On this day in 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first man-made satellite, into space. The American public was shocked and terrified by this show of Soviet technological superiority, leading President Eisenhower to declare a ‘Sputnik Crisis’ in the United States. Meanwhile in the USSR there were widespread celebrations, with propaganda posters exclaiming: ‘Soviet man, be proud. You have opened the road to the stars from Earth!’
The resulting Space Race was a source of inspiration for artists on either side of the Iron Curtain. One such work was The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment, created in 1984 by Soviet conceptual artist, Ilya Kabakov. Entering the work through a door into a series of rooms, the visitor is transported into the world of a would-be cosmonaut who appears to have shot himself into outer space by means of a make-shift human catapult.
The text of the story, recounting the reports of three of his neighbours, tells of a man ‘obsessed by a dream of a lonely flight into space’. Of the creative process in Moscow, Kabakov has said: ‘I would take it down after each showing for fear that they [the Soviet authorities] would drop in’.
The installation was the subject of an eponymous book published in 2006 by Boris Groys (available from Afterall Books), who explores how ‘the miserable room and the primitive slingshot suggest the reality behind the Soviet utopia, where cosmic vision and the political project of the Communist revolution are seen as indissoluble’.
Images: Top – Soviet propaganda poster, 1957; Bottom – Ilya Kabakov, The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment, 1984