Anish Kapoor's Brexit artwork: Britain on the edge of the abyss

Frightening rift tearing the UK apart – or gateway to a new land? Our critic explores the artist’s response to Brexit, created for Guardian readers

Anish Kapoor has exposed a bottomless void at the heart of Britain. You could topple in there and never stop falling. In fact, that is exactly what we have done – and solid ground still seems to be nowhere in sight.

This artwork, which Kapoor has created for the Guardian, is his response to our current predicament and the new Britain that appeared after the leave vote. Although the Mumbai-born artist has given it a title – A Brexit, A Broxit, We All Fall Down – he does not wish to make any further comment about the piece, preferring to let it speak for itself.

The use of colour to suggest infinite voids is one of Kapoor’s most mind-bending abilities as an artist – as a visitor to an exhibition in Portugal recently discovered. The man actually fell into one work, a black hole in the floor of the gallery. The artist’s use of the world’s blackest paint, which is actually called Kapoor Black, made it impossible to gauge the hole’s depth. When the man fell in, it turned out to be a lot shallower than it looked, luckily for him.

This wound, however, is anything but shallow. Britain has inflicted a dreadful injury on itself: a gory rip stretching from Glasgow to the south coast. Our fellow Europeans are watching aghast from across the water as we near the abyss of a no-deal Brexit. Kapoor suggests the damage is even visible from space. His artwork might serve as a warning to any passing flying saucers: avoid this riven nightmare of a nation.

Beyond simple slogans … Anish Kapoor in his studio in London.
Beyond simple slogans … Anish Kapoor in his studio in London. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

While he wants this image to speak for itself, Kapoor has been a consistent and vocal opponent of Brexit since the 2016 referendum. He recently characterised our political paralysis as a descent into strange mental territory. “We’ve allowed ourselves as a nation to enter a space of unknowing,” he told the i newspaper. “I can’t help but see it in terms of a depressive self.” He compared it to “self-harm”.

And here is the result of that self-harm. This is a surrealist work, one that seeks to let the unconscious out. But instead of his own demons, Kapoor lets out the shadows in the nation’s psyche: yours, mine and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s. For, like a black hole of melancholy, something about this bottomless pit is alluring. Part of you wants to fall in.

So this work goes well beyond simple sloganising. It is not another protest. It is an attempt to psychoanalyse the British. Is there something about us that wants to fall into shadow? There may be fear down there, but there’s mystery too. What if, like that man in Portugal, we jumped? Britain’s domestic history is remarkably middle of the road - a story of reform and stability - and yet there are moments when things go haywire and we find ourselves in a trench of blood.

Kapoor has captured our morbid obsession with the futile chasm of Brexit, the perverse character of a nation that wants, in some sad corner of itself, to be back in the trenches. A bigger trench this time, where meaning ends and reality dissolves.

Anish Kapoor’s latest exhibition is at Pitzhanger Manor, London, until 18 August.


Jonathan Jones

The GuardianTramp

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