One of my favorite contemporary artists is Russian-born Ilya Kabakov. He’s known in the art world as the collector because he saves everything and uses it for these hug installations.
In one he recreated Soviet Style apartments and filled it with so many odds and ends it looked like a real apartment. Another, he built a life size version of Noah’s Ark and filled it with momentos from Russia’s past.
One of my favorite installations, is The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment. It was a smaller work modeled to look like a Soviet apartment. The walls were plastered with communist propaganda and a large slingshot was stretched across the room with a seat. The roof was caved in as if something was propelled with the slingshot through the ceiling. The narrative is that there was a man obsessed with space so he created a slingshot to escape. The room felt familiar and the story brought the audience back to childhood where the kind of fairy tales where ordinary people went on wild adventures.
Kabakov left the Soviet Union at a young age, but seems to look back often at the differences between Russian and American life. Through these large installations he’s able to show a window into a world that doesn’t exist any more. As the Soviet Union gained more power, the traditional Russian folklore was consumed by the machine. There wasn’t room for fairytales in a the modern state set on being the most powerful nation in the world.
Yet you could argue that Kabakov’s view of Russia never existed. It’s half remembered stories from his childhood and half creation of his own.
His artwork makes me crave to sit by the fireplace and have my parents tell me about the man that flew into space. Even though I’ve never been to Russia and my family is not even close to being Russian, Kabakov’s installations automatically make me miss home. Part of what makes his work so unique is that there’s a certain sadness looking back. It’s like the audience can only see the ruins of these scenes. They will never be sure what happened or if everything turned out all right for the people involved. His work has a haze of mystery and fantasy, where the real world overlaps so slightly with the magical one.