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March 2008, AES+F @ MACRO Future


AES+F/MACRO FUTURE
Last riot 2, Tondo #12
2007
d-150cm
digital collages, digital prints on canvas
Courtesy:AES+F, MAC (Moscow), Triumph Gallery (Moscow)  

AES+F, Il Paradiso Verde…
MACRO Future
Through April 27, 2008

Il Paradiso Verde…, AES+F’s first solo exhibit in Rome showcases the Russian collective’s trademark penchant for adolescent models in heavily photo-shopped, post-apocalyptic scenarios – as anyone who saw Last Riot, their popular film in the Russian Pavillion at the last Venice Biennale, could probably expect. The exhibit at MACRO’s Testaccio wing seems to have been curated in response to the intense interest provoked by their Venetian showing, focusing on the group’s projects on childhood and adolescence and omitting their lesser known work on islamophobia, ethnic fetishization, and the exploitation of migrant workers. Explaining the political critique behind the Russian collective’s fascination with youth is a warranted curatorial intervention, as their art has largely been framed and enjoyed as a glossy anthropology of childhood in the postmodern era. But for all their admirable Baudrillardian concerns, the exhibit also confirms that the strength of their art is ultimately complicit with the corporate design of global media they seek to satirize – backfiring parody which still has plenty to offer.

The show opens with the chilling Suspects. Seven Sinners and Seven Righteous, a departure from the fantasy dreamscapes associated with the Moscow-based collective, and one of the their most effective, conceptually-calibrated pieces. Fourteen portraits of young girls posing in front of neutral white backdrops are hung one after the other, the wall text revealing that half are serving sentences for violent murders while the rest are attending high school. Nothing indicates the murderers from the students, leading to a useless scrutiny of their pimples, smiles and outfits for traces of culpability. Suspects. clearly mocks the journalistic obsession to psychologize and over-interpret the inconsequential physical ticks and appearances of criminals and murderers, yet candidly points to how irresistible such overscrutiny can be; placing the viewer in the role of a witness before a line-up of suspects for crimes he never even saw happen.

AES+F/MACRO FUTURE
LR2, Tondo #23
2007
d-150cm
digital collages, digital prints on canvas
Courtesy:AES+F, MAC (Moscow), Triumph Gallery (Moscow)

The photographs magnify each girl’s physical idiosyncracies, yet the saturated colors, identical poses and serialized repetition of the photographic portraits efface their uniqueness, redoubling them as mere interchangeable signs of potentially malicious girlhood. Despite its obsession for individual stories of the sordid variety, global media has produced a strikingly flat and homogenous sense of the world – where one tawdry scandal is rapidly forgotten as soon as the newest teenage murder makes the headlines.


 AES+F/MACRO FUTURE, Last riot 2, The Bridge, 2006, (170x210cm)
 digital collages, digital prints on canvas
 Courtesy: AES+F, MAC (Moscow), Triumph Gallery (Moscow)

In their celebrated series of photographs Last Riot 2 and Action Half Life, AES+F adopt the conventions of fashion photography – explicit concepts, vague narratives, beautiful gamine models and the type of excessively pristine veneer of photoshop - to create a loose, iterating narrative of children and teenagers in endless combat with each other. Child warriors about to be clubbed in one panel are inexplicably victorious over their allies in the next, or narcissistically gazing at their reflections as others are mobbed nearby. Despite the doomsday scenarios, these photographs never feature violence or even death – destruction is continuously deferred through an endless supply of lives just like in a videogame.

While AES+F’s montages of warrior children share little stylistically with the ironically psychological portraiture of Seven Sinners, we nonetheless approach them in the same manner: not looking at these images so much as scanning them for references or data. The photographs are a pastiche of allusions, evoking Henry Darger’s outsider art, Benetton’s multi-ethnic models, outmoded videogames, David LaChapelle, child soldiers, paedophilia, Caravaggio and the drunken antics of Hollywood royalty. Through the lens of the media, the threat of armed conflict, global warming and nuclear annihilation risk being aestheticizied and dehistoricizied, prompting the artists to replicate the syntax of mass media to expose it from within.


 AES+F/MACRO FUTURE, Last riot 2, The Carrousel, 2007, (170x210cm)
 digital collages, digital prints on canvas
 Courtesy: AES+F, MAC (Moscow), Triumph Gallery (Moscow)

But rather than deconstruct the much-maligned tyranny of style, the resonance of these images is in their reconstruction and exaggeration of fashion photography’s and adolescence’s appeal to unconscious drives. As a conceptual practice, these photographs blur the boundaries between art and publicity, but their politics are overpowered by the glossy aesthetics and the almost grotesque perfection of the teenage models. The photographs satisfy fantasies of identification with the young models who, despite their practiced look of indifference, seem to be having as much irresponsible (and paid) fun as extras in a music video or Skins trailer. Last Riot, the film also shown in Venice, is the crowning achievement of the exhibit - a sweeping, baroque adaptation of their photographs; its hypnotic, mechanical sexiness and Wagnerian grandeur makes the conceptual lackness of its photographic counterparts almost irrelevant, even as it confirms what the artists’ fear most - the aestheticization of the apocalypse.

Website: MACRO Future

Iggy Cortez


Iggy Cortez is a researcher for the International Association of Art Critics and a freelance writer living in Rome.   thepalaceat4am@gmail.com

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