“Between Heaven and Earth”: the dream journe...

“Between Heaven and Earth”: the dream journey of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov at the Querini Stampalia Foundation in Venice

One of the most interesting opportunities, when you are in Venice during the opening of the Art Biennale, is the privilege of being able to attend the opening of a series of exhibitions that act as a corollary to the Venetian kermesse, but which sometimes surpass it in quality and research, like the one we are about to tell you about. Intrigued by the reading of Chiara Bertola’s book “Conserving the Future”, in which the Querini Stampalia Foundation in Venice was mentioned at length, and also by the work that the artist duo Ilya and Emilia Kabakov had done there, we ventured to discover the Foundation.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, “Concert for a fly”, 1986, ph. Michele Sereni, courtesy Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venezia

Let us say at the outset that the Querini Stampalia Foundation is a gem, a place not to be missed in Venice, an enclave of contemporary art culture that dialogues physiologically with a 16th-century palace containing a library and various exhibition spaces, some of which have been built by various artists. In it, Chiara Bertola, now Director of the Turin GAM, working as a curator for more than twenty years, has succeeded in weaving a subtle and sophisticated thread that links the works currently on display through artistic references from all eras. Particularly on the occasion of the 60th Art Biennale, the work of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, so closely linked to the places we are talking about, has found an appropriate celebration with the exhibition “Between Heaven and Earth”. Four of the Russian duo’s historical installations are exhibited, which while monopolising the visitor’s attention with their powerful artistic present, they dialogue perfectly with the places, leaving space everywhere for the observation of collateral works belonging to the permanent collection.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, “The eminent direction of thoughts”, 2017, ph. Michele Sereni, courtesy Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venezia

The works of the Kabakov duo refer to concepts that return in their works, weaving a powerful plot with the places in which they are hosted. And so it is that in the work “The Eminent Direction of Thoughts”: we see a chair, positioned in a small room to which the viewer looks out to observe this ‘total installation’, enucleated in a small space, surrounded by the beam of light coming from the ceiling and coloured threads. Immediately the will of the Kabakovs is fulfilled! Who was occupying the chair? Where did he/she go? He/she may have escaped using the colored threads or by dematerializing elsewhere. These are the questions that take hold of the spectator. In this intense bond that brings reflection back to the concept of the room, which is particularly present in the work of the Kabakovs, as it is linked to escaping from everyday life or protecting oneself from what is outside of us, the conceptualism to which the Russian artists have referred stimulates reflection on the part of us poor mortals, who have become accustomed to an art devoid of depth, which conceals very little that is intellectual within it. It is precisely this, in our opinion, that is the intemperate and far-reaching scope that the work of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov gives to the public. The ability to solicit thoughts and dreams, to identify with the stories that the two artists suggest to the viewer, drawing universal considerations from them, referring to our imagination, now atrophied by the excessive use of social media, but which, in the face of such creative flair, takes a breath. Let us also not forget that Kabakov’s work has always been inspired by a mordant critique of the Soviet Stalinist regime, striving to highlight the importance of a strong need for a new critical and ethical consciousness, as in “Where is our place?”. In this complex work, in fact, playing on different planes between reality and illusion, Kabakov imagined two enormous characters, of which the spectators could only make out the lower part of the limbs, also adapting the structure of the rooms and the paintings displayed in them to the theme of the work. With it, Kabakov introduced a fundamental theme: relativity, with respect to historical epochs, events, points of observation, with respect to the contemporary/traditional dichotomy, of which the installation at the Querini Stampalia Foundation was an embodiment.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, “The fallen chandelier”, 1997, ph. Michele Sereni, courtesy Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venezia

Another of the works that explicate itself as absolute poetry is “The Fallen Chandelier”. In order to understand its scope, one has to identify with the palace in which it is housed, which, as we said in the introduction, is an elegant building full of historical relics and artworks from the various eras, which are, of course, accompanied by imposing and precious chandeliers. In this setting, the viewer is shocked to see a 19th-century glass chandelier shattered on the floor, the tinkling of which still echoes in the rooms. One immediately wonders: what could have happened to the chandelier? What cruel fate could have caused it to shatter so disastrously to the ground? Once again, the situation created by the artists takes hold of us, partly making us uneasy at not being able to give an immediate solution to the question, and partly leaving us full of curiosity to continue the exhibition tour. The continuation of the visit is therefore aimed at observing the works, noting how the artist duo has managed to combine the skills of both, early career illustrator Ilya and musician Emilia.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, “I will return on April 12…”, 1990, ph. Michele Sereni, courtesy Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venezia

The rooms follow one after the other and one is often left breathless. One expects another unimaginable surprise around the corner, for which we would be inclined to imagine unexplored paths in relation to the suspended questions that the artists wanted to render through their work. But we are surprised nonetheless, over and over again. The inanimate music stands with the complex, meticulously described scores and small illustrations accompanying the work “Concert for a Fly (chamber music)”, make us dwell on the most macroscopic details, and then observe the fly hanging in the centre of the installation. It is the absolute protagonist or perhaps the conductor. At the moment there is silence. Not a fly is moving, one might say, but who knows if everything that was supposed to happen has already happened or will happen! The upturned sky that has moved onto the floor in “I will be back on 12 April”, despite the splendid setting of the rooms, catches our eye. That chair placed at the edge of the work itself, with its neatly arranged clothes and its evocative title, cannot help but make us think of Ilya Kabakov who recently passed away, but whose presence is physically felt, like Emilia’s, throughout the exhibition.


Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. “Between Heaven and Earth”
14/04 – 14/07/2024
curated by Chiara Bertola
Fondazione Querini Stampalia
Campo Santa Maria Formosa, 5252, Venezia


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