Prosthetic Aesthetics

"Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs, he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on him and they still give him much trouble at times." Sigmund Freud

Ilya Kabakov: The Palace of Projects 1995-98 | Part One: Universal Types

The work of Ilya Kabakov, Russian grandfather of installation art, was first introduced to me by my friend, the painter Viktor Timofeev. The following is an extract from ‘Foreward to the Installation’, translated by Cynthia Martin. The Palace of Projects was organized by Artangel in 1999.

In this first extract, Kabakov introduces the Palace within the context of our world, a universe that is itself a collection of all possible projects – realized, unrealized, conceived, and imaginary. Kabakov draws on his experience of Soviet Russia to describe the emergence and disappearance of an entire modern society. He discovers elements common to every country and social structure, and the rift between capitalism and communism. Instead of depicting the Soviet Union as a single failed project defeated by the West, Kabakov situates the entire enterprise as merely one utopian project among many. In the Palace, various historical narratives are re-examined, allowing the viewer (or inhabitant) to see the possibility of failure for every project, whether public or private, due to the rise of the authoritarian will to power.


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 fall 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 centre, 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, 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’. (note: technological alchemy). 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, and area that is truly developing today at phenomenal speed (note: the internet). 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 nearest future. […]

The next post will describe how the installation functions as an experiential space for the visitors – who become, temporarily, inhabitants of another world.

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