A Russian Sensation

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20th Sep 2008

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AES+F's "The last Riot 2: Tondo 19"
With dozens of pavilions, oodles of artists and politics galore, it can be tough to pick the stars of a show as large as the 52nd Venice Biennale, especially by any measurable standard.  With that said, several artists stand tall, and the first among these is AES+F, a collaborative Russian group featured in the Russian National Pavilion and represented by Claire Oliver in New York.

You may have trouble pronouncing the names, but Tatiana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovich, Evgeny Svyatsky and Vladimir Fridkes have single-handedly created a new aesthetic, combining old photographic techniques with video stills and computer simulation to capture something new, a taste of the next decade before it arrives.

'last riot', a 22 minute video triptych piece and accompanying suite of images and sculpture, alternates between struggling global youth and an abstract historical narrative that is both disturbing and enthralling – it is a slow motion accident of sorts, laced in pure sexual tension and bound in domination.  Little symbols abound, from an inquisitive monitor lizard (surveillance, clever!) to the space race (politics) to a volcano framed by two airplanes (recent events). Together they evoke a dream-like scenario story devoid of reality leading up to one conclusion – we live in a single world of conflict, and post national Russia leads this beautiful and distopian cultural monologue.

'last riot' is not their first story told in video stills, but it is a leadership piece and will find imitators in the branding world – the way it presents people and ideas is fresh and resonant and very anti-brand - which will make it popular, and thus, ironically attractive to brands.  It is also a triumph for Russia – no longer a consumer of contemporary but a leader of its new direction, which reflects the broader (unrelated) investments by Robert Store and Monsieur Francois Pinault in their support of Source – a development home for the wider Russian art community which has helped to till fertile ground for such creativity.

Various dealers grumble at the "newness" of AES+F (dating from 1987), poo-pooing the idea that such new work can already fetch a rumored $130,000 for the three copies (plus 1 artist proof). They dismiss its importance -  yet 'last riot'  remains on many lips, the viewing room is packed, and the video – big, brash, sexual, triumphant and surreal, speaks for itself.  It's brilliant.