Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Serpentine Gallery, London

Serpentine Gallery, London

At the entrance to the gallery you're asked to put plastic bags over your shoes, in order to tiptoe without trace past white surgical curtains screening off spaces where - you imagine - unconscious patients lie. But this is not simply a spectacle; you too are invited to lie down. There are cubicles curtained off and facing out on to Kensington Gardens, each containing a bed that looks more like a sarcophagus: a monumental slab on whose inclined surface you lie like a corpse in state, observing the walkers in the wintry park. This sepulchral quality intensifies in the central hall, where there are little dream houses like tombs. Shut the door and the outside world is lost: you are isolated inside a tiny bedroom where coloured palm trees and stars are projected in the darkness. Someone opens the door and gasps. "I thought you were a body ... "

The Kabakovs' installation is not a random collection of spaces but an architectural concept. As you enter, there is a wooden model of The House of Dreams as it would appear if it were fully realised. This utopian rotunda is only partially carried out in the installation, and yet the gap between plan and practice is significant - all utopias fail.

It's distinctively Russian. The labyrinthine succession of little chambers and screened corridors resembles the interior of St Basil's church in Moscow, or, in its whiteness, the space station in Tarkovsky's film Solaris.

As you lie on your slab, the style of this fictional place - from the surgical curtains, which belong in some Soviet sanatorium, to the neoclassical Stalinist architect's model and, most of all, the white tombs - makes you realise that you are not just any dreamer, paralysed while a world beyond your control or understanding glides by. You have become Lenin, sleepless in his mausoleum, tormented by incomprehensible voices of the 21st century.

· Until January 8.Details: 020-7402 6075.


Jonathan Jones

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: The Happiest Man; Two Mountains – review

Those pioneers of the walk-in installation the Kabakovs have done it again. With their propaganda cinema circa 1950 they have created an unforgettable vision of Russian life that speaks to us all

Laura Cumming

31, Mar, 2013 @12:05 AM

Article image
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov review – Russia’s great escape artists
The grim realities of life in the USSR become universal nightmare in the compelling, tragicomic work of the Kabakovs

Laura Cumming

22, Oct, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
A terrifying trip to the USSR's dark heart – Ilya and Emilia Kabakov review
With its harrowing echoes of repression, deprivation and murder, the Kabakovs’ art is a magnificent, moving monument to the millions crushed by communism

Jonathan Jones

17, Oct, 2017 @2:36 PM

Article image
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov on their return to Russia: 'Our art is universal'
The artist couple, now living in the US, explain why they’re finally taking their installations about Soviet life to Moscow

Andrew Roth in Moscow

05, Sep, 2018 @1:25 PM

The art of being Ilya Kabakov
A visit to Long Island provides a glimpse into how Russia's best-known artist uses three studios to create his works

Philippe Dagen

11, Mar, 2014 @2:02 PM

Article image
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: The Happiest Man; Two Mountains – in pictures

A walk-in film installation and a series of paintings by two of the most original artists to come out of the former USSR

30, Mar, 2013 @6:00 PM

Article image
Ilya Kabakov, ex-Soviet conceptual artist, dies aged 89
Ukrainian-born artist who turned whimsical albums into installations moved to US in 1980s with wife and collaborator, Emilia

Andrew Roth

30, May, 2023 @6:29 PM

Article image
'A paradise inside hell' … the amazing Kabakovs on how art became a weapon in Soviet times
From a man launched through a ceiling to a train vanishing through a wall, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov make breathtaking installations that speak of life, death and disappearance under Soviet rule. As the Tate shows their great works, we meet the husband and wife artists

Emma Brockes

13, Oct, 2017 @1:36 PM

Article image
Monumenta 2014: enter the Kabakovs' Strange City

Climb giant ladders to meet angels, go to weird labs in the clouds, or visit The Empty Museum … Children will love Ilya and Emilia Kabakov's world of hocus-pocus – but to me it's a flawed utopia, writes Adrian Searle

Adrian Searle

09, May, 2014 @4:04 PM

Article image
A-mazed and amused: the Kabakovs' Strange City – in pictures
Sky-high scaffolding, stairways to nowhere and a modernist maze ... Ilya and Emilia Kabakov follow in the footsteps of Anish Kapoor and Richard Serra, conjuring seven new worlds for their Monumenta takeover of the Grand Palais in Paris

09, May, 2014 @4:04 PM