Magic Mountain: A conversation between Ilya and Emilia
Kabakov and Cheryl Kaplan
Ilya Kabakov, a well-known
figure of "Moscow Conceptualism," was born in 1933; over the years, he's
become one of the most important representatives of contemporary Russian
art. Since 1989, Kabakov has been working closely together with his wife
Emilia, a trained concert pianist. Together, they've realized over 160
exhibitions in international museums and institutions. While their "total
installations" address the oppressive conditions of everyday Soviet life,
they also celebrate the survival and the power of the human spirit.
Kabakov's installations and paintings resemble polyphonic narratives in
which fiction and biography overlap with personal and collective memories.
In June, the Kabakovs' works can be seen in a large exhibition in St.
Petersburg's Hermitage. Cheryl Kaplan visited the couple in their
home on Long Island.
Ilya and Emilya Kabakov, Mattituck, Long Island, 2004 Photo: © Cheryl Kaplan,
New York. All Rights Reserved.
It's about a
two-hour drive to Mattituck from New York, provided it's not Friday, when
every New Yorker crawls across the Long Island Expressway to the beach.
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov live in a remote cottage by the ocean. As I turn
into the driveway, I see an unmistakable Russian with white, curly hair
talking to a contractor. Ilya walks me to the house, saying in a thick
Russian accent: "My wife, Emilia, is here." Emilia opens the door. It's 10
a.m. and lunch is in the oven; the table is set.
The Kabakov House, Mattituck, Long Island,
Photo: © Cheryl Kaplan, New
York. All Rights Reserved.
In 1992, with
their contribution to
Documenta 9, the Kabakovs became known to the West almost overnight.
The Toilet revealed the modest possessions of a rustic Soviet family;
its narrow rooms, however, were fitted into the architecture of a public
toilet. Since then, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov have been creating
environments again and again which they term "total installations." In
1996, they showed a suite of patients' rooms in Berlin's
Hamburger Bahnhof; Treatment with Memories included slide
projections featuring what was evidently biographical material on the two
artists. Their latest work was for the
Venice Biennale in 2003, where they transformed a floor of a Palazzo into
an art museum. In
Where is our place?, another restaging of the past, large-scale
trouser legs were placed before huge image fragments protruding from the
ceiling, replicas of 19th-century bourgeois salon painting. Tiny model
landscapes were let into the floor while, at eye level, viewers were
confronted with photographs from the 1980s - everyday Soviet life, idyllic
military scenes, culture and technology in times of Perestroika.
The Toilet (links: Aussenansicht u. rechts: Innenansicht),
Documenta IX, Kassel, 1992
Ilya & Emilia Kabakov and Sean Kelly Gallery
Photo: ©Dirk Pauwels