Mother and Son
CATALOGUE NUMBER: 36
1996, Collection Emanuel Hoffmann-Stiftung, Basel
Tacoma, Tacoma Art Museum
Conceptual Art in the Era of Late Communism, 15 Jun 1990 — 9 Sep 1990
Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art
1 Nov 1990 — 6 Jan 1991
Des Moines, Des Moines Art Center
16 Feb 1991 — 31 Mar 1991
New York, Jewish Museum
From the Inside Out. Eight Contemporary Artists, 13 Jun 1993 — 14 Nov 1993
Lancaster, The Hammond Galleries
Personal Stories: A History of the Universe. Jennifer Bartlett, Ilya Kabakov, Yasumasa Morimura, 19 Jul 1994 — 13 Aug 1994
Ilya Kabakov. Ein Meer von Stimmen, 13 Aug 1995 — 12 Nov 1995
The installation represents a constructed room, 11.2 x 7.1 x 3 meters, in which it is almost entirely dark. Two very dimly burning bulbs under the ceiling emit almost no light at all. Visitors pick up a small handheld flashlight from a shelf near the door and enter with this light. Forty-two collages in frames containing photographs and texts run along all the walls on a shelf at the height of an average person. The text is the biography of the artist’s mother, written by her, which can be read by moving from page to page. Sixteen ropes are stretched across the room, with ‘objects’ of junk hanging from them. There is a text under each object: the ‘son’s’ phrases, most often on some ordinary, everyday topic. This creates the compositional meaning of the installation: they are the words of the ‘son,’ filled with purely undeserved grievances and belated regrets, addressed to the mother in the surrounding story of her life as told by her.
The viewer sees all of this only in the narrow ray of light from his flashlight, and a distant association emerges with the ray of memory that is snatched up here and there from the darkness, the chance fragments of the past, a past that is now already impossible to recapture or to change. When there are a few people with flashlights in the room, a strange, sad play of ‘fire-flies’ results, and the viewers themselves, with this light and their movements, create the ‘atmosphere’ of the installation. A muffled ‘singing’ – the voice of the author singing Russian romances in a lousy voice – can be heard in the room.