Published  21/12/2005

Russian horizons of the Sahara

Last month, on the shore of the Sahara salt lake at Siwa, a distant oasis, a sailing boat some 20 ft long made its maiden voyage. The vessel is a work by two Russian contemporary artists, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, and is made of reeds and palm leaves. The ship, actually mounted on inflatable pontoons, was drawn gently along from one shore to the other, boasting a hand-painted patchwork sail made by local children. Emilia claims that their work is an item of installation art that has four dimensions, of which the fourth is composed of, 'Memories, subconscious feelings, knowledge we forget we had'. Ilya himself once wrote (he is now 72 years old), 'The average Russian feels that the earth is the wrong place to live. His thoughts revolve around the cosmos and, consequently, his only opportunities on Earth lie in art, in the realisation of his personal fantasies, projects and dreams'.

Numerous Siwan children crowded to see the launch, never having seen a boat before. The children, mostly from the local Berber community, were equally as fascinated by the boat as by the accoutrements, watches, cameras and clothing of the installation team. The Kabakovs are currently showing at the Serpentine Gallery in London. The founder of London's Albion Gallery, Michael Hue-Williams, has built a house at the oasis and he plans to do a project there every two years or so. Like the boat, subsequent works will maintain a creative dialogue with the Siwan desert Saharan sands.

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