August 20th, 1968
Installation, variable dimensions.
Materials: mixed media
Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp (Inv. no. S0329b).
August 20th, 1968 refers to the day the Russian army moved its tanks into the streets of Prague to suppress the stirrings of the Prague Spring. At the centre of this narrative environment stands a mechanical model of a theatre, reminiscent of early constructivist theatre maquettes. Pushing the button in the front of the maquette will bathe the theatrical scene in a dim light, while a typically melancholy Russian tune starts playing. Movement in the crowd and the troupe of performers is limited, however, to a monkey holding a set of cymbals in his hand. The theatre is surrounded by a number of wooden reading tables displaying a rich panoply of sketches, notes, cuttings and other paper items that help give shape to the artist's dreamy reconstruction of a time long gone. These reading tables are in turn encircled by a series of upright wooden panels holding up the newspapers that report on the events of August 20, 1968—in Prague as well as in other parts of the world.
Kabakov describes the concept of the installation in the following way:
The outer ring—the reaction of the world press to this event.
The inner ring—what Kabakov was working on at the time in my studio—the ordinary work, and in essence, there was no reaction whatsoever to this event.
The circus inside the installation— its centre—is a unique metaphor of Soviet society and each Soviet person individually—total passivity and lack of reaction, the absence of a response to what is going on outside of the closed world. Hence, everything together forms a sort of complex comprised of various spaces: the external space consisting of the surrounding world, the world of politics and social cataclysms; the middle space—the world of the everyday and commonplace affairs of the artist; and the middle—the world of imagination and naïve mythology that is very far away in essence and place from the world of social reality and everyday concerns.
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