Venezuelan multimedia artist Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck has in recent years been bringing the Cold War back into contemporary galleries and international biennials. His eclectic installations incorporate historical documents, media sources and the work of other artists to dissect the role of power and propaganda in artistic narratives after World War II.
Balteo Yazbeck’s hybrid practice casts him at once as researcher, archivist, historian and curator. He has often teamed up with New York-based Iranian curator and art historican Media Farzin on a number of projects exploring America’s efforts to access oil reserves in Venezuela and Iran during the Cold War.
The duo’s 2009 exhibition Cultural Diplomacy: An Art We Neglect – named after a 1954 opinion piece published in the New York Times – brought together maps, photographs and replica artworks in a tale of international intrigue which placed Alexander Calder at the centre of US diplomacy in Latin America and the Middle East.
In 2013 one of Balteo Yazbeck’s latest projects, Chronoscope, was a highlight of the Cold War-themed Statue of Limitation exhibition in Dubai. This exciting and informative work proves that the Cold War remains a rich source of inspiration for contemporary artists.
Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck and Media Farzin. Top – Didactic Panel for Alexander Calder’s Vertical Constellation with Bomb, 1943 (detail); Bottom – Eames-Derivative (small version). From the series Cultural Diplomacy: An Art We Neglect, 2006–13. Courtesy the artists
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