On the occasion of our Focus on the Kochi–Muziris Biennale, we asked artists AES+F to share with our readers their perspective on the biennial and their experience of being part of it.
AES+F was originally formed as AES in 1987 by conceptual architects Tatiana Arzamasova and Lev Evzovich with multidisciplinary designer Evgeny Svyatsky. In 1995 they expanded with the photographer Vladimir Fridkes.
AES+F’s practice mostly deals with digital technologies, video and photography but it also involves traditional media such as sculpture, painting, drawing and architecture. The artists work can be seen as a deep dialogue and reflection upon values, vices and conflicts of contemporary culture which are translated into their visual narratives.
Their project “Inverso Mundus” was presented at the 56th Biennale di Venezia in 2015 while recent and upcoming exhibitions include “L’arte Differente: MOCAK al MAXXI” –December 7th – January 22nd, 2017 which is the first such large‑scale and comprehensive presentation of works from the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cracow to be presented in Italy – and the group exhibition “The Last Gaze. Post-Mortem Portrait in Contemporary Photography” at Photon Center for Contemporary Photography, Ljubljana, Slovenia from December 8th – January 13th, 2017.
Carla Ingrasciotta: Let’s start with your participation at the Biennial. This year’s selection counts 90 artists. Which is the project you are going to present on this occasion? What are your hopes and expectations for this experience?
AES+F: We will present two projects: a 3-channel video installation “Inverso Mundus” (2015) and a series of 7 light boxes with digital collages titled “Défilé” (2000-2007). Our work will be shown for the first time in India, and it is very interesting for us to meet our Indian audience and observe their reaction.
Carla Ingrasciotta: Could you tell us something about “Inverso Mundus” (2015), the artwork we selected as the featured image of our website? Could you explain the concept behind this work?
AES+F: “Inverso Mundus” is based on widely circulated medieval engravings depicting the world upside-down. A pig guts a butcher, a man carries a donkey, the poor give alms to the rich, etcetera. We interpreted reality through these images, recreating absurd scenes from a medieval carnival as episodes of contemporary life. Even chimeras are represented as pets, and torture devices of the inquisition have a positive IKEA design. Our characters are taking selfies with the Apocalypse.
Carla Ingrasciotta: Could you tell us about your practice in general? You mainly work with video and photography but how do you develop your video, what is the workflow?
AES+F: Besides video and photography, we also work with more traditional media, like painting and sculpture. In the past, we have also done performances, more specifically the project titled “AES. Witnesses of the Future,” in which we staged a fake travel agency in an imagined future where Islam dominates all of the world’s cultures. The process for all of our work is similar, regardless of the technique. We discuss ideas for a long time, and when we move to the realisation stage, we assign individual roles based on each of our strengths and wants. With video projects, we gather raw material by photographing in a film pavilion, and then spend a year or more on post-production. The process by which all of our recent video work is done is called morphing – it is a form of animation where one photograph is animated to become another. This method creates a specific kind of plasticity of movement of our characters. They move a bit like robots or zombies.
Carla Ingrasciotta: Many of your artworks recall masterpieces from the history of art. I’m thinking about “The Feast of Trimalchio” (2009) or “Allegoria Sacra” (2011). Could you tell us about this dialogue between art history and contemporary art? How do you translate your interest for the figurative tradition into your everyday practice?
AES+F: It is interesting for us to discover the influence of old masters in contemporary visual culture. It is ubiquitous in advertising and video games, for example, and it isn’t necessarily intentional. In the “Feast of Trimalchio” we referenced ancient Roman frescoes and mannerisms, while Allegoria Sacra was a reinterpretation of a famous painting by Giovanni Bellini. We really like including imagery from non-European cultures in our projects as well. In the “Feast of Trimalchio”, we combined elements from Chinese, Hindu, Arab and other cultures. In “Allegoria Sacra”, the action takes place in a contemporary airport with a gargantuan sculpture of the god Ganesh from a temple in Trivandrum. We do not think of art history as divided strictly into disconnected “periods” or “movements”. For us, it is more like a stream where every style and movement is flowing into and influencing one another.
Carla Ingrasciotta: What is it like working as a collective? Do you always work together or also on your own?
AES+F: We feel like we have amplified abilities that stem from a synergy of all of our skills and ideas. Everyone does what they like more and can do better than others.
Carla Ingrasciotta: Are you working on new projects?
AES+F: Yes, we are currently working on a few projects in different media, but that is a story for another time.