AES+F

Russia’s new media artists’ collective AES+F uses haunting digital surrealism to recall nightmarish 21st-century realities.

Sarah Roberts |  Ed Cristina Brooks |  13 December 2020

AES+F Russian digital artists collective learn more in this biography in Agora Digital Art
Website

First formed under the name of AES Group in 1987 by Tatiana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovich and Evgeny Svyatsky, the digital art collective was dubbed AES+F when Vladimir Fridkes joined in 1995. AES+F work at the intersection of traditional and new media, using photography, video and digital technologies alongside art historical references. They define their practice as a kind of “social psychoanalysis” through which they reveal the values of contemporary global culture.

AES+F, Psychosis (2018) Mixed Reality installation/performance and 1-channel video © Courtesy of the artists.

What’s next?

Until 30 December 2020, Allegoria Sacra, MEDIA UTOPIA, Jeju International Peace Center, Korea

October 9th – January 10th, 2021, #CUTE. ISLANDS OF HAPPINESS, NRW Forum, Dusseldorf, Germany

Turning their hands to theatre production, AES+F recently created a contemporary reimagining of Giacomo Puccini’s fairy-tale opera, Turandot. Envisaging the plot in a nightmarish, techno-feminist future, the collective used large-scale video installation as both a theatrical accompaniment to the opera and a provocative stand-alone piece. The work was commissioned in 2019 by Italy’s Teatro Massimo de Palermo and produced in collaboration with director Fabio Chersitch. It showcases the potential of new media arts in performance, delighting audiences as it toured across Europe in 2020.

Did you know?

The collective launched the AES+F award in 2019. The first grant of its kind in Russia, it demonstrates how AES+F hopes to tackle the underrepresentation of young Russian artists in the US by allowing Western audiences the chance to see their work. It offers recipients a three-month residency at the prestigious ISCP in Brooklyn, and features ongoing mentorship from the AES+F’s founding artists themselves. The first recipient, Aslan Goislum, uses new media techniques in his practice to powerfully reflect upon past conflicts and consider the ongoing effects of colonialism that haunt contemporary Russia. He will take up his residency in 2021. 

Featured Projects

Turandot (2019)

AES+F, Turandot (2019) HD video installation (1, 3, and multi-channel versions) © Courtesy of the artists.

AES+F’s three-channel video installation Turandot is an accompaniment to Puccini’s opera, using digital art to enrich the performance with surreal, haunting images. The original narrative follows captivating yet cold Princess Turandot, who seeks vengeance for the sexual repression and violence that was bestowed upon her female ancestors. Encapsulating the feminist themes of the classical work, AES+F reset their production in a vision of 2070 where Beijing becomes the nucleus of a global, matriarchal empire. AES+F’s Turandot re-imagines the contentious relationship between East and West, masculine and feminine, overturning social strata.

The trailer demonstrates the hyperreal, glossy aesthetic that AES+F have come to be known for. Digitally animated surfaces take on a high-definition, smooth texture, reminiscent of shiny manufactured plastic. In a digital landscape, disturbing scenes unfold while the tragic, beloved aria Nessum Dorma plays. Saccharine, Pepto-Bismol pink skies and block reds background severed heads floating on lotus leaves. Men and women engage in slow-motion conflict, without ever striking a definitive blow. Horrific multi-limbed, feminised beasts take apparent pleasure in juggling the heads of their masculine victims. If the description sounds bizarre, it is incomparable to the vision.

Using the surreal as a provocative tool, this collective encourages viewers to reconsider the power structures of society as a refraction of those that exist within AES+F’s fantastical new media landscape. Perhaps the lunacy and nonsense of our twenty-first century reality is less overt, but AES+F’s work allows us to question the problematic power relations and orientalism that persist in current society.

AES+F, Inverso Mundus (2015) 1ch trailer 6 min FullHD 1080  © Courtesy of the artist.

Inverso Mundo (2015)

Engravings in the genre of “World Upside Down”, known since the 16th century, depict such scenes as a pig gutting the butcher, a child punishing his teacher, a man carrying a donkey on his back, man and woman exchanging roles and dress, and a beggar in rags magnanimously bestowing alms on a rich man. These engravings contain demons, chimaeras, fish flying through the sky and death itself, variously with a scythe or in the mask of a plague doctor.

The title of the work, Inverso – both an Italian “reverse, the opposite” and the Old Italian “poetry,” and Mundus – the Latin “world,” hints at a reinterpretation of reality, a poetic vision. In our interpretation, the absurdist scenes from the medieval carnival appear as episodes of contemporary life in a multichannel video installation. Characters act out scenes of absurd social utopias and exchange masks, morphing from beggars to rich men, from policemen to thieves. Metrosexual street-cleaners are showering the city with refuse. Female inquisitors torture men on IKEA-style structures. Children and seniors are fighting in a kickboxing match. Inverso Mundus is a world where chimaeras are pets and the Apocalypse is entertainment.

2015, pigment InkJet print on FineArt Baryta paper, 55.6×80 cm (21.9×31.5 in), edition of 10
AES+F © Courtesy of the artists.
AES+F, Allegoria Sacra – Third part of The Liminal Space Trilogy (2011-2013)  © Courtesy of the artists.

Allegoria Sacra (2011-2013) Third part of The Liminal Space Trilogy

Video work Allegoria Sacra exemplifies the complex thread between new media and art historical reference that AES+F weave. It forms the last instalment of the Liminal Space Trilogy, a three-part series of monumental video installations, that reimagines ideas of heaven, hell and purgatory, transplanting them into the setting of a globalised Western world. In the high-definition video, AES+F explore the vices and preoccupations that plague humanity as a result of globalisation and technological advancement. 

The title, Allegoria Sacra refers to Giovanni Bellini’s painting of the same name, a work of the Italian renaissance where mythical creatures, Madonna and cherubs gather together in a rocky landscape. Considered an ‘allegory’, its surface details mask a hidden fable or moralistic message, yet this has been lost to art historians, perplexing them for centuries. This is repeated in AES+F’s digital landscapes as martyrs, centaurs and demons plague the fantastical realm. The moral message is left ambiguous, AES+F invite the viewer to perceive the work through their individual politics. As the artists told Loney Abrams of Artspace Magazine, “Our work is a kind of reflection of the contemporary reality, a kind of provocation, which gives the spectator his or her own ideas about what is happening to the world.”

AES+F, Allegoria Sacra still #3-1-02 (2011), still from one-channel video, c-print on paper, 32 x 57 cm © Courtesy of the artists.
AES+F, Allegoria Sacra still #3-1-14 (2011), still from one-channel video, c-print on paper, 32 x 57 cm © Courtesy of the artists.

The idea of “liminal space” refers to a place of transition or movement as opposed to a destination. The digitally animated luxury airport of Allegoria Sacra conjures up the sense of being caught between locations. Encapsulating the space where one is delayed on course to their fate, it is a contemporary purgatory. Anyone who has ever been stuck in a departure lounge while they await their signal to ‘go to gate’, can understand how an airport becomes an interminable limbo. 

In a visionary use of new media techniques, AES+F created the work by stitching together numerous digital photographs, animated into a jerky, robotic montage as opposed to a continuous video narrative. In the Artspace magazine interview, the collective highlights the importance of alienation in their work, the digital protagonists of Allegoria Sacra drift in and out of dreamlike landscapes, never truly connecting to one another. In a post-globalised world, we constantly consume products from thousands of miles away, communicating across borders and time zones effortlessly. Yet Allegoria Sacra reminds us that the world is in constant conflict, loneliness and disconnection are rife.

Key achievements

Since their formation in 1987, AES+F have exhibited in galleries, museums and exhibition spaces worldwide. This includes solo exhibitions hosted by prestigious institutions such as Moderna  Museet in Stockholm, Tate Britain in London, The State Russian Museum in St Petersburg, ZKM in Karlsruhe, Musée du Pompidou in Paris to name but a few. Their work has also been showcased internationally at annual festivals and biennales including in Venice, Moscow, Lyon and Sydney.

Included in some of the world’s foremost collections of contemporary art, their works are housed in the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, MOCAK in Kraków, Centre de Arte dos de Mayo (Madrid, Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, Vanhaerents Art Collection in Brussels, Taguchi Art Collection in Tokyo and many others. In addition to this, they are proud recipients of the Kandinsky Prize 2012, the NordArt Festival Award 2014, Pino Pascali Prize in 2015 and Russian National Academy of Fine Arts Gold Medal 2013.

Solo Shows

2020, Eutopia: Narrative and Rhetoric, Art Museum of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Chongqing

2020, What Came to Pass, Tang Contemporary, Beijing

2020, Turandot, Badisches Staatstheate, Karlsruhe

2019, Mare Mediterraneum, Galerie Senda, Barcelona

2019, Predictions and Revelations, Manege Central Exhibition Hall, St Petersburg, Russia

Group shows / Festivals

2021, AoQ (in the Age of Quarantine), Snark.art, New York

2021, #Cute, Islands of Happiness, NRW Forum, Dusseldorf

2020, Marat’s Gift, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

2020, Reflections of Our Time: Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Art 1993-2019, Museum of Contemporary Art, Serbia

2020, Time Cubism, Gwanju Museum of Art, Gwanju

Museums or Fairs

2020, Tick Tack Cinema Programme, Antwerp

2020, Perth International Art Festival, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, Perth

2019, 14th annual Curitiba Biennale, Oscar Niemeyer Museum, Brazil

2019, Geneva International Film Festival, Geneva

2019, European Month of Photography Festival, Bratislava

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