Ukrainian-born artist Ilya Kabakov’s 2008 multi-site Moscow retrospective is the departure point of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: ENTER HERE, itself a look back at the husband-and-wife team whose surreal, mimetic installations reinvented the landscape of Soviet and post-Soviet art.
Director Amei Wallach re-teamed with editor-cinematographer Ken Kobland (the pair’s last collaboration was Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress, and the Tangerine, 2008) to follow the Kabakovs, who fled the Soviet Union in 1987, back to Russia.
The couple has lived in the United States for the last 25 years, though Ilya appears most comfortable speaking German — anything, it seems, but Russian. Kabakov, now 80, plans, paints, and oversees the reconstruction of his 1992 installation The Toilet — a domestic interior within the façade of a public restroom — pausing to describe his “mechanical kind of life” in a post-Stalin USSR.
“He was silent for 55 years of his life,” Emilia says. Wallach de-emphasizes Emilia’s contribution; credited as “the Collaborator,” her role appears more practical than creative. No longer silent but still the lesser talker between them, Ilya is marvelously fluent in spatial forms: The climax of ENTER HERE finds an old Moscow garage transformed into a maze-like reckoning space, history and art made inextricable.