Installation view, Turandot 2070, Jeonnam Museum of Art, 2021

Photo Jung Me Chai

©월간미술 Wolganmisool monthly art magazine/ Aug 2021


Interview with AES+F

Jung Me Chai 


You are working as the collective AES+F in Moscow and Berlin. How do you manage to work together? Where and how does the process begin for you?

We are organized similarly as a film production company, with similar roles but with no hierarchy. Each project comes out of an idea which is born out of a chaotic discussion among ourselves when we are in the field of some problems. We don’t have a specific method – we live in a constant and chaotic process of birthing ideas. All the ideas, in turn, are influenced mainly by the media stream.

How did your practice change over the years?

We belong to a generation that is witness to and responsible for the most recent technological revolution. Our practice evolved along with technology, beginning with painting and installation and going through all the various new media.

Much of the different lives in your works seem based on ambiguity and artificiality. So how does it work together?

We live in a time of artificial constructs and false ideologies. It is the idiosyncrasy of our time – the coexistence of contradictory, ambiguous, and synthetic beliefs. We believe that contemporary art cannot be called contemporary if it doesn’t in some way reflects this paradigm.

Compositing portraits in (non)existent fantasy backgrounds and circumstances is exceptionally provocative and offensive. For instance, Islamic Project in 1996 and many other works. Why?

We often use the grotesque, like in psychoanalysis. The intention is not to be offensive but to reflect the viewer’s own fears and prejudices back to her or him in order to allow them to overcome them, usually with humour and irony.

Mythology, hyperrealism and historicism meet in various levels of an apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic world. Is that AES+F’s leading visual and narrative conventions, or something else?

We do like to work at the intersection of archetypal mythology, historicism, and contemporary reality, but we don’t reflect on the apocalypse that often. It is more about utopia and dystopic futures than about a specific event, although the apocalypse is certainly a potentiality in any future. Although we aren’t futurists in a traditional sense, in that, we don’t try to imagine a utopic future that is radically different from the present; instead, we look deeply into the present to find different futures. 

Your recent production, Turandot 2070, was first a collaborative opera work performed at Teatro Massimo in Italy. Can you please tell us about the concept of Turandot 2070? Would this piece work in a non-opera setup such as an exhibition?

The video set wasn’t conceived as an illustration of the opera’s libretto. We sublimate the text in order to create a surrealistic parallel – a stand-alone artwork. To further differentiate the set from the video installation, we asked a composer, Vladimir Rannev, to reinterpret the original composition in a similar way. In this way, the work considers the contemporary problems of China’s threat to the West, female revenge, and authoritarian use of technology through the prism of Turandot’s story.

“Allegoria Sacra” takes everything in an airport, but the “Allegoria Sacra-Airport ” does not seem to work as the usual notion of an airport. It is almost like one of my nightmares. Is it a tech version of Purgatory?

The airport is our metaphor for Purgatory. Representatives of all mythologies and cultures find themselves in one transitory place and interact with one another – it’s an allegory of the contemporary world. If you follow the narrative closely, you see that they all go to sleep one after another and meet in each other’s dreams. In the contemporary world, where everything exists side-by-side simultaneously in flattening virtuality, the reality is very similar to a dream or a nightmare, isn’t it? In a dream, you would also often find things which have no connection to one another coexisting without seeming out of place.

It took me some time to figure out that your video works are animated photography. Are reasons not to use conventional cinematic techniques?

To achieve the feeling of alienation. This technique gives us a very unnatural sharpness and aberrant motion, which gives that effect. It is almost like puppetry or digital choreography.

Actors or models in your works have physically stunning bodies and beautiful appearances no matter their ages, gender, and races; they almost look like robots or humanoids. Why?

You’re right, except we are not interested in models that are beautiful per se, but in those that represent certain social modalities. All the characters are simultaneously alienated from one another and hyper-performative. The idea is to strip them of personality and have them embody a social role or perform an artificial behaviour, quite like robots, as you pointed out.


All state of animal-human-animal chimaeras exists in “Inverso Mundus”. Is Transformation a keyword, or what is the conceptual thought behind this?

Chimeras represent unrealized or impossible, even contradictory, ideas. It is a metaphor for contemporary multi-identity, when people carry within themselves various and often times contrary ideas. 

What makes something art?

Most people look but do not see. Art is what allows them to see whatever it is that they usually don’t.

What comes next?

We are thinking about a new big project in our favourite way – combining mythology with hyper-contemporaneity.