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Battle for a better black an interview with stuart semple
Indira Lakshmi Prasad

The ongoing feud between renowned British sculptor Anish Kapoor and contemporary British artist and curator Stuart Semple has become somewhat of an ongoing drama in the art world. It all began when last year Anish Kapoor controversially secured exclusive rights to ‘Vantablack’, the ‘blackest of black’ paint to have ever been created. Originally developed for military use, the pigment is said to absorb 99.96% of light, giving anything it coats an almost black- hole type effect. It was first a source of interest to the military for its masking abilities; rendering aircraft undetectable and enhancing telescopes with its unique ability to block out all light. Anish Kapoor himself claims that he was drawn to the colour due to the emotions it evoked in him upon seeing it for the first time, the psychological effects of the colour. The decision to patent ‘Vantablack’ has been heavily controversial within the art community and came with significant backlash with many artists believing that one man having rights to such a significant material is immoral. Black as a pigment has been a source of curiosity, inspiration and wonder for artists since time immemorial, for the same reasons which drew Kapoor to Vantablack; the connotations and powerful mark which black imbues in the human mind. This is perhaps the first time in modern history that an artist has monopolised a material in this way, and many in both the art and wider community believe it is wrong that a particular material, particularly one with so much potential, should belong to just one man.

Stuart Semple is one such artist who strongly holds the belief that the decision by Kapoor to patent the material is immoral, and has not simply spoken out on the issue, but has begun an ongoing collaboration with the general public in response. The multi disciplinary artist, using mediums of painting, film, sculpture and public art to voice issues unique to his generation including insight into anxiety and the impact of a technology oriented society. One of his most notable works, which brought him into the public eye, was the public art project ‘Happy Cloud’ where he released thousands of smiley faces made of foam and helium from the Tate Modern which then headed into the city on London. ‘Happy Cloud’ has since been repeated in Milan, Moscow and Dublin. Semple has since created several other public artworks and regularly participates in curated group shows, fairs, biennials and charity projects.
Interview with Stuart Semple A&D:
I can imagine everyone’s been quizzing you on the ongoing debate between you and Anish Kapoor! However I’d first like to ask about one of your most recent pieces of work, the ‘Something Amazing’ Public Art Project.
SS: Yes the ‘Something Amazing’ project took place across six UK cities early in the morning a few months ago. I installed these giant balloon sculptures at the crack of dawn simultaneously. The idea behind that project was to raise awareness about female egg donation. And something really beautiful happened actually; a member of the public who saw the installation has decided to donate one of her eggs, and another woman who couldn’t have a baby has now conceived as a result! So we’ve actually used public art installation to help create a life that wouldn’t have been created otherwise.

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