My Motherland. The Flies


YEAR: 1991



Version 1

Collection Wewerka & Weiss, Berlin.

Version 2

Collection of the artist.

See No 56.


Version 1

Meine Heimat (Die Fliegen), Galerie Wewerka & Weiss, Berlin, 4 February – 23 March 1991.

Ilya Kabakov. Das Leben der Fliegen, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, 2 February – 29 March 1992 (as part of No 56, The Life of Flies).

Version 2

Ilya Kabakov. The Life of Flies, Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York, 1 March – 5 April 1997 (as part of No 56, The Life of Flies).

See No 56.


The viewer who enters the relatively small space (9 x 8 meters) first sees a multitude of flies in the entire space, from the floor to ceiling. On the floor in the center is a large heap of garbage, comprised of crates, jars, paper, etc. There are also small groups of the same things in a few places on the floor, and there are glass display cases along the walls.

But, taking a closer look, the viewer sees that the flies are hanging in the air, not in disorder, but rather they are very precisely arranged in a specific geometric structure. That is, the entire space represents a well-organized cosmos with its own complex but clear structure, where each ‘level’ is occupied by specific flies. At the top there are four flies, a bit lower there is a ring of eighteen flies, and on the floor above the heap of garbage, there are two more rings made of a large quantity of flies. Above the small heaps of garbage, there are also a few levels of these rings. Diagrams of the ‘hierarchies’ are arranged in the display cases.

The effect of movement in such an installation is created by the fact, that the whole middle part of the room is filled with black dots, on all levels from top to bottom, and the visitor is moving around this sphere as if moving around a gigantic globe, though its transparent construction is made up of these small black dots. The diagrams and the meaning of this ‘globe’ are represented in addition by drawings along the walls. As a whole, all this seems like a cosmic museum of a very ‘scientific’ kind; all is presented in an academically precise manner, exact and pedantic, everything – up to the last little showcase – is furnished with numbers, diagrams, tags, and explanations.


The theme of the exhibits in which the Wewerka/ Weiss Gallery participated (and conceived of the very notion) was ‘My Motherland.’ To my shame, along with many ideas, it occurred to me to make an installation out of flies. Of course, not real flies, but plastic ones that closely resemble live flies, only they are bigger. There were two spaces in the gallery that were almost identical in size. In the first one, immediately near the entrance, I arranged a three-dimensional and round composition of these flies that resembled a cupola in terms of shape. It was approximately 2.3 meters high ( from the floor), and its diameter was 1.5 meters. In the second room, the flies were hanging, forming two pairs of lines diverging toward the floor. So that the viewer wouldn’t accidentally bump into either of these ‘figures,’ (and this was entirely possible, since it was difficult to see the hanging flies), I placed barriers of dark blue ropes around each figure. The floor was painted a dark blue color; a brown stripe covered the lower part of the wall.

Why flies, and what do they have to do with the proposed theme? Of course, the connection here is very speculative. In terms of genre, this is a certain kind of grotesque in the spirit of Swift or Maeterlinck. I set for myself the goal of discovering why in our country today and for the endless periods in the past things were so infinitely bad, agonizing, why life went on so hopelessly and sadly. Not finding reasons for this internally, I found them externally. This reason was the enormous civilization of flies hanging over us and encompassing our entire territory and reaching up almost to the very border with the universe, and in terms of breadth stretching across the entire territory from Minsk to Sverdlovsk. We will not go into the veracity of this version – it is no better or worse than everything else that has been proposed in this regard, and at least it possesses a sufficient completeness, unlike most explanations. And this theory, as opposed to all the others, has one advantage – it cannot be refuted: the research and verification of it is only at the very earliest stages.

The installation is accompanied by a summary of this theory and diagrams and sketches, as well as by a collection of fly ‘hierarchies.’



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1991Megan BartonComment