Descension, Anish Kapoor’s current work, nestled in a prime spot within the grounds of Versailles, is a noisy, violent, installation in the form of a bottomless whirlpool of black liquid. This time positioned sweetly between a pair of baroque fountains, Descension has also appeared, more hemmed in and claustrophobic, in the body of a gallery in India, and in the more expansive interior space offered by an old cinema in Tuscany. It is an astonishing work wherever it is seen, connecting those who get it to genuinely profound ideas and emotions.

The photos and clips make you want to be there and to experience whatever it means directly. Now.

The turbulent vortex of water surfaces primal, and unwanted, feelings – fear, dislocation, vulnerability and hopelessness. The noise of its downward energy evokes a real sense of awe at such destructive power and otherworldliness; despair at its lack of specific meaning and unfathomable space. It hypnotically sucks anyone within its reach into a need to stop, engage and reflect, simply by means of its form, a central void created by timelessness, ceaseless and restless activity. It is stimulating, challenging and personal and connected into eternal, multiple ideas and feelings.

Kapoor himself is keen to keep away from defining any “meaning” for the work. “I am not interested in singular implications in art. It kills the work”, he says. And of Descension he adds “It is the place of the void, which paradoxically is full”.

In the context of a blog about art and dementia Descension offers a much-needed challenge to the literal, which dominates so much “dementia-related art”. For those so inclined, Descension allows an exploration of many different aspects of identity and dementia. It is not about dementia. It does not try to capture dementia. Kapoor has never mentioned dementia in connection with this work. Why would he? This would make it linear and literal. Its power and value as art is that it evokes deep feelings and connects to something unsettling, familiar and intangible. It does not explain or close anything down. It opens up new possibilities of exploration.

Contrast this with art where dementia is clearly “the subject”; art where the art makes it clear what the art is about; art which is so literal it can only evoke recognition or empathy and is happy to manipulate to do so. Nothing profound, nothing to stimulate and challenge, nothing to evoke and unsettle, nothing to provoke a personal framing for feeling. There is a place for such work which some may well see as art, but personally I am off to Versailles where art worthy of the name is waiting.


Mark Butler

Director, Dementia Festival of Ideas – August 2015

This piece is adapted from an article made possible by funding from the Dementia Services Development Trust.

Photography is by James Ewing, courtesy of the artist and Public Art Fund.