Toilet in the Corner


YEAR: 1991



Version 1

Collection of the artist.

Version 2

Collection Kiasma Nykytaiteen Museo, Helsinki, since 1998.

Version 3

Collection Sprovieri Gallery, London, since 2003.


Part of installation, No 195, “The Kabakovs and the Avant-Gardes.”

See CRI, vol. 3, no. 195, pp. 400–407. See CRP, vol. 2, no. 330, p. 49; no. 331, p. 50; no. 459, p. 192; no. 404, p. 124; no. 428, p. 148.


Version 1

Rooseum, Center for Contemporary Art, Malmö, Sweden
Trans/Mission – Konst i interkulturell limbo, 27 August – 27 October 1991 (as part of No 50, The Mental Institution or the Institute of Creative Research, Room 13)

Museum der Stadtent wäs ser ung, Zurich, Switzerland
Cloaca Maxima, 10 June 1994 – 30 October 1994

Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, Germany
Ilya Kabakov. Der Lesesaal – Bilder, Leporellos und Zeichnungen, 19 April – 28 July 1996 (as part of No 90, The Reading Room)

Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städti sche Galerie, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Innenleben. Die Kunst des Interieurs. Vermeer bis Kabakov, 24 September 1998 – 10 January 1999

See No 50, 90.

Version 2

Kiasma Nykytaiteen Museo, Helsinki, Finland
Puheenvuoroja/Addresses, 30 May 1998 – 23 May 1999

Version 3

Sprovieri Gallery, London, United Kingdom
Toilet in the Corner, 3 October – 16 November 2002

LAC – Lugano Arte e Cultura, Spazio -1, Lugano, Switzerland
Ilya & Emilia Kabakov: The Kabakovs and the Avant-Gardes, September 16, 2016 to January 8, 2017
See No 195


The installation is in an ordinary exhibit hall among other hanging paintings, but it is placed in the corner.

Folding doors with peeling white paint are placed at an angle right up against the two walls, and the space above them up to the ceiling is covered with plywood sheets, painted gray.

The word ‘toilet’ has been written with a finger on the glass, which is smeared from inside with white paint. The yellow light of a dull electric light bulb burns from the inside. But the entire point of the installation is in the music. The singing of Neapolitan songs, loud and melodious, can be heard from the inside. Furthermore, they are produced not by a singer, but by a ‘normal’ person, almost without error and in a good, high voice. There is a tape recorder inside that plays a recording of the ‘author’s’ singing.


There is singing ‘for oneself ’ and singing ‘for others.’ Perhaps what I want to discuss here is connected with my unsuccessful career as a musician. Of course, I say ‘unsuccessful’ jokingly, since I never even tried it. No one ever taught me to play any instrument, and I never made any attempts on my own. So there were no failures since there were no attempts. I never even held any instrument in my hands. Nevertheless, for some reason I had the conviction that I could become a prominent violinist, like for example, Isaac Stern: at the moment of ascent (spiritual ascent, of course, and not ascent upstairs), having placed the non-existent violin to my shoulder, I often glide the invisible bow over it, howling out various violin pieces in ecstasy. My passion for the concert performance as the most convenient and natural means of self-expression for me also attests to this conviction. (My mother told me that as a five-year-old, at the first words of the master of ceremonies, ‘Who here would like to …,’ I would run up on stage and sing ‘Grand is My Motherland!’ or some other song and the entire audience would sing along.)

This is probably where my insane thirst to create an impression, a furor, comes from, to get a standing ovation, to shake the soul or something like that …

I never sang among friends, although this would have been the simplest and most natural way to fulfill myself. I would sing only as a joke or fooling around.

And yet I found my own method, my own ‘genre,’ if you can call it that, for success: singing ‘unintentionally,’ by chance, as though ‘for myself ’ but actually for others.

Many people (in essence every person) sing to themselves, under their nose, absentmindedly, as a result of having nothing to do. People who have coincidentally wound up nearby become involuntary listeners, victims of this bellowing and mooing, and often they cannot say that it is unpleasant and tiring for them. I know this perfectly well, and always, whenever possible, I make use of this situation if someone is next to me for a long time in the same place. I immediately begin to hum quietly (as a rule my repertoire consists of sentimental Russian romances), gradually intensifying the passion and adding my voice. I ‘enter’ the performance completely. As I find inspiration, a real concert begins with a carefully chosen repertoire, one piece following another, my voice sounding clearer and clearer, richer and richer. I feel with my spine, via the quiet that has descended, that I have captured the audience. I am still continuing to do my work (draw or make something) only in appearance, but with my soul and imagination, I am already there, at the ‘concert’ with my audience. Although externally nothing changes: I pretend as though I don’t know that they are listening; ‘they’ think that I don’t know that I sing well and that if I were suddenly to realize they were listening, of course, I would get embarrassed and shut up, respecting the peace of others.

And what is especially nice in this concert simulation is that all of these mistakes – an awful voice, ignorance of melody and words – can all be attributed to ‘chance,’ to the ephemeralness of the concert which in essence isn’t really occurring.



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1991Megan BartonComment