Ocula Conversation

A conversation with Aes+F

Artists, Russia
12 November 2013

AES+F explore modern technology, cinema, fashion, advertising and popular cultures obsession with youth and beauty. Blurring the lines between reality and fantasy and history and time their hyper-realistic images are both seductive, and alarming.

The collective was first formed in 1987 as AES (a collaboration between Tatiana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovich and Evgeny Svyatsky) and became AES+F in 1995 when Photographer Vladimir Fridkes joined the group. They have exhibited extensively worldwide and in 2007 the Russian State Museum in St. Petersburg held the first ever mid-career retrospective for the group. Their works are held in significant public and private collections including the Centre d’art Contemporaine Georges Pompidou, Paris; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; The State Russian Museum, St Petersburg; Neue Galerie, Graz; Collection of the Comunidad de Madrid, Spain; and The Museum of Old and New Art, Tasmania. They currently live and work in Moscow, Russia.

In their current exhibition at Art Statements in Hong Kong, AES+F are showing their Allegoria Sacra series of works in Asia for the first time. These works form the final part of a trilogy about the modern world (Hell, Heaven, Purgatory) and were inspired by Bellini’s painting of the same name.

How did you come to work as a collective?

We met by chance, doing work for a cult Moscow theater at the end of the 80s. This was a time when each of us was starting to experiment in contemporary art. The experience of working collectively seemed fun and interesting for us and we decided to continue doing it.

Many artists collaborate with assistants but it is not so often that the creative vision a shared collaboration. What is it like as artists to work as part of a team?

We are very different, in character and in professional skills. Each of us on the team does what he/she likes most and what he/she is better at than the others.

You all trained in different disciplines and indeed you work in many different mediums including photography, video, drawing, painting and sculpture. How do you choose which medium is right?

It’s too cramped inside a single media for us. That’s why for our new ideas we try to find new, adequate media. Even inside a single genre, for example sculpture, all of our projects are executed in different materials – from classical bronze and porcelain to fiberglass.

You first started working together in 1987 a very different time in the political, social and cultural landscape of Russia. Discuss your experience of working as contemporary artists in Russia today.

We, as artists, formed precisely in the 90s. We think that it is a totally unique period in the history of art. Old soviet art institutions collapsed, while new ones had not formed yet. This was a time of unique, total freedom. During the 2000s in Russia, there formed a system of institutions, museums, galleries and biennials of contemporary art, similar to the ones that exist in the whole world. Even then, in the last few years there are noticeable attempts to bring back political censorship in art.

Russia has quickly become a dominant force in the international market for contemporary art. Has this been a positive force in the cultural landscape of Russia?

Yes.

In your current exhibition at Art Statements Gallery in Hong Kong you are showing Allegoria Sacra alongside a number of photographic works. The film was inspired in part by Giovanni Bellini's 15th century painting of the same name, which is believed to represent purgatory. There are obvious connections with your work to Baroque and Renaissance paintings. How important is this is the relationship of your work to historical works of art?

We think that Renaissance and Baroque are close in spirit to contemporary reality, more precisely the virtual aspect (social networks, games, etc.)

The film has been created from thousands of photographic images – visions of a contemporary Purgatory shot in a carefully controlled environment. In a sense it is a digital painting – can you talk briefly about your process of production in making the films.

Our films combine animated photographs of characters, and environment built in a 3D program (3DS Max), also animated. In some sense this is closer to classical painting than photography and video, which are based in documenting.

A common thread in your work is to blur the distinction between good and evil. Why?

We are not blurring the line between good and evil. We are, rather, trying to determine where that boundary exists today.

What are you working on for 2014?

We are preparing an exhibition of the Trilogy in Royal Academy in 2014. We have also begun working on a new project – Inverso Mundus (World Up-Side-Down).

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