Ilya Kabakov
The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment

"I built the installation 'The Man Who Flew into Space' in the corner, I glued Soviet posters from inside of it and I would take it down after each showing for fear that they [the soviet government] would drop in, understand, and that would be ‘the end of everything’.”

Ilya Kabakov (1933) is an American conceptual artist of Russian-Jewish origin. When WWII broke out, Ilya’s Jewish family was forced to evacuate to Uzbekistan. Conditions there were terrible, but Ilya was accepted to Leningrad’s Institute of Art-the best Soviet art academy. In his mid twenties, Kabakov began to develop his identity as an artist. He rented a studio and in 1968 Ilya Kabakov had his first Soviet exhibition (with his friend Eric Bulatov). Kabakov worked in Moscow from the 1950s until the late 1980s. His exhibition was small and risky because the Soviet government did not tolerate art. One of Ilya Kabakov’s most famous installations, The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment, reflects the era of the space race.
Kabakov now resides in Long Island. In 2000, Art News named Kabakov one of the “ten greatest living artists”.

The Space Race began on October 4, 1957 when the former Soviet Union successfully launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik I. This launch not only marked drastic advancements in technology, science, military and politics, but also the start of the space race between the United States and the U.S.S.R. Two years earlier, the White House had announced plans to launch an Earth orbiting satellite; when Sputnik was launched, the US was caught off guard. Many Americans feared that the USSR’s ability to launch the first satellite reflected their potential to also launch ballistic missiles.

The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment, one of Kabakov’s installations, presents a fictitious hero, one who did the impossible and flew alone into cosmic space. This hero felt alone, so using a makeshift slingshot, he flew threw the ceiling of his apartment. In the museum where the installation was displayed, the viewer could only inspect the “apartment” from the outside. The visitor viewed a scene that seemed to have taken place just before his arrival. Kabakov did this to recreate the fright and confusion of the communal apartment’s other inhabitants (in the narrative).

The man living in the apartment had papered the walls with Soviet propaganda and posters, giving it a very Soviet feel. All that remained in the room were the bed, the table scattered with drawings, the catapult and a hole in the ceiling from which light shined through.
The drab room and primitive catapult suggest the truth behind the Soviet utopia, in which the communistic cosmic visions and political goals were indestructible. Kabakov was portraying the massive force of communism and maybe even the wish to escape from the confinement.

Kabakov used fictional biographies, many inspired by his own life, to try to explain the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. In exploring the Soviet Union, Kabakov found elements common to every modern society. In doing so, he investigated the split between communism and capitalism. Kabakov chose to depict the Soviet Union as one utopian project among many, capitalism included, rather than portraying it as a destroyed socialism project. In the end, Kabakov expressed the message that any project, whether official or unofficial, private or public, integral or banal, has the potential to fail.


The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment