This is a small fragment of an interviewconducted by the artist AntonVidokle with Ilya and Emilia Kabakov.The complete text is available inthe Lissizky – Kabakov, Utopia and Reality catalogue.
Anton Vidokle: Many contemporaryartists, philosophers have noted that the present moment is distinguished by a sensation of groundlessness. As though we are constantly either falling some place,or we are flying some place or disappearing. In your works there is the motif of flight, falling, disappearing. As a result, a kind of disorientation of the normal understanding of subject and object occurs, of time and space, of modernism and modernity.
Ilya Kabakov: This is connected with an important moment that happened in the last epoch. And in how that epoch differs from many past epochs. Each person has a program. Today’s program is how to survive in this world. Every person asks this question. And it is rather well known how: apartment, car, vacation, salary, children, etc. There is an absolutely normal repertoire of answers to the question “how can one survive in this world?”Everyone knows ‘how’…
Emilia Kabakov: Instead of ‘why.’
Ilya Kabakov: So. The question has disappeared which was posed in previous times. ‘Why am I living in this world?’ It is primitive to such a degree that even the very posing of it is incomprehensible. But still in the 20th century people asked this question. And in the 19th century, they were completely permeated by it. And in previous epochs it was a fundamental question. ‘How’ was an animalistic question.‘Why’ was a religious question. This meant that your human life was serving something bigger. The question ‘why’ often annuls the program of the question ‘how.’ There is no single answer to the question ‘why,’ but the very posing of such a question transports you to a different realm of existence. From the moment a being starts to ask the question ‘why,’ he becomes human. The majority avoid the answer to the question ‘why’ and ‘it is better for the children not to know about it’ so as not to upset them. But here we run into difficulties in response to the question ‘why’: I am either a free individual, or a medium, a servant, an ‘envoy,’ like in Kharms, an intermediary of something that I cannot grasp. Then the answer to the question ‘why’ might look like this: I am fulfilling a mission that is many times larger than my small life. Someone needed for me to be born. In some cases, this might be an answer that is entirely cultured. It might be the reproduction of a gene, of an uninterrupted line.
Emilia Kabakov: A relay.
Ilya Kabakov: A relay that has summoned me to pass on something to others. Behind my back there is something that was looking after my existence and made sense of it. Not about me physically, but about the meaning of my everyday activity. I am a representative of an infinite cultural process that was there before me.
Emilia Kabakov: Cultural missionary work.
Ilya Kabakov: Yes, there is religious missionary work, and there is cultural missionary work. You are convinced that culture is connected with the secret of our origin, that it has on the one hand a religious nature, and on the other, a playful, aesthetic nature. There is a wonderful example of such a ‘bridge’ –Pushkin. He took the European tradition and invented the Russian literary language. This was his mission. At a young age, you discover that there are no bearings, there is neither sky nor earth. In middle ageyou grasp at your contemporaries. But in elder age, you come to hear more and more a kind of code of cultural transmission. This period began for me about 5 years ago already. I hear the past very well, but a kind of indifference towards my contemporaries is emerging.