To confront Anish Kapoor’s Adam is to be met with a wholly unnerving void cut into the organic curves of monolithic sandstone. The sense of unease produced by the assertive, regimented lines of the void is magnified by deep anxiety about what might lurk inside the apparently bottomless recess. The rough-hewn stone has a scattering of markings across its flat surfaces, which are suggestive of hieroglyphs or cave drawings, subliminally linking the viewer to our anthropological past. The stone is not simply an object isolated in time, but an enduring marker of earlier civilisations, its name Adam, reinforcing those links with our past and evoking the creation of man.
While the sculpture’s void is unsettling, the stone itself is human in size and proportions, being only a little taller than the average person. The work has been carefully placed in the gallery so that is possible to walk towards it from a distance as though greeting an old friend, thereby reinforcing its familiarity. Close-up, however, one has to look up to view the entire sculpture as a whole, and its apparently familiar lines are instantly defamiliarised by the geometric cut-out space where a face might have been expected to be. The void appears to have been created by machinery, an aspect that brings both modernity and strangeness to the ancient form. Because of this, there is an unnatural blurring of recognizably ancient history and the alien future. The anthropomorphic stone is familiar but the void within it is unnerving. In this way, the sculpture has an uncanny quality, combining both that which is homely and known, with that which is strangely unknown.
The fathomless interior space of the stone is coated with blue pigment. Its surface is velvety and completely unreflective, instantly disrupting our perceptions of depth. The viewer experiences an almost overwhelming desire to reach a hand into the space in order to break this spell of uncertainty. That urge to enter the void brings both a feeling of dread about what might be found inside and a sense of the subversive, since artworks in a gallery are there to be seen, not touched. There is also an aura of religiosity to the sculpture, since the action of placing a hand within the cavity in order to conquer doubt about the parameters of the space, mirrors the action of the disciple Thomas in the New Testament, who placed his hand in Jesus’ side to dispel his doubts about Jesus’ identity.
The depth and richness of the deep lapis lazuli colour of the pigment, set against the pink stone, evokes images of Renaissance religious painting, yet the work’s references are more universal than specifically Christian or even religious. Historically, blue has been a colour used for restoring feelings of calm, harmony and peace. However, in this instance, the pigment has been confined to a dense, interior space and is more redolent of an infinite night sky whose limits cannot be known. The extent to which the piece must remain unknowable does not, however, render it meaningless. The void does not appear to represent emptiness, but exudes a more powerful sense of endless possibilities. For this reason, it is a work of infinite but strange richness rather than a nihilistic gesture towards nothingness. Ultimately Adam appears both monumental and strange, puzzling yet inviting. As a perfect demonstration of its mesmerizing nature, on my last visit to see the piece I found evidence that someone had failed to resist the void’s allure. On the stark white wall behind the sculpture, a single navy blue handprint had been stamped, like fingerprints at a crime scene. Someone had dared to enter the abyss and in wiping off the blue pigment on the gallery wall had left a post-echo of his encounter with Kapoor’s sculpture.