The Ely house nestles three installations by conceptual artist duo Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. Visually intelligible and not unpleasant to the eye, the meaning appears intricate to grasp. These art works are in line with the Kabakov artistic signature style, underlying their intentions to flirt with both their historical past under the Soviet Union government and its adjacent political and social repercussions.
The Russian-born and American-based artists present, in the first gallery of the Thaddaeus Ropac entitled Ely house, Concert for a fly (Chamber Music), originally demonstrated in 1986, The Fallen Chandelier, in 1997 and Concert for a fly, in 1993.
A homogenized set of works which invites the viewers to discover one of the most renowned Russian artists of the century and to approach a conceptual art environment within close quarters.
On the left beside the tall, slim windows, chairs and music stands with abstract scores and writings in English and Russian, and colourful drawings, are arranged in circle. If it had not been mentioned as the most important element, I would have missed the fly. Hanging from the ceiling, almost invisibly, it nevertheless seems to be the sole reason for the installation’s creation.
The fly is a recurrent symbol in the Kabakov artistic repertoire. It seems to allude an entire population at the mercy of an authoritarian regime, with derision and cynicism. Soviet Russia is referenced here perhaps too simply, as a fly society. Flies fly in disarray, producing a humming sound which can be thought of as a melody, hence perhaps the coherence to bring the idea of a concert led by a conductor, closer, here the fly.
The chairs are empty. Therefore, does it imply that we commoners, ought to take a seat and follow the score and instructions of the fly? Are we being ridiculed by looking up at a minuscule fly and granting it too much importance?
The irony and the underlying meanings which are not overtly expressed here because of the nature of the art are preceded by the following two installations.
In the centre of the room, a chandelier lays on the floor. The scattered debris attests to the scene’s violence, implying that it must have dropped suddenly from the ceiling., If this scenario had really happened, my first reaction would have been to appreciate just how lucky I am to have avoided the incident.
Again, it seems that the Kabakovs are staging a make-believe play. We represent the people, a society in constant fear and on the lookout for looming/pending threats. The chandelier accompanied by the chime-like sound in the background, symbolizes impromptu, unforeseeable and destructive episodes.
The third and final installation hides behind a door.
In a small-scaled space, a toilet and a music stand cohabit. These conflicting objects are enhanced by the flies stuck on the score and walls, and a musical arrangement by Joseph Morag.
Uncanny and mysterious, this setting strikes with its improbability. Once again, I am being placed in catharsis. This time however, I have the feeling that we the viewers, are being orchestrated by the Kabakovs. I even wonder if their status has changed since the first concert to the current. When it seems that they would have been on our side in this ruler-oppressed configuration, it now appears they have changed sides and we stand alone in the dirt and in the prank.
In a fraction of a second, I am being overthrown in a world of implications and suppositions. I am paranoid and alert. Not a moment of respite is granted. If the Kabakov’s intentions are sometimes uneasy to grasp, they for sure know how to create an immersive art with almost nothing but a couple of flies.
Concert for a fly (Chamber music): Ilya & Emilia Kabakov at Thaddaeus Ropac (14 September – 11 November 2017)