AES+F is an artistic collective with a cosmopolitan vision rather than a local Russian one, conquering linguistic borders with a pantheon of symbols and other visual language that needs no translation. A quartet of two architects,Tatiana Arzamasova and Lev Evzovich, illustrator Evgeny Svyatsky and fashion photographer Vladimir Fridkes provides the formula behind the unique, almost alchemic balance that gives AES+F’s large-scale, multimedia installations a personal touch. The collective has been active since 1987, but it was in 2007, when their Last Riot, a post-apocalyptic media installation depicting a battle scene in a cyber world full of mythical creatures was premiered at the Venice Biennale, that the group gained wider recognition.
Often referred to as “social psychoanalysis”, the collective have introduced a kind of modern parable style in their attempts to address universal issues such as mass culture, ideology, consumerism or religion. Building on the parables found in the Bible, they place people, animals and divine beings into the modern world of the megapolis and shopping centres, creating Surrealist fantasies simultaneously full of medieval archetypes and modern gadgets. The long-term nature of their works (Islamic Project took almost ten years to complete), often rife with art historical allusions, featuring visuals cues from Romantic and Baroque paintings among others, is due to their attention to the “continuity effect” — creating a certain visual consistency between AES+F and canonical figures of the past. But there is so much more to their work than “just” sampling the imagery of others: it is their understanding of our innate lust for rituals and myths that makes AES+F’s language so powerful.
Get a taste of their modern surreal fantasy with AES+F’s Islamic Project, displayed as part of the exhibition Art Riot: post-Soviet Actionism at Saatchi Gallery in London until 31 December.
Text: Masha Borodacheva