Russian Postmodernism: New Perspectives on Post-Soviet Culture

By Mikhail Epstein; Alexander Genis et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 20
EMPTINESS AS A TECHNIQUE Word and Image in Ilya Kabakov

Mikhail Epstein


1. A Mysterious Attic and the Ritual of Looking-as-Reading

I n the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ilya Kabakov's studio on Sretensky Boulevard became a kind of sanctuary for the new, conceptualist art.1 The studio, which had housed the shareholders company "Russia" before the revolution, was located in a garret in one of Moscow's older houses. To get to it, one had to climb a narrow side staircase, onto which the tenants of the surrounding apartments would put out their garbage bins. After negotiating these six floors of garbage, emerging at the top of what was once "Russia," the visitor crept along wobbly, squeaky floor planks that led to the hallowed doors. Once inside, he found himself amidst an intimate fraternity, limbering up with jokes and chatter before beginning its deadly earnest, spiritual seance.

Ultimately the visitors found themselves seated around a special pedestal, on which the artist's portfolio was spread out. Kabakov would leaf slowly through it, allowing the spectators sufficient time to look at each picture separately and to read the text that

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