"The Toilette" Kabakov, 1992. Internet download Exterior view of "The Toilette". Internet download.
Detail from "My mother's album", 1993. One of the corridors with the landscape pictures. Internet download.
Some of the more prominent artists of the “Perestroika”, among them Ilya Kabakov and Eric Bulatov, had been associated with the shows of “unofficial art” from the Soviet Union which were seen in Western Europe in the late 1970’s. Though political journalists received them very well, Western Arts critics dismissed them stating that these authors were simply imitating outdated artistic manifestations. In the ‘80’s, however, they realized that Russian artists were not following the Avant-garde in the West, but they had produced encoded expressions of the Soviet official art. It means, in order to understand the new Russian art correctly, the spectator had to see the artists’ love-hate relationship in the retoric of Soviet official art.
The Soviet way of life has been present in Ilya Kabakov’s series of provocative installations in the field of Visual Culture. This academic subject usually includes some combinations of cultural studies, art history, critical theory, philosophy, cognitive science, neurology, image and brain theory, anthropology, etc., by focusiong on aspects of culture.
By using fictional biographies, inspired by his own experiences, Kabakov has attempted to explain the birth and death of the Soviet Union.
At the end of the millennium, it was fashion to speak about the "end of history" and the "end of art," without saying anything about the end of the world. The philosopher, arts critic, essayist, Boris Groys, has commented that Soviet civilization was the first modern one whose death we have witnessed, and there are more to come. Kabakov's work fits in well with this theory where Art is remaining as a therapy of survival. He utilizes the museum not merely as an institution, but as a personal refuge, building his “own” museum, changing walls, ceiling, floors, and lighting, the totality of the installation is always precarious; but there is always an empty space, a white wall where artist and visitor can find their escape. Kabakov's installations are in direct relationship with architecture, habitat, and urban memories in the shape of temporary homes. For example, “the toilette” reminds me the poverty of post wars, the poverty of refugees, conventillos overcrowding, the simple accomodation for the first immigrants anywhere…And there is so much more to evoke.
“Labyrinth (My Mother's Album)” is a large-scale installation consisting of a series of narrow corridors in the dim light of bare bulbs. The viewer enters the installation through a door and is lead through progressively shorter corridors at right angles until he or she enters a small space in the centre of the labyrinth. This room, only a square metre in size, contains bits of wood and other debris. The corridors are constructed to resemble the interior of a shabby Soviet apartment block or civic building, with grey and brown boring walls interrupted by some pine doors at irregular intervals, the dirty floor is made from grubby wooden boards and the ceiling is supported by cheap, unpainted timber frames. In dispite of this, the sad urban memory contains the happy memories of freedom, in the black and white photographs hanging on the walls, taken by Kabakov’s uncle; they are a clear allusion to the Russian love of Nature, which survives even in the worst urban conditions. Kabakov has described his personal memories of corridors in these words ‘Numerous corridors have persecuted me all my life – straight ones, long ones, short ones, narrow ones, twisted ones, but in my imagination, they are all poorly lit and always without windows, with closed or semi-closed doors along both sides ... All the corridors of my life, from earliest childhood on, have been connected with [the] torture of endless anticipation’ (Kabakov, ‘“The Corridor (My Mother’s Album)” 1988’, The Text as the Basis of Visual Expression, p.369).