Memory (2008 ) is the latest commissioned sculpture to be housed within the German Guggenheim gallery in Berlin. Its creator, Anish Kapoor, uses the stark, white space to accentuate the scale and confrontational aspects of his latest work to generate a lasting, stunning impact.
Memory consists of a twenty-four ton Cor-Ten steel tank; its outer shell an almost fragile looking rust-covered collection of tiles (the earthy, almost bloody pigment is perhaps the most immediate reminder that this is a Kapoor piece) seamlessly held together, creating delicate curves and leering bulges which almost glance the sides of the gallery walls and ceiling, and causing something of a disconcerting sense of the defiance of gravity in the room – it feels as though the tank should not be able to sit as still and sentinel-like as it does, as if the entire colossus could roll in somnambulance to one side at any moment.
To say that Memory is confrontational is perhaps an understatement. The piece literally looms in the viewers face, reminding us of our own relatively tiny scale, and of our positions within the gallery itself. Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the installation is its purposeful inaccessibility; we are forbidden to duck beneath the curving hulk of iron and see behind it, instead we must exit the gallery and re-enter with fresh eyes through another door, into a brighter, whiter space to observe the other side of the tank, the back of which has a more flattened, less familiar plane, made all the more unmovable and alien by the brief moment just spent between entrances on the busy street outside. Kapoor almost teases us with disorientation; we cannot help but want to view the sculpture as a whole, the very way our minds (but not our memories) work creates a sense of longing for a little distance, a little space to better apprehend the piece as a whole.
The next dimension of Memory is accessed through the gift shop of the Guggenheim. Again, a minute of familiarity, distraction; up a small set of stairs and down another, before we realise we are to one side of the sculpture, staring into its belly through an aperture in the wall it rests against. Kapoor has managed to create a true void; beyond a couple of inches of the rusty metal shell, we see nothing. Blackness. Depth incalculable, and volume incomprehensible. The meaning of the installation’s title starts to make sense as one looks into the darkness: By segmenting our viewpoints and taking full control of the ways in which we can see the sculpture, Kapoor forces the viewer to use their own memories to try, and fail, to construct an image of the whole in their own minds. This idea of ‘mental sculpture’ has less to do with the steel tank, and far more to do with the individuals movements around the tank: memory as a fleeting, unreachable creation made up of singular, mental images from different viewpoints. The void itself, a rectangle of black space, acts as an empty canvas (for the darkness is so complete from certain angles it looks as though it is a flat, two-dimensional plane, a black square mounted onto a white wall) for the mind to attempt to sketch the image onto.
By fracturing both physical and mental space, Kapoor creates a steel metaphor for the intimacy of the individual’s memories and the cognitive process. Like our own memories and dreams, Memory is viewed in a third person perspective – whether standing at the front, to the rear or looking within the sculpture, we cannot help but mentally place ourselves at the other points. From each perspective we must mentally take ourselves back through a set of doors, or up and down a small flight of stairs to attempt to comprehend the mass that fills the space we stand in. In this way, Memory is permanently situational, its true physical, tangible nature remaining nebulous. No matter how quickly we move through the doors and around the heaving curves of steel, no matter how firmly we hold images in our mind, each moment we place ourselves in and see as ‘present’ immediately disappears into the past with each and every movement of the self.