Interview with Russian collective AES+F

The Russian art collective AES+F has moved away from Russian conceptualism to a hyper-visual style influenced by baroque. Eternal themes of beauty, sex, and death are laced throughout their work. Mongoos has asked them to expand on their past and divulge their futures.

Artists, Interviews
November 8, 2013
by Giorgia Zardetto
AES + F, Arrival of the Golden Boat, 2010. LightJet print

AES + F, Arrival of the Golden Boat, 2010. LightJet print

MM: How would you describe the new kind of heroism, in which the freeze of the Homeric beautiful death is joined with a complete loss of humanity? What is changed here in your perception of mankind from the series Dèfilè, in which you make nameless corpses seem beautiful and still deeply human?

AES+F: In the Last Riot project, the death doesn’t exist: there is no drop of blood, no emotions. All movements are neurotically repeated, with no beginning and no end. So no burning, no death. We speak here about the self-indulgent virtual world of computer video games, Hollywood movies, and media where violence becomes a neurotic entertainment. In the Dèfilè project we are trying to question such archetypal things in the contemporary real world, like beauty (fashion) and death, sexuality, values of human life and well-known fashion brands.

MM: How would you explain the term neo-baroque when referring to your own work?

AES+F: We feel intuitively that the epoch of baroque is closer to the super-visuality of contemporary culture and life, than for instance, conceptual minimalism.

MM: Your aesthetic position is extremely different from that of other Russian video artists of your generation but you all came from the common matrix of conceptualism. How do you confront  your recent past?

AES+F: There is a difference between the generation of artists formed in the 70-80s, who had a common position called Moscow   conceptualism, or sots art, and our generation which formed in the 90s and which consists of very individual positions. If we are to talk about particularly Russian sources of our works it will be Russian (and Soviet) cinema traditions – for instance from Sergey Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, Andrey Tarkovsky and  Sergey Bondarchuk. But, beside this, it was interesting for us to feel ourselves in the international context when we started to work in the beginning of the 90s when the Soviet system broke down and the country became open.

MM:  How has the collaboration with Vladimir Fridkes changed your own way to interact with technology in the artistic process?

AES+F: We used to work with technologies (and different photographers) even before we met Vladimir, for example on Islamic Project. Of course, when such photographers as esteemed as Vladimir joined our group (not only as a photographer but as an additional brain), we became able to develop our projects with much more freedom and scale.

MM: Photography has been, since its beginning, willing to emancipate itself from painting and its technical and iconographic devices, which would degrade photography to subordinate or minor art. Your operation is instead the exact opposite, and even a little bit futuristically retro; very close to the works of Oscar Rejlander and its allegorical ‘pictoricism’ (using the negatives’ collage  to create one single, huge, tableaux vivant) in photography. Do you feel some connection with this ancient past?

AES+F: This is a witty notion. We never referred to Oscar Rejlander but it is possible to call our attitude ‘historical vampirism’. It is possible to find in our different projects: the Renaissance, baroque, totalitarian art 1930-1940s, and Salon paintings of the 19th century etc. We think that the language of the different kinds of figurative art suits the expression of contemporary life very well.

MM: Which is for you the relation between Eros, beauty and glorification, and high fashion and glamourisation of death? Is it connected with your so-called neo-baroque attitude? Does it have a relationship with Evgeny Yufit’s necrorealism?

AES+F:  Yes, it is connected with our neo-baroque attitude in the sense of style and language but we are also trying to connect such  eternal things like Eros, beauty and glorification with contemporary political and social ideas, as well as the human sphere. We’ve never thought about the connection with necrorealism by Yufit but maybe you’ll find some parallels by yourself.

MM:  How would you connect your new project Allegoria Sacra with your previous work? I feel that the theme of meetings or fights between people is always present.

AES+F: We consider Allegoria Sacra as a third part of a trilogy started by Last Riot and The Feast of Trimalchio. Talking metaphorically we call Last Riot – ‘The Virtual Hell’,  The  Feast of Trimalchio – ‘The Touristic Paradise’ and Allegoria Sacra – ‘The Purgatory’, because the action is going in the waiting lounge of some international airport.

MM: Video technology has never been your exclusive artistic medium. Do you intend to continue the development of sculptures in your future work? What does the hybrid nature of your young creatures in the Last Riot project mean for you?

AES+F: Yes, we’ll continue to make sculptures. Right now, we are starting a series of coloured marble sculptures that are connected with both the projects Trimalchio and Allegoria Sacra. We think it is very natural to have, in virtual reality, a heroic girl with the tale of the reptile. Actually, it is possible to have very different interpretations of the work. One curator noted that lizard in Last Riot means literally cold blood.