Avoiding either apologia or condemnation, both of these exhibitions try to understand the unending desire to transform the quotidianby Owen Hatherley / December 13, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Inside the Tate Modern’s two current exhibitions, which opened for the anniversary of what the Soviets used to call the Great October Proletarian Socialist Revolution, are images of two studios.
One of them is seen in a short film about the late British designer David King—his collection of Soviet posters, photographs, books and banners, which forms the basis of Red Star Over Russia: a Revolution in Visual Culture, 1905-1955. King, a committed Trotskyist who also worked on the Sunday Times, shows us around the studio and its immense stash of slogan-bedecked ephemera. The root of his collecting enthusiasm was, he tells us, his interest in “heavyweight left-wing politics.”
The other is the installation The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment, originally created in the studio of Russian children’s book illustrator Ilya Kabakov in 1985, and now part of the other Tate exhibition Ilya and Emilia Kabakov—Not Everyone Will be Taken Into the Future, about the (still working) Conceptualist married couple, who have produced a series of installations first in the Soviet Union, and then in major galleries worldwide since the 1990s. It’s a small room, which you glimpse between planks nailed to the entrance. Like King’s studio, it is covered in Soviet posters, but from a much later, less sexy era—clunky 1970s graphics of spaceships and concrete panels. In the middle of the room, above the bed, is a catapult, and there’s a hole in the roof.
If King’s studio shows a western communist trying to understand a socialist experiment that went horribly wrong, Ilya Kabakov’s narrates a tall tale about an ordinary Russian either trying to escape the revolution’s grim consequences, or taking its stated promise of a cosmic communism seriously. Instead of waiting for the future, Kabakov’s Man Who Flew Into Space is taking off into it himself.