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Descension by Anish Kapoor (2015)

Château de Versailles, Paris, France

Thursday 21st October 2015


I guess you could say I’ve shown true dedication to the cause. With the chance of seeing and ‘experiencing’ the fourth and final art installation relevant to my dissertation and my art practice, I took a ‘day trip’ to Versailles. The reason for the trip was to see the work of Anish Kapoor, but more importantly his water vortex installation entitled Descension.

Descension is an installation consisting of a whirlpool of inky black water that is set in the ground. The whirlpool is so powerful it creates a large vortex in the centre of the seven metre diameter pool.

The first thing I noticed as I approached the installation was the noise. From about 200 metres away you can hear a deep rumbling, almost growling sound, but it’s not until I got closer that I realised the noise was coming from the whirlpool. As I got to within about three metres of Descension I could feel the ground vibrating, as was the barrier surrounding it. The thing that was far more imposing was the incredible sense of menace I felt as I looked at the large vortex that had opened up and appeared as a large hole with masses of black water being swallowed into the earth beneath. It made me feel very nervous of getting too close even though there was a barrier there. Almost hypnotic, it felt like it could easily draw you in had the barrier not been there. It did, however, keep your eyes drawn to the centre of this swirling mass to, the vortex of murky water. The rumbling noise together with the gurgling of the water was now equally menacing. I began trying to rationalise what was happening before my eyes, but because of the complete uncertainty here as well, it gave me an intense feeling of fear: fear of the unknown. After a few minutes, there seemed to be a slight lull in the power of the swirling water. The water level dropped by several centimetres and the diameter of the vortex reduced to about half its original size. The noise level also dropped slightly, but within a matter of five seconds or so, the whirlpool kick in again instantly swelling the water level and the roaring noise increased. The vortex opened up fully once more sucking the water into the ground again. As the level swelled there was turbulence in the water with loads of eddies swirling around and masses of air bubbles coming to the surface. There is no indication how deep this pool actually is and adrenalin kicks in as once again more uncertainty gives an intense feeling of fear and unease. Part of me wanted to step away, but curiosity kept me there. I was, however, thankful there was a barrier in place.

Walking around Descension, this cycle continues time and time again, and then I realised there was a real paradox here. Here I am in the stunningly beautiful grounds of the equally beautiful Château de Versailles staring into the menacing and powerful vortex of water, forgetting the fact that it is an art installation. It was an amazing experience with such a mix of emotions and sensations.

I’m so glad I made the trip.

As with Dark Brother by Kapoor and James Turrell’s St Elmo’s Breath and Skyspace – Seldom Seen, Descension has to be experienced in the flesh to be able to have any appreciation of it. It is evident here that art can induce a diverse and extreme range of feelings and emotions from the menacing fear in Kapoor’s work, to the tranquil, other worldliness of Turrell’s installations.