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Ilya & Emilia Kabakov: How to Become Better

The Ilya and Emilia Kabakov are best known for their ambitious total installations—autonomous "sets" installed in museum halls, comprising architectural elements and paintings. Surrounding their visitors with visual and auditory stimuli, they furnish them with a direct, unmediated experience with another reality, largely drawn from everyday life in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union.

The Kabakovs’ oeuvre explores the individual’s social status in the complex reality of a totalitarian regime, where artistic practice is imbued with a sweeping utopian spirit, as a refuge from everyday life.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov worked together as an artist duo in their Long Island, New York home from 1989 until Ilya's passing in May 2023 at the age of 89.

The installation How to Become Better (1999) was presented as part of the exhibition Ilya & Amelia Kabakov: Tomorrow We Fly at the Museum and was gifted to the Museum's collection by the artists.

"How do you make yourself a better, nicer, more agreeable person? This question of how to get rid of your faults and defects has been addressed by more than one generation of moralists, philosophers, and religious thinkers. Some people think it is possible to achieve it by changing the inner “me,” others by respecting moral rules, and still others by refusing earthly temptations. Personally, I have discovered a completely different way.

I made two wings out of white fabric and used leather belts to attach the wings to my back. After isolating myself and locking my door, I put on the wings. First, I spent ten minutes attending to my usual occupations. Two hours later, I took the wings off. I then repeated the procedure in the evening.

Very soon, this had positive effects on my character, and I discreetly started mentioning this invention to my friends and relatives. Prudently, I said that I got it from a scientific magazine. This way, it will be safer". — Ilya Kabakov

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Muhammad Abo Salme: Cascade
Hold Everything Dear
Theatre of Animals