New East Digital Archive

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s brave new world

6 May 2014
Text Nadia Beard

Renowned Russian-born artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov will create an indoor utopian city as the centrepiece of Monumenta, an annual arts event at the Grand Palais museum in Paris, which opens this Sunday. The husband-and-wife’s work, a large-scale, imaginary town entitled The Strange City, draws on a number of references from the Renaissance, Romanticism and modern science, to create an alternate reality in which themes of the progress of humankind and the desire for the metaphysical world are explored. Emilia Kabakov said: “Constructing The Strange City is to insist on the experience rather than on the form of a project; it is to ask you to slow down in your real life, to call on your emotions, on your senses and on your memories.”

The Kabakovs’ most ambitious installation yet comprises a 1,500-square-metre labyrinth-like space with five buildings that have abstract names such as The Empty Museum, The Centre for Cosmic Energy, and How to Meet An Angel?. The Kabakovs use a number of objects and paintings in their installation, which Emilia notes as having a philosophical rather than political dimension. Refuting the notion that art can influence politics, she added: “[Art] occupies an important place in our culture, can change the way we think, we dream and we act.”

Avoiding political themes, the couple engage with the serious philosophical issues of mortality and evolution, using their art to present the consequences of progress, science and the evolution of humankind, which they see as being disastrous.

The Russian-born New York-based couple are well known in the international art community, with much of their Soviet upbringing forming an indelible part of their art. The artists are the sixth to be invited to create an installation for Monumenta, joining the ranks of German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer, Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor and French photographer and sculptor Christian Boltanski. The event is organised in association with the Multimedia Art Museum Moscow and will run until 22 June.