The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment

A response by Wayne Burrows

“Fragments are all that are left. Story debris. Charred words. Splintered sentences. Out of the wreckage we piece together what might have been…”

These are the opening sentences of ‘Detritus’, Michael Pinchbeck’s fragmentary 2007 meditation on Ilya Kabakov’s 1985 installation ‘The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment’.

They do not appear anywhere in the script of Pinchbeck’s recently completed performance, in which various performers meditate on Kabakov’s installation for audiences of ten people at a time, but somehow these earlier and later responses to Kabakov’s artwork share a sensibility and approach.

In 2015, we sit around the makeshift stage set up inside the former classroom of a semi-derelict school block in Nottingham. Its wooden palette appears to be sprung on elastic, ready to break its moorings and launch the performer into the sky through the ceiling above us, while the performer narrates his or her script, which is dictated entirely through headphones.

None of us, neither audience or performer, knows where this is leading. We are asked to deliver lines and perform actions that have been handed to us in envelopes like instructions passed between Cold War spies. We find ourselves becoming co-conspirators in the reconstruction of a history of news bulletins, propaganda posters, photographs of lunar landings and earthly commemorations.

Kabakov’s installation contains this history, too. It was first devised as a fantasy of escape from the artist’s own apartment while he remained under Soviet-era restrictions. There are Soviet propaganda posters on the walls of the room left behind by the original work’s absent subject.

In this way, back in 1985, Kabakov gave us a stage set from which the performer had already departed, leaving us to fill in the story his work implies but refuses to tell. We suspect that the history of our last half century has been one of forgetting, both the optimism of transcending ourselves and the darkness of the various repressions that limit the possibilities open to us.

The question asked is how do we escape? What clues have we missed? How do we break the ceilings that press down on us and begin to take flight? The answers are oblique. Perhaps we try to remember. Maybe we can piece together the words and images, the memories and signs, that remain available to us.

Whatever happens, we strive to take flight together even when no-one knows where on Earth, or away from this world, we might be going. Somewhere we might find a balloon or a white rose in our hands. We could drink vodka together. We suspect there is something to do with love.

Image: Julian Hughes