AES + F artwork at Fresh Paint, Tel Aviv 370.
(photo credit: AES+F)
It’s well known that the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin had dire political consequences for the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. However, the consequences it had on the art world are less well-known.
In 1995, a project was commissioned by the government to build a brand new home for the Gesher Theater group. This building was intended to be an Israeli landmark as well as a testament to modern art and design. An international competition was held to find the most talented architects who were up for the challenge. The winners, Evgeny Svyatsky and Lev Evzovich, two Russians from the artist collective AES+F, who had done previous work with the Gesher Theater, had designed the new building in collaboration with Israeli architect Gad Manor. They were poised to make huge leaps forward in their careers.
However, in the wake of the assassination, the project was brought to a screeching halt. The funding was revoked, and the Gesher Theater was given an unused building in Jaffa to use. The artists, in order to pursue better opportunities in the European market, returned to Russia and rejoined their collective alongside the two other artists of AES+F, Tatiana Arzamasova and a couple of years later, Vladimir Fridkes.
The four have gone on to create some of the most important contemporary art of the last decade. One of their exhibits, “The Liminal Space Trilogy,” was recently featured at the Tel Aviv Fresh Paint Art Fair, majorly funded by the Arison Family Foundation’s ArtPort.
Brought to the exhibit by Ari Leon Fruchter and Karen Bar Gil, it took the form of a large projection that showcased what AES+F calls a “Digital Fresco.” The work of art is hard to describe with words as the scene looks as if it’s from an alternate reality. This example of digital media includes thousands of images that are superimposed on each other and animated to create depictions of different states of spiritual existence: Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.
“Hell is depicted with people engaged in constant acts of senseless violence," Evgeny explains to The Jerusalem Post. "We see this in popular forms of entertainment today, like action movies, video games, and so on.”
“Purgatory is shown as an airport, filled with people on their way to different destinations. As they wait they are sleeping; dreaming. Their dreams are filled with images of their backgrounds,” he continues.
“And in paradise, the roles of master and slave are reversed. You see a boat full of Chinese cooks who begin to play golf; this also says something about the current geopolitical situation," he adds. “We provide the viewer with strong images that challenge the viewer’s understandings of the world.”
The first exhibit of AES+F’s careers that strummed up international controversy and put them on the map, dubbed “Islamic Project,” focused on Islamic fear in Western society. It featured altered images of famous landmarks combined with Islamic imagery. For example, the Parliament building and Big Ben in London were altered to look like Mosques.
One of their most famous images from this exhibit depicts a realistically altered Statue of Liberty wearing a Burka and holding a Koran. This project was shown in many countries in Europe and also in the US.
Before the events of September 11, 2001 the exhibit was perceived as a sort of bad joke. Afterwards, however, the work was seen as a prediction of the future. When the exhibit, as part of international group show “Veil,” came to the English town of Walsall in 2003, several images were censored by the city.
“The city council told to curators of this show (InIVA) that these images were not allowed. If we showed them, we would be closed down. Then through newspaper reports, the public began a conversation about censorship in the UK. It resulted in a high number of sales of t-shirts with this image.” Evgeny explained.
Even today the exhibit continues to be requested and featured at museums worldwide.
The four members of AES+F produce extremely unique forms of modern art not only via images and animation, but also sculptures. The subject of which usually leaves political correctness out the door.
One of the series of sculptures, entitled Angels-Demons (2009) is featured prominently outdoors. Produced from fiberglass, the largest of which stands six meters tall, on public display in St. Petersburg, Lille, St. Moritz, Pietrasanta, and Melbourne, these sculptures depict beings which are the combination of angels and demons.
Perhaps the most shocking of AES+F’s sculptures comes in the form of a series of small scale porcelain figures, created in 2008, which include graphic sexual imagery fueled by political events in an exhibit titled Europe-Europe. These include a neo-Nazi kissing a Turkish woman, a white male factory owner being groped by female Asian workers, and a riot policewoman exposing herself to an Arab teenager.
AES+F’s work is currently on display at the Venice Biennale, and next year is set to be sole feature at the Royal Academy of the Arts in London.
With these things in mind it’s no wonder that AES+F are considered to be some of the most important contemporary artists in the world today. With political unrest in Russia on the rise, and the recent aggressive censorship in the art world of Russia AES+F is looking elsewhere to exhibit their art. They want to feature their art more prominently in Israel, as two of the members hold Israeli citizenship. They’re even considering the establishment of a permanent building dedicated to video art. Any appreciator of contemporary art would benefit greatly if they did.