A chat with AES+F
Interview Michele Bortolami and Tommaso Delmastro
Oneiric-catastrophic video installations, a dystopic revisitation of mass visual culture. A hybrid collage of the aesthetics of the video clip and glossy adverts, video games and digital animations, rife with references to Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque art. This is the origin of the visionary hyperrealism of AES+F, the Russian collective acclaimed worldwide at the most important exhibitions of contemporary art. The collective includes conceptual architects Tatiana Arzamasova and Lev Evzovich (in the past, director and art director of animation films), graphic designer Evgeny Svyatsky, and fashion photographer Vladimir Fridkes, who joined the group in 1995 when the group changed its name to AES+F.
Your works are imbued with visual culture, each containing many symbolic quotations and references. What are your main references?
We are generally visual omnivores. Each project has its own connotations and references, from art history to video games, and to cinema. In Last Riot it was Caravaggio. In Allegoria Sacra we pay homage to Bellini, but visually we also often refer to 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick.
Looking at your artistic production, one is immediately struck by the long series of references to Italian art, starting from the Renaissance. How important are Italian artists for you and which of these have inspired you most?
We think that we live in a Neo- Baroque epoch, characterized by extreme “visuality”. We draw very much from the Baroque period, and specifically Mannerism, with its very vivid and exaggerated body language. We were especially looking at the works of Caravaggio, Bellini, and Signorelli.
Your videos often reflect on the relationship between East and West, between the Christian- Jewish world and that of Islam: do you consider that your works can also be interpreted in a political light?
Yes, of course, but it’s not political activism. Everyone can interpret our works however they want. We task ourselves with provoking people to reflect on and interpret contemporary reality themselves.
As your work involves moving constantly from place to place, are you able to maintain an identity tied to your roots in Russia? If so, how?
We are very cosmopolitan, like the art we make. This fact in itself captures a very deep Russian tradition of striving towards cosmopolitanism and openness. It’s a very Russian feature that can be seen throughout the culture, from Pushkin and Dostoevsky to Kandinsky and Chagall.
Your projects are very complex works, how do you conceive and develop these from the idea to final realization?
In the case of traditional works, like painting and sculpture, we work with paint, molds, 3D models and so on. When producing video works, our methodology is similar to that of film, video games, fashion, and advertising, but we have our own secret techniques as well.
In other interviews, you have said that you are not great fans of the new media; what is your relationship with the technique and how important is it for you?
We aren’t great fans in the sense that new media isn’t an end in itself for us. It’s a medium, same as any traditional material. But new media is very important for us, because with traditional methods we cannot manifest our vision. Only relatively new technologies allow us to make the work that we make – the ability to produce a hyper realistic world in super- ultra-HD.
The suspended style of your videos often features a disorienting mix of elements of pop culture. How would you describe your relationship with kitsch?
The world without a little bit of kitsch is like steak without blood. It’s an important element of our language, which we use to describe the world we live in, but it’s not the end in itself.
Your works succeed in being delicate and violent, aestheticizing and disturbing at the same time. What is the origin of this desire for dystopia in your works?
We simply see reality this way. We combine seemingly contradictory things in our works, because we see them all around us. The world consists of conflicting things, and we call it a “hybrid reality”.
Last year, we saw your last great work, Inverso Mundus, in Venice. How long must we wait to see your next project? Can you give us an advance preview?
We started working on a new project with a preliminary title: “Turandot”.