A Feast in Paradise
The ‘en vogue' artist group AES+F has not been very present in Belgium so far. End of April 2012, during the Art Brussels art fair, when the capital of Belgium - home of the European Union, mussels and pommes frites - was congested with art aficionados, our comrades had their grand opening at the private collection of Walter Vanhaerents.
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146
AES+F group as we know it exists since 1995, when AES (founded in 1987 in the USSR by Arzamasova Tatiana, Evzovich Lev and Svyatsky Evgeny) were joined by Fridkes Vladimir. The members address themselves, similar to the protagonists of Tarantino's ‘Reservoir Dogs', as Mme A., Mr E., etc. This is not the only allusion to Hollywood. In their oeuvre they often refer to the world's most efficient dream factory; tongue-in-cheek, of course.
The film of AES+F exhibited in the project room of the Vanhaerents Art Collection is entitled ‘The Feast of Trimalchio'. This second part of a trilogy was premiered at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009, and later toured the world from Sydney to Moscow, through Tokyo and many others. In the best tradition of AES+F, the work is socially critical, highly aesthetical, deeply intertextual and, clearly, witty.
Inspired by Gaius Petronius Arbiter's ‘Satyricon', written during Nero's reign, the artists created an allegoric representation of our society. The HD video shows intellectuals, beauties and nouveaux riches, and, in contrast to other works, elderly people, as well as their servants, wasting their lives and exchanging their roles in hotel Paradiso of the 21st century. "The ‘servants' resemble the brightly-coloured angels of a Garden of Eden to which the ‘masters' are only temporarily admitted... Every so often the delights of ‘The Feast of Trimalchio' are spoiled by catastrophes which encroach on the Global Paradise", so the teaser by AES+F.
The eerie impression created by perfect videos starring perfectly looking people in the perfectly looking world, where even fights and catastrophes happen without wounds and suffering, is intensified by somehow doll-like movements of the protagonists. The effect is caused by a production peculiarity: highly sophisticated HD video installations are made out of thousands of photographs which morph into movements of contemporary wooden Pinocchio's.
AES+F like to state that their work is "between good and evil", so their protagonists, just like Pinocchio before he became a real boy, do not have/need any rudiments of morality. In that way, they inhabit Nietzsche's philosophical paradise described in his Prelude to Philosophy of the Future, the book of Aphorisms ‘Jenseits von Gut und Böse. Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft'. We, as post-post-modern ‘homo ludens' and active cultural consumers, have to fill this emptiness and either try to revitalize the puppets by filling them with own moral and emotional content or fulfil Nietzsche's dream and re-launch, or, rather, join, the moral-free intellectual discourse.
Dear AES+F, in April your exhibition opened at the Vanhaerents Art Collection in Brussels; ‘The Feast of Trimalchio' is presented in the project room as a nine-channel video installation. This work has different shapes and formats; it was shown as 360 degrees multi-channel HD video installation in cylinder shaped exhibition architecture at The Garage in Moscow, as one channel video in Donetsk and is also represented as digital paintings and even sculptures. In Kyiv, Ukraine, during an exhibition at Pinchuk Art Centre, you've installed a large semi-circle banner of ‘Trimalchio' inside the Bessarabsky Bazaar, across the PAC building. Architecture seems to play an import role for your exhibitions, is that so?
AES+F: "Architecture or more definitely space is always in focus. So our work can exist self-sufficiently in a very intimate space of small private collection or in really big public spaces. We are really interested in the presentation of our works in different wide social contexts - from media to big-scale city interventions. Usually we develop our projects in the very different directions and forms."
‘Trimalchio' is an illustration of Hegelian conflict, where masters own society and slaves build society, whereas in your work, the latter seems to be based on sexuality. However, as the story goes it becomes less clear who is the slave and who the master. How did you come across the work of Gaius Petronius and why is it relevant today?
AES+F: "We love to play with modern stereotypes such as ‘our time is very similar to the times of decay of Roman Empire'. At the same time we took from the novel of Petronius just a title of one chapter, and all scenes and characters are very modern. We think that all relations of masters and servants are very actual for all times, and maybe especially today on all the levels - from personal psychological relations to geopolitics."
You have shown ‘Trimalchio' in the 2010 Sydney Biennale where you've worked together with artistic director David Elliott. Now you are working with him in Kyiv for the first Biennale of contemporary Art where your most recent project - ‘Allegoria Sacra' - will be presented. What is the story behind the new oeuvre? And can you tell us a little more about your cooperation with this curator?
AES+F: " ‘Allegoria Sacra' is the third part of Trilogy formed by ‘Last Riot' (2007) and ‘The Feast of Trimalchio' (2009). The short description of all three parts of Trilogy can be: the first part ‘Last Riot' is a Hell; the second part ‘Trimalchio' is a Paradise, and the third part ‘Allegoria Sacra' a Purgatory. This project has a reference to the painting of Giovanni Bellini: some art historians consider the picture to be an image of Purgatory, because of the presence of such characters from Christian and Antic mythology as St Sebastian, St Paul, Centaurs, there is also a Muslim in the left bottom corner.... We have been inspired by his mysterious image, and see his characters as passengers waiting for their flights in the contemporary international airport-hub. These people are from different cultures and even from different times. The characters' dreams are mixing, and we see the film as a grotesque and surreal view on our modern civilization.
We have worked three times with David Elliott, if you count the show ‘After the Wall' in Moderna Museet, Stockholm in 2000. So we know David a long time. His ideas, his aesthetic vision, and his special sense of humour are close to our projects. But David is not only one curator with whom we made several international biennales - for instance among them Hou Hanru (Gwangju Biennale, Tirana Biennale, Istanbul Biennale), Jean Hubert Martin (Lyon Biennale, Moscow Biennale) and some others."
Ekaterina RIETZ-RAKUL & Steve SCHEPENS
An interview with artistic director David Elliott and a review of the First Kyiv Biennale of Contemporary Art will appear in the next issue of H ART.
© 2012 Ekaterina Rietz-Rakul, Steve Schepens