Article by Angela Connor in Berlin; Monday, Oct. 29, 2012
Russian art collective AES+F is exhibiting for the first time in Germany their epic masterpiece The Trilogy at Martin Gropius Bau Gallery. Presented as an immersive large-scale installation over three rooms, Last Riot (2005-07), The Feast of Trimalchio (2009) and Allegoria Sacra (2011) are pictorial orgies that depict scenes of death, desire, catastrophe, consumption and international warfare. Located in the 21st Century, these works create utopian/dystopian landscapes that are metaphors for hell, purgatory and paradise. Seductive in their hybrid of staged fashion photography, video and 3-D computer technology, each film animates tens of thousands of still images into short sequences with characters defined by two or three provocative movements.
The concept of hell conjures up vivid imagery in Western culture of a space furnished with suffering and punishment. AES+F’s representation of hell takes form in Last Riot, the first film in The Trilogy. Set amongst fantasy landscapes of snow-covered islands, erupting volcano’s, oil platforms and army tanks, the work is based on a computer war game from the mid-2000s, and portrays adolescents dressed in army greens caressing each other with weapons. Resembling a scene out of the novel Lord of the Flies, these politicized teenagers exist in a virtual world where conflicts happen yet no one is wounded.
The Feast of Trimalchio is the second film in The Trilogy and represents a modern day paradise set in a luxurious hotel. Based on the character Trimalchio in the novel The Satyricon by Petronius, the work critiques Western society’s attachment to wealth, power, superficiality and hedonistic behaviour; attitudes which have come to dominate the global and political economy. Employing over 70,000 still images to make the 25-minute film, The Feast of Trimalchio examines the interchangeability of roles and power relationships in contemporary society. Using the setting of a hotel as a metaphor for the modern world and lifestyle, AES+F uses advertising strategies to immerse the viewer in images of hotel staff and guests dressed in designer brands engaging in recreational activities of golf, massage, surfing and skiing.
Speculative images of heaven, hell and purgatory have been ingrained on our consciousness through art, religious and historical references. The third part of The Trilogy, Allegoria Sacras is based on a painting by the Italian Renaissance Giovanni Bellini and is an allegory of purgatory. Shot over a production period of 10-12 days and employing 40,000 photographs, the work is set in an international airport, where passengers of all professions, nationalities and ages wait, united by their desire to travel to another destination. Interspersed between these airport scenes of waiting are images of decapitated heads, mutant babies, dragon headed airplanes and desert runways. These digital collages flow into one another creating a populated world of disorder and chaotic desires; simultaneously displaying optimism and despair.
AES+F use high production values as a seductive means to tackle controversial subjects. They lure the viewer into their virtual world to comment on the complex relationships of contemporary existence and Western culture’s conformity to a money-driven, youth obsessed, entertainment culture. With the overriding theme the conflicting whims and desires of society, their work provides a warning that our current ideology hangs like a noose around our necks.