Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Mother's Album by Ilya Kabakov

Ilya Kabakov's book My Mother's Album opens to a page upon which is typed in cyrillic lettering, Life as an Insult. What follows is a letter, a plea from an 79 year old woman to the central government in Russia to authorize a change of apartments because she cannot physically manage to bring wood and water into her living quarters any longer. She begs for a switch to a state run apartment where utilities are provided. The woman we are informed, is Kabakov's mother Bailey Solodukhina.

Posing as an autobiography put together by his mother by his request, My Mother's Album wants to be a historical document which by all appearances is real. It has the patina of age and seems assembled by an un-artistic hand. The pages are facsimiles of bluish album paper upon which short passages of her story are glued, accompanied by postcard style photographs (made by the Kabokov's uncle who was a professional photographer) presenting the state's image of the village of Berdiansk with prosperity and flourishing socialism. The texts however, describes a very different reality.

Her life described in short fragments is one filled with hopes dashed by hardship and abandonment. This clear-cut and perhaps expected disconnect is the starting point for the work, as one reads on and views the images we search for some shards of truth as both represent differing perceptions. Since memory is a full of reconstructions and the processing of information in personal ways, neither can be fully trusted. The curiosity is that the photography is whole heartedly dismissed as propaganda while the texts seem to represent the only true "reality."

This becomes all the more complicated when we look to Kabakov's past work which has entirely fabricated history and persona for its own use. My Mother's Album keeps unfolding and presenting its reality through to the last pages which shows a timeline of photographs of his mother and his family but again, one reads the photographs as either to confirm or belie the previous story. Both succeed in trapping time and hold us to waiting for something to come which in Kabakov's words represents how he felt as a child - "the torture of endless anticipation."

My Mother's Album was published in 1995 by Flies France.