The Palace of Projects


YEAR: 1998



Collection of the artist

Collection ‘Stiftung Industriedenkmalpflege und Geschichtskultur’, permanent installation at the ‘Kokerei Zollverein Essen’, Essen


Consist of No 162, “A Universal System for Depicting Everything,”  and No 183, “Monument to the City of Bordeaux (The House of Characters).”

See CRI vol. 3, no 162, pp. 90-99

See CRI vol. 3, no 183, pp. 288-299


London, The Roundhouse (Organisation: Artangel)
Ilya & Emilia Kabakov: The Palace of Projects, 23 Mar 1998 — 10 May 1998

Leaving Tracks: Artranspennine 98. An Exhibition of International Contemporary Visual Art. Ilya & Emilia Kabakov, 23 May 1998 — 16 Aug 1998

Madrid, Palacio de Cristal del Retiro, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
El Palacio de los Proyectos, 10 Dec 1998 — 30 Apr 1999

New York, Lexington Avenue
The Palace of Projects, 15 Jun 2000 — 13 Jul 2000 (Organisation: Public Art Fund)

Kunsthalle Göppingen, Germany
Ilya Kabakov: Universal System Zur Darstellung von allem / A Universal System for Depicting Everything, February 10 to March 31, 2002

Place Amélie Raba Léon, Bordeaux, France
Permanent installation (public commission), since October 10, 2009 (there referred to as La maison aux personnages)


The installation The Palace of Projects consists of two parts. The first part is a pavilion which could be called The Palace of Projects. It is a two-story structure resembling in the layout a ‘snail,’ and 65 objects with texts are arranged inside of it. Getting a bit ahead of ourselves, it must be said that the main thing in the resolution of this pavilion is served by the arrangement of the lighting – the principle of ‘glowing walls.’ The entire pavilion is constructed of wooden structures, and the walls and ceiling in it consist of white plastic stretched across them. The plastic is stretched on ‘frames’ of the structure only inside of the dwelling. The external parts of the structure remain visible. Light enters into the structure from projectors and bulbs hanging on the outside of the pavilion – it passes through the plastic walls and ceiling rather freely. It is understood from the overall concept that the pavilion is built inside of an enormous exhibition hall, representing a so-called ‘building within a building,’ and the bright lights from the ceiling and the cross-beams of the hall bathe the entire pavilion with unique spots of light. Each room inside the ‘snail’ produces a special, strange, magical effect.

But this same light fulfills many artistic functions: it specifically illuminates particular objects, it projects on the walls photos and slides, it shows films on them.

The viewer moves inside the ‘snail,’ beginning from the entrance into it, along a spiral route, and having passed through the entire first floor, reaches a stairway to the second. Here, after passing through the halls one after another, he also reaches the last but also spiral staircase and descends, whereupon he finds himself again in the entrance hall and then exits.

The objects located along his route – approximately three in each ‘hall’ – are of the most diverse forms: display cases, tables, screens, drawings on the walls, objects on the floor … All of these are projects in one form or another, and each one has its own explanation. In a familiar sense, this is a unique kind of museum. Yet at the same time, everything has a strange, academic, didactic quality: each of the 16 halls has its own special theme, a few halls are united according to a particular principle. The entire ‘spiral’ installation moving only ‘forward’ has a specific law of development, even a kind of goal, which can be determined definitively only in the last hall upstairs … Given this whole ‘scholarly’ approach, the image of the whole and the mood of everything inside and outside are cheery and joyful, slightly like that of a fair, and this is all thanks to the glowing patches of light both outside and inside of the ‘snail.’

The installation displays and examines a seemingly commonly known and even trivial truth: the world consists of a multitude of projects, realized ones, half-realized ones, and those not realized at all. Everything that we see around us, in the world surrounding us, everything that we discover in the past, that which possibly could comprise the future – all of this is a limitless world of projects.

But turning to oneself, thinking about one’s own life, we, as a rule, are not sure about this. We do not discover in ourselves, so it seems to us, any special project, especially not a major one which captivates us entirely. We think that to have a ‘project’ is most likely the business of some other, special people and therefore they are standardly referred to as ‘creative.’ Or we think it is, in general, some sort of special, extreme state which requires a special resolve and special personality traits.

But we are convinced, and we will try to demonstrate this in our installation, that the only way and means to lead a worthy human life is to have one’s own project, to conceive it and bring it to its realization. To have one’s own project, to realize it, perhaps, should be inherent in every person. The project is the concentration, the embodiment, of the meaning of life, only thanks to it can he establish ‘who he is,’ what he is capable of, can he receive ‘his birth name.’ It is only from the moment of the determination of his project that his true ‘existence’ and not just ‘survival’ begins.

In the installation, we shall show a large spectrum of such ‘projects’ in which, we hope, the viewer will find his own. The installation will consist of more than 60 projects of this theme. Furthermore, slides and texts explaining these objects will be included. Each hall, each object, is not only a special project in and of itself, but it is also a specific example of that place which this ‘project’ occupies in the overall system of ‘project’ reality the way it appears to us.


Studying a boundless area of utopias and projects, at first you begin to drown in the gigantic sea not only of all kinds of proposals and beginnings but also in the abundance of the goals and ideas which guided their inventors and authors. Gradually, it is possible to discern a few groups of such intentions.

An enormous quantity of projects falls under the heading which could be designated as ‘Power and Control’: all possible forms of management, regulation, observations, etc. The main idea that dominates in all these projects is the complete mastery of the situation, the gravitation of everything to one center, to the author of the project himself and to the place where the author or the one using it is located.

Another group of projects is guided by the ideas of blackmail and the threats of total annihilation. The authors invent possibilities for subjecting as many people as possible, all of humanity in their extreme forms, to fear and desperation with the aid of special mechanisms or directed cosmic rays. The authors are inspired by the idea of the destruction of this world; moreover, a destruction that is total and instantaneous.

A large group of projects is connected with the idea of movement guided by the principle: ‘farther, higher, faster.’ Here belong not only all types of new methods for terrestrial transportation, but also an enormous quantity of fantasies about space flights, the reaching of extra-terrestrial civilizations, travels around the Universe, etc. To the ‘transportation’ projects we can also add a gigantic group of projects involving all possible kinds of connections and contacts, an area that is truly developing today at phenomenal speed. Furthermore, today we can already say that many of these ‘communications projects’ cannot really be called projects since virtually all of them are already in a stage of technical development or have already been realized or will be in the very nearest future.

There are still a few other types and groups of projects which could be described and analyzed, but this is not how we see our goal and task. The concept of the work proposed by us – which of course also has to be treated as yet another project – is to turn one’s attention to the type of concepts and proposals in which one main characteristic dominates: the transformation and improvement of the world. Furthermore, it is not important whether this concerns other, ‘distant’ people, or one individual person and his ‘relatives.’ The idea of freedom and the expansion of social or personal opportunities is present in all projects of this type, and no matter how unrealistic and utopian they may appear, the dream and hope inherent in them give the authors the right to return to them again and again, to analyze and discuss them. But in addition to all of this, they, in our opinion, deserve even more. These projects, guided by such criteria, should not only be collected, described and cataloged, but they should also be arranged in a specially constructed space where these projects can be exhibited along with their descriptions for a general overview.

The project proposed below is precisely this kind of Palace of Projects, projects which for the most part may be naive and unrealizable, but in their concepts and intentions they have definitely earned the right to wind up in such a ‘Palace.’ An enormous quantity of similar ‘palaces’-monuments exists in the world: ‘Palaces of Transportation,’ ‘Palaces of Old Technology,’ where lathes and electric machines are exhibited, ‘Palaces of Ship Building,’ with amazing boats – everywhere there are things that had received their material form and were formerly realized and functioning in their own time. But it is no less important, and perhaps more so, to create a unique museum of dreams, a museum of hypotheses and projects, even if they are unrealizable. In many of them, the visitor to such a ‘Palace’ will encounter stimulus for his own fantasies, and much will prompt him toward the resolution of his own tasks, will awaken his imagination and, the main thing will provide the impulse for his own creative activity in a ‘positive direction.’

Such a ‘palace’ can be organized in the following way: inside of a large space, a light wooden structure1 is built in which one room follows another in a spiral ascending to a second floor. The viewer walks through these rooms, moving from one section of the exhibition to another. There are only three of these sections (the sections do not coincide with the number of rooms, of course, there are many more rooms):

1) Projects concerning the improvement of the life of other people;

2) Projects stimulating creativity, helping the creation, the emergence of the projects themselves;

3) Projects aimed at perfecting oneself as an individual.

The sections follow one another in this succession. The first two are on the lower floor, the third is on the higher, second floor.

It is particularly important to note the construction of the walls of the ‘palace,’ which not only shield and separate the palace from the space surrounding it, but they (the walls) also have an ‘illuminating’ function. They are made from semi-transparent plastic fabric and are stretched between wooden structures. The ceiling is also made of the same fabric. The lighting inside the palace passes ‘through’ these walls. From the outside, on the walls of the dwelling surrounding this ‘palace,’ projectors are mounted which aim light through these ‘walls.’ As a result of these shining walls, a special atmosphere emerges, similar to the insides of a Chinese lantern which creates the required fantastic atmosphere.

What does the viewer see upon winding up in such a palace?

Inside there are 70 objects of various configurations and sizes (see the book of projects) representing models of each project. Near each such project is a small table and a chair. On the table is a description and commentaries on this model. Having sat down at this table the viewer can unhurriedly become acquainted with the essence of the project rather than rushing through with the ‘tourist’ method, as usually happens in museums where explanations are hung on the walls and therefore, as a rule, cannot be read. In this way, moving from project to project, from table to table, the viewer can have a greater experience with the idea, guided by the author, sitting in the specially lit, slightly yellow atmosphere that reigns inside the ‘palace.’

In conclusion, a few words about the book, or better about the album representing a collection of all the projects of the ‘palace’ and their descriptions. It is published in two variations, color and black-and-white, and comprises a special subjective retelling of various ideas and projects belonging to completely different authors, separated from one another both by country and epoch. Such a retelling was required both for standardizing the general style of the summaries as well as for the convenience of the viewer who is reading the texts in the short time while he sits at the tables in the ‘palace.’ The models which are built according to this project also represent a free interpretation (what we have in mind here is the work of the arrangement of the exhibition). Moreover, the hope is expressed that the general idea of each project will turn out to be completely preserved in them. In all cases where the author of the project is known, the last name and other information are indicated accurately on the corresponding pages of the projects. In cases where the name of the author is unknown or doubtful, a footnote indicating such is included.



1998Megan BartonComment