Ilya & Emilia Kabakov

Exhibition – Ilya & Emilia Kabakov – 27th January 2018

Tate Modern (2018) Ilya & Emilia Kabakov [Exhibition] London: Tate Modern

I absolutely loved this exhibition. These two artists worked together as husband and wife throughout their life creating art but considered themselves an ‘unofficial artists’ and produced art to express their personal experiences in life.

Both Ilya & Emilia are known as ‘pioneers of installation art’. In the late 1980’s Ilya & Emilia started their artistic journey together. They have produced ‘immersive installations’ and other conceptual works based on ideas of utopia, dreams and fear to reflect on the universal human condition. They have collaborated together since 1989, before this time, work in this exhibition, Ilya had produced art independently.

It is important to note that Ilya moved to Moscow when he was aged 8 and studied art. Artists in the Soviet Union were obliged to fallow the style of Socialist Realism. Ilya wanted to hold his independence as an artist and supported himself as a children’s illustrator whilst painting and sculpting in his spare time. Due to this, he labelled himself as an ‘unofficial artist’ as he did not conform to the artists style of the Soviet union.

This is the sky, This is the lake, This is the Sea: What I like about their work, particularly in this piece, is how simple but meaningful their work is. I see them as developmental pieces that could be extended into something else but completely capture me by the words they use to describe their journey in getting the outcome. I enjoy that the work offers questions to the viewer and we challenge our perceptions of the work. Questions like why did they do this… are answered with, because their art is simply for personal expression. This is exactly how I would like to produce art and simply the reason behind producing art, not for purposes of the mainstream media and acceptance of galleries – something they were very against.

IMG_0907Kabakov, I (1970) This is the Sky, This is the Lake, This is the Sea [Oil paint and enamel on Masonite] At: London: Tate Modern. 18 October 2017 – 28 January 2018.



‘‘Cubes’ is the first of Ilya’s ‘picture-objects’ – works that resist the simple categories of painting and sculpture. It reflects the minimal resources that were available to artists working outside the state-approved system, in Russia. This work combines abstract and figurative elements linking to soviet artists.’

Kabakov, I (1962) Cubes [oil paint and enamel on wood] At: London: Tate Modern. 18 October 2017 – 28 January 2018.


Kabakov, I (1965) Hand and Raisedael’s Reproduction [textile relief, print on paper, wood, oil paint and enamel on plywood] At: London: Tate Modern. 18 October 2017 – 28 January 2018.

This work is really exciting! The artist writes that the work is to challenge the viewer to see differently. It challenges the way you look combining a contradiction of visual elements: The Dutch landscape to abstract/surrealist association. The contains a visual pun as ‘to attach one’s hand’ is a Russian expression meaning to add one’s signature. The composition can also be seen as a window looking onto a real world, with the viewers arm leaning on the window sill.


Kabakov, I (1989) Incident in the Corridor Near the Kitchen [mixed media installation] At: London: Tate Modern. 18 October 2017 – 28 January 2018.

One of my favourite works in this exhibition was the ‘pots and pans’ creation.

The work was annotated with this explanation: ‘Olga Yakovlevna went out to get water in the morning, she saw pots, pans, mugs flying around like birds in the dark space of the corridor. During the Soviet Union a form of domestic residence emerged due to shortage of housing. Many households were forced to share cooking and washing facilities. This installation shows the corridor becoming a literal scene of turbulence and chaos with pots, pans and other kitchen utensils seeming to fly through mid-air.


Kabakov, I (1985) The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment [Six poster panels with collage; mixed media] At: London: Tate Modern. 18 October 2017 – 28 January 2018.

Like ‘Incident in the Corridor Near the Kitchen’, ‘The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment’ is set in a room in a communal housing block. The walls are covered in propaganda posters and the doorway has been blocked. We are still able to peer in and piece together what has happened from accounts of the other tenants. The unnamed inhabitant has built a catapult to hurl himself through the ceiling and into space. The fantasy of space travel was a powerful part of Soviet life and here it is used to escape from the dreary reality of communal living. This piece portrays an escape from the oppressive, everyday reality.

Writing which goes alongside ‘The Man Who Flew into Space’:

A neighbour tells of a lonely inhabitant who lived in this room and was obsessed by a dream of a flight into space. According to the inhabitant the entire cosmos was permated by streams of energy leading upward somewhere. The project he created (the work) was conceived in an effort to hook up with these streams and fly away with them. The catapult that has been created would give the ‘astronaut’, who was sealed in a plastic sack, his velocity to go upwards. He needed enough energy to get through the ceiling and the attic of the building. With this in mind he installed powder charges which would explode at the moment of take off. Everything takes place at night when all other inhabitants of the communal apartment are asleep. The local police are summoned and an investigation begins. The tenants search everywhere but the ‘astronaut’ is nowhere to be found!

These 3 installations present a fictional narrative that takes place in the confines of the communal apartment. For Ilya the communal apartment is emblematic of the way in which the individual is exhibited and exposed to gaze of others.

Room 4 was a really interesting series of works based on ‘minuscule paper cut-out figures’. According to Ilya, these ‘little white men’ are the inhabitants of a parallel world who can occasionally be glimpsed by human eyes. The tiny figures are just one example of the subversions of perspective and scale that appear throughout the Kabakov’s work, perhaps reflecting the ways in which individuals are elevated and forgotten in historical records.

Concerns with scale and perception are also present in Ilya and Emilia’s models for the realised and unrealised installations.

My favourite works are:

Trousers in the Corner and I Catch the Little White Men


Kabakov, I (1989) Trousers in the Corner [Textile and paper] London: Tate Modern. 18 October 2017 – 28 January 2018.


Kabakov, I (1990) I Catch the Little White Men [wood, glass, paper, wire and light bulbs] London: Tate Modern. 18 October 2017 – 28 January 2018.

Room 6 was completely transformed, unrecognisable as a gallery, into an ominous train station. The title of the works is ‘Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into the Future’, which is taken from an essay about the Russian artist Kasimir Malevich (an artist that I have actually been researching for my sculpture course), which Ilya contributed to. Ilya imagines Malevich as a charismatic visionary, leading his people upwards into the future.

Ilya remembers his art school, where most deserving pupils were selected to go onto a young pioneer camp while the rest were left behind. Ilya reflects that some artist will go forward an become part of history of at but many others will be forgotten.

In the works, there is a train leaving the platform carrying all those that have been elected to be part of the future. This idea is quite depressing but stimulates so many ideas for my own work. Having people left behind, some moving on and some not, really links to personal experiences of death and the departed and I’m quite interested by this concept. Discarded canvases bring to mind all of the artists that have been abandoned. As the art world is so focused don keeping up with the present moment, The Kabakov’s ask, ‘What will happen to these works tomorrow?’ – this is a really interesting concept that stimulates the idea of permanence within art.

I am also continuously questioning what art is and whether art has to be seen in a gallery to be art. Whether art meets the media’s expectations or is critiqued by a popular gallery and viewed by a certain amount of people. I have never understood this idea and I believe art should be an extension of yourself that as an individual you can challenge your own concepts about the world, whatever it may be.


Kabakov, I (2001) Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into the Future [wooden construction, railway car gradient, running-text display and paintings] London: Tate Modern. 18 October 2017 – 28 January 2018.

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