Review of Enter Here: Through Memory and the Contemporary

Ilya Kabakov Ilya Kabakov

Enter Here, a documentary by filmmaker Amei Wallach (who has another artist’s biopic to his credit: Lousie Bourgeois), takes us through the world of artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. The documentary follows their journey back to their country of birth, Russia, as they return to mount an art exhibit in Moscow after having fled the country and lived in New York for over a decade.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov are among the most recognizable names in contemporary art. Their installation art has been embraced by countries around the world: from Germany, Austria and France to the United States. Having lived through the perilous times of suppressed artistic freedom in the Soviet Union (including Stalin’s purge and the decades that followed), they finally decide to leave the USSR and make the United States their home. Fast forward to the beginning of the 21st century and the USSR is dead, Russia is flexing its artistic muscle by focussing on creating a new identity for itself on the world stage. This is when Dasha Zhukova, a patron of the arts in Moscow, wants to bring back the son of the soil, as it were, to the homeland and mount a large exhibition of the Kabakov work in an old restored artistic space ‘the Garage’.

Most of the Kabakovs’ art is inspired by their Russian roots and the stories they learned growing up. One particular installation that Illya mounts is that of an abandoned Russian primary school. He compares the desolation of the school to that of an abandoned barracks and how the eerie silence that follows when the school children have left leaves you with a sense of similar dread. The Kabakovs explore empty spaces through poignant pieces of furniture and knickknacks that they have found in old antique stores or received as gifts from friends. In all of their work, there is the underlying desire to recreate the world, the civilization, the Russia they knew and that doesn’t exist anymore in its modern version. While Ilya is the magic behind the art, Emilia is manager, organizer, and trouble-shooter galore, making Ilya Kabakov possible. It’s a fascinating partnership.

Upon his return to the country they fled, the Kabakovs set up art installations that tried to engage a changed Russia. The biggest challenge was to inspire a generation of people who might not have been able to relate with an artist born in 1933. The new generation that knows little about its Soviet past and is at the brink of a future that is transitioning to embrace Western values and ways of life. “The mentality has changed,” opines Ilya. When questioned about the reasons why his art is referential of the past and of stories only about Russia, Ilya confesses that he is after all Russian and thus his art has to speak to what happened and is happening in his country. The Kabakovs create, observe and critique this new modern reality, built on the heels of a civilization that came into existence and perished all in the span of a century.

Enter Here invites you into a world that though ‘created’, is rooted in real and lived experiences.

Enter Here is available now from First Run Features.