Cop an eyeful of the work of the Turner Prize-winning artist who turns the world upside down
How would you describe your main concerns as a sculptor?
I’m always returning to a similar set of problems about our body’s relation with things in space, but the challenge of the work is that it needs to confound expectations. It also has to do with the sense that an object is only of real significance when it has an immaterial counterpoint, so it’s the materiality and beyond.
Your work is essentially abstract but also about the body. How do you reconcile the two?
Sculpture isn’t simply an object in space. It lives through the processional or returning view. In a normal scale object – a Rodin or Donald Judd for example – the living process is the walking around its three-dimensionality. We’re used to the mise en scène, in which the first view is the whole view, but you have to keep reviewing sculpture, just as you do with Rodin, because the front of [his statue of] Balzac is not the same as the back. Instinctively I don’t want a narrative but it’s an essential part of knowing the world, which is also 3-D and temporal.
Is size ever important in art?
At some levels scale has a bad name in sculpture, but it’s an integral tool when dealing with space. My work is not architecture, but can be architectural in scale.
How do you approach enormous commissions like the ‘Monumenta’ series at the Grand Palais?
That’s the most terrifying space ever. It’s too big to be indoors and not big enough to be outdoors – truly frightening. These major projects are risky but also really interesting, as one doesn’t know what’s going to happen. I can figure out the practical realities now but I’m not sure about where the art will come from yet.
Is there a danger of your practice becoming more like an architect’s or engineer’s?
God, no, I’m very much studio-based. I employ a few people, because you can’t do it all yourself, but the studio is all; every problem, every issue is here. I can’t solve them in a plane or in my head and I don’t believe that an intellectual practice is enough. Maquettes are an essential tool, because drawings alone just don’t explain it.
When you started sculpting, did you know where it was going?
When I started out in art school in the 1970s I did it just to exist. There wasn’t a hope in hell of making a living from it. The current hurry-hurry art world saddens me, because there’s a difference between making work for the market and just saying to yourself that hopefully this is a growing voyage of discovery. I don’t know what I’m doing; I’m still looking for it.
Do you have a sense of what your career contribution might be?
Sculpture takes a hell of a long time. One keeps doing the same thing, it’s only over a period of time that the repetition leads to innovation. A work has one kind of life inside the studio and another outside. Of course, there’s no accounting for the public’s perception – it either enters the psyche or becomes just one more thing in the world.
Pictured: Anish Kapoor Memory, 2008 installation view, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin 2009 Cor-ten steel. Image courtesy the artist and Deutsche Guggenheim © the artist. Photograph: Mathias Schormann