Entertainment in its most advanced state is no longer supported by evasion but rather by the exploitation of extreme emotions. Bruce Bégout speculated about it in his novel Le Park, about an island transformed into a resort not suitable for mass tourism, in which visitors could satisfy their most perverse desires. Dungeons in casinos basements, dangerous jungles and neurobiological architecture contributed to fill their morbid thirst for spectacle.
The nouveau riche who participate in the Feast of Trimalchio (the literary character of Petronius’s Satyricon about an enriched and ostentatious slave) according to the contemporary version of AES+F collective (video installation, 2009-10), also enjoy in their island-resort of the encounter of artificial Eden (from exotic beaches to ski slopes), between golden pagodas and other exoticisms. But the subjugated nature and the handsome servants subordinated to their desires finally are rebelled, the first in the form of a tsunami and the latter by making their masters serve them.
The hedonistic ecstasy is gradually being eroded, between delicacies and soft caresses; a disturbing eroticism permeates everything, underlying violence remains under exquisite forms. At the end golf sticks become weapons for hotel employees, now multiracial hordes, and golf balls end up orbiting like satellites or galactic remains of an extinct civilization.
While in Le Park the mimetic desire of the visitors was exploited offering them the possibility of putting themselves in the terrorist shoes or taking delight of the others’ tortures, in the Feast of Trimalchio one feels similar suspension of reality, in which the exchange of roles seems to be part of a video game.
AES+F use a videographic technique based on the juxtaposition of thousands of photographs that give the figures a slightly syncopated movement, and by assembling pictures independently taken, each character seems to exist on his own layer of reality. This translates into automatism and alienation.
Video installations sometimes take up several walls, thereby increasing perceptive dislocation and baroque effect. Sometimes digital objects seems to jump out of the screen materializing as sculptures, like those Ikea furniture transformed by dominatrix women into torture devices for men who sin of excessive beauty (Inverso Mundus, 2015).
AES+F find their inspiration in medieval worldviews in which apocalyptic delirium and propensity to the miraculous coexist. Thus, in their allegories of the twenty-first century, the chimeras hover among survivors of a grotesque human park, mutant babies announce a new era, St. Paul reincarnates in police and the unshakable faith of Job propitiates miracles of a new religion, biotechnology.
Q- The liminal spaces in which you pay attention would correspond in a certain way to those non-places Marc Augé spoke about: airports, resorts … Transit places, where everything is suspended and everything can happen. Do we live in a perpetual limbo?
First of all, contemporary life isn’t determined to be real or virtual. Battles and violence take place in video games and movies – a very well developed virtual space. But reality is presented to us in that same virtual format – that of entertainment. We lose the sense of reality and its interpretation. We stop believing facts, or we start believing virtual images. We can’t determine facts for ourselves, so we are forced to believe the media. In the more literal sense, Allegoria Sacra is a metaphor for the contemporary ambiguity between real and virtual, place and non-place.
Q- As a contemporary Dante, you transform these non-places of the global world into purgatories (in which souls await their next flight), artificial paradises (multimillionaire’s islands) and warlike hells. I would say that your works favor the three “senses” of reading that theologians required to the medieval Catholics: a first literal reading (a sensorial approach), a second metaphorical sense, and a third spiritual or philosophical.
That’s a very beautiful idea – indeed a very flattering one. We think that it coincides with what we try to do in our work. We like to accentuate some medieval details or ideas that we see in contemporary life. They’re not exactly the same, of course, but they are very similar. For example, the medieval chimeras are represented as these genetic experiments who have become loveable pets. We always liked working with the literal, or the visual surface, and all sorts of ambiguous associations that can hide beneath it. Those who are capable of seeing beyond the surface, discover all sorts of different meanings and interpretations. Sometimes they are surprising even for us.
Q- Your projects tend to make visible fears deeply rooted in the collective subconscious, as well as the schemes used to combat these fears: the idea of the apocalypse (Last Riot, 2005-07), the taboo of death (Défilé 2000-07), the demonization of the Other (Islamic Project 1996-2003) … If formerly magical thinking or God was used to alleviate anguish over the finiteness of life, now, with the invasion of the simulacrum, do the virtual universes perpetuate the promise of the hereafter?
We think so. Even if it’s just an idea for now, it is among those that seem very realistic right now. It’s a very attractive idea that may be physically impossible, but it is definitely becoming a tenet of some secular quasi-religion. It has its own gurus/priests, organizations/sects, etc. We even illustrated this idea in Last Riot, where heroic youths battle indefinitely, yet spill no blood, do not age, or die. In a video game, even when you die, you can always start over.
Q- Today’s children have little childhood, they are “cannon fodder” of corporate interests. The title King of the forest (2001-03) could refer to the ogre figure as an allegory of a society that swallow childhood? A pedophile society, misleadingly protective, as described by Michel Tournier in Le Roi des Aulnes, that giant whose excessive love for kids results in infanticide.
Yes, but children aren’t just victims. At which point do children become members of society, vying for money, and influence? Contemporary children have ambivalent roles, as victims and as participants or beneficiaries. Children can become famous athletes, actors at a very young age. In the technology sector, the prime age group keeps getting younger and younger.
Q- In Inverso Mundus you show the reverse of power relations, but the hierarchical inversion and the continuous change of roles between victim and oppressor also occurs in The Feast of Trimalchio. People change their place in the hierarchy but this is maintained: everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same, as Lampedusa said. Could we live without exploiting or being exploited?
Our work asks that very question. We don’t know the answer, but that’s why it’s so interesting for us and why we return to it in many of our projects.
Q- Bégout said that Le Park was a utopia of denial, which, unlike dystopia (denial of utopia), “would be defined as a utopia that uses human negativity (violence, competition, hostility, horror…) to make the spectacle a form of social organization”. I would say that your parables without a moral fit with this definition. Wouldn’t you?
Yes, definitely so. We release ourselves from responsibility, as is the privilege of the artist, and transfer the moral obligation to the viewer. We create the spectacle, leaving the viewers to make their own moral judgments.
Interview by Anna Adell
AES+F. THE FEAST OF TRIMALCHIO
can be visited in Es Baluard, Museu d’Art Modern i Contemporani de Palma
Until September 17th, 2017
Curator: Nekane Aramburu