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Art

Red Star Over Russia | Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into the Future pt. 2

 
  The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment,  1985, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Museé national d'art moderne/Centre de Création industrielle. Purchase 1990.  © Ilya and Emilia Kabakov

The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment, 1985, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Museé national d'art moderne/Centre de Création industrielle. Purchase 1990. 
© Ilya and Emilia Kabakov


This is part 2 of Mr. Hoffman's Big Red Russia review, find part 1 here.


DP Hoffman

After being politely ushered out of Red Star Over Russia, I dawdled along over to the other side of the Tate to see Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into The Future, a retrospective of the work of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. Finding the entrance to the exhibition, I was informed to go to the ticket office to collect my complimentary pass, then proceeded to get lost for about fifteen minutes until I swallowed my pride and asked someone where it was.

To be wholly honest with you (and, dear reader, I can promise you little more than honesty), I mostly went to see just one piece and anyway my legs were tired from all the confused dawdling. I had written about the piece in question for my Master’s thesis, and wanted to see this holiest of holies with my own eyes. I had thought it long-dismantled, languishing forgotten in some warehouse and so was filled with a nerdish glee at the prospect of seeing the thing in the flesh. 

(Do installation art pieces have flesh? I don’t know).

 Another of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov's installations,  The Toilet,  erected in 1992 for Documenta IX in Kassel, Germany. Photo Courtesy of the Columbia University.

Another of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov's installations, The Toilet, erected in 1992 for Documenta IX in Kassel, Germany. Photo Courtesy of the Columbia University.

Ilya Kabakov’s The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment is an installation that was a remarkably prescient critique of a certain facet of Soviet ideology. Technology, the mastery over nature, was a key doctrine which the state espoused to its peoples over the course of its roughly 74-year lifespan. This began with the artistic avant-garde, seeing crazed poets trying to train workers to move in robotic movements in emulation of machinery.

Under Stalin, the emphasis shifted to great industrial projects, like the colossal steelworks at Magnitogorsk. With the emergence of the Cold War, this reoriented into an obsession with reaching the stars. The Soviets beat the Yanks sending a man into space, a feat which was met with manic celebration from Leningrad to Vladivostok, the easternmost outpost of Russophone civilization. Soviet ideology was fundamentally collective, their route to societal perfection was a heaving mass – a class working to build a society without want, without hardship. 

Ilya Kabakov, working secretly in his studio, had other ideas.

The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment (see top photo) depicts a claustrophobic room, the walls plastered with propaganda images depicting Yuri Gagarin and other, miscellaneous, Soviet figures gazing upwards together at the stars. Also upon the walls are sketches for a device, like scientific schematics. The device itself sits in the centre of the room, a crude contraption. It is a seat with four elastic cords attached to the ceiling. The roof has been blown apart, leaving mortar scattered upon on the floor.

A man has flown into space from his apartment.

… To sum up:
The way ahead is with Malevich alone.
But only a few will be taken – the best. Those whom the headmaster chooses – HE KNOWS WHOM.
— Ilya Kabakov, ‘Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into the Future’, A-YA, issue 5, 1983.

Kabakov’s central conceit with this work (and here I shamelessly steal from the meditations of the critic Boris Groys, whose work I also shamelessly stole for my thesis) is a rejection of the collective path to utopia, to paradise. Kabakov has created a world, and installation-space, a fantastical image, of an individual who has grown weary of government promises and hatched a plan to see the stars with his own eyes.

This would prove to be remarkably prescient. The Chernobyl Disaster of ’86 would cleave Soviet claims to be masters of technology in twain, and five scant years later a vast dominion which once threatened to overrun the whole entire would vanish from the face of the planet. 

  Ukraine, photo by Igor Kostin (1989) / Russian Union of Art Photographers

Ukraine, photo by Igor Kostin (1989) / Russian Union of Art Photographers

I peered inside, mesmerised, as a queue gathered behind me. I’m sure someone here on Earth could create a mathematical formula that expresses the causational string that led up to the precise moment I moved along: 

British Awkwardness x Personal Desire - Pointed Coughing = Time To Move On.

This is, of course, a nonsense, but, my friend; I am sure that you are out there.

fullerdp@gmail.com, get in touch.


P.S: Oh, of course. The rest of the exhibition. Some of it was good, some of it wasn’t so great. Go and have a look at it if you care so much.