her reflection in the top surface is fully comprehensible, but what to think of her refracted image in the lower part of the bloc?

DSC00264a Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art - Laboratory for a New Model of the Universe 2006, Anish Kapoor - 2013 blogcolumn

In between her reflected and refracted image we see part of her foot crossing the white line. Then we perceive the air bubble three times, and lastly we notice that the distribution of light and darker planes has changed and multiplied remarkably. From here it looks as if the bloc isn’t one, un-fragmented piece of acrylic, but instead composed of eight parts. In short, the comparison of the two pictures, taken from different perspectives, raises a number of questions, some of which are difficult to answer. One thing is clear: since in the lower picture we look down on a corner of the bloc we do see three sides of the object. And so we perceive in one image the result of three different light refractions, which makes it look much more intriguing than in the other photo. Would there now be something more to say about the title of the work? Kapoor has called it “Laboratory for …”, and not “New Model of the Universe” tout court. Actually ‘Laboratory’ is a misleading word here; nothing is happening in this laboratory. Maybe the air bubble is the New Model of the Universe?

More or less intricate light refractions play an important part in this work, as they do too in our current, scientific model of the Universe. But the latter is unimaginably more complex, rich and profound.

We are requested not to touch the acrylic bloc in the exhibition. Why? Is it because its clean surface doesn’t tolerate dirty fingerprints, the object risking to lose much of its magic? Or is one afraid that the air bubble within gets disturbed and might suddenly explode with a big bang, pieces of acrylic flying in all directions?

Photos of the week: “Laboratory for a New Model of the Universe – 2006”, Anish Kapoor – Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia 2013

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