ARTYFACTS: Dismemberment of Joan of Arc

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Dismemberment of Joan of Arc

Anish Kapoor

Brighton has some curious links with India. The Brighton Pavilion was used as a hospital for Indian troops during the war. It’s exotic mogul, chinoiserie rooms were meant to make them feel at home. Up on the downs behind Brighton is the Chanctry, a monument to the fallen Indian soldiers. It was here that funeral pyres were built for those who never made it through their care in the Pavilion.

So it is, in 2009, that Anish Kapoor has been asked to direct the Brighton Festival and his works are scattered around the town, huge beacons of refection and colour that radiate in Brighton’s sea light and air.

Dismemberment of Joan of Arc

The gut of this work is a huge pit sunk into the concrete floor of this no disused market hall.  a perfect ellipse, but it’s dug into the bowels of the earth and shows the dirt and rock as a huge eviscerated hole.  It draws you to the edge. But as I peer over, a young girl comes up and tells me that I have to remain 6 feet from the edge (health and safety apparently). So an edgy  work with ‘dismemberment’ in the title is emasculated by some petty H&S rule.

I loved the sexual, menstrual, gory pit, but was less pleased with the rather literal limbs and breasts. Huge sticks of rough red rock lie legs akimbo at the foot of the pit, like two giant, abandoned tampons. At the other end industrial size conical hills of red dirt rise towards the roof. These are puzzling. Kapoor’s works play with absence and presence and these additions seem to detract from the empty intestinal tomb of the pit. The many roof leaks are being held back by makeshift tarpaulins, but I’d have let them drip to form pools from blood-red wounds.

One accidental (perhaps not) consequence of being in a glass roofed fruit market is that the light, supplemented by red lights, make the piece radiate redness. It’s a deep and bloody affair, as red as the death tainted pomegranates that used to be sold here.

One last puzzle – why Joan of Arc? She famously fought to retrieve French land from the English, but was burned (repeatedly to leave no relics), not dismembered. What is the meaning of a metaphorical dismemberment? Is it the dismemberment of women in general? Is it the psychological dismemberment that we all experience as we approach old age and death? Is it the fact that we are, after all, just blood and guts, animals doomed to be gutted and discarded in time? Kapoor gave no clues in his little speech at the unveiling.


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