Fotograf Magazine


The name of this group is derived from the first letters of the surnames of three artists: Tatiana Arzamasova (b. 1955), Lev Evzovich (b. 1958) and E. Svyatsky (b. 1957). These three Muscovites of the middle generation started to work together as a group in 1987. Since the late    1980’s they have worked on conceptual projects. The initial outcome of their collaboration was primarily in the form of installations. In 1996 the group was joined by the fashion photographer Vladimir Fridkes (b. 1956), and from that moment photography presented in the form of photo- installation has become the main medium of the individual AES + F projects. Later, from 1998, the group also began to use video and multimedia more intensely.

The AES projects, since the beginning of their cooperation, are based on a shocking visual quality that portrays the human body and its parts in a startling context, in relation to its environment or situation. Corruption. Apotheoses. (1996), for example, shows men in suits pulling bare  and bloody intestines from under their well-pressed jackets and shirts; in Family Portrait in the Interior (1995) – a man and woman in suits suavely cut each other’s throats in the area of their vocal chords with scissors, thus revealing to the viewer the anatomy of their speech organs. These works, as well as some other photo-concepts realized between 1993 and 1999, can be described as visually controversial, raw, shocking, unambiguous, ironic, tough, straightforward, uncompromising, and revolting. They work with physicality, revealing the body’s vulnerability and impurity, bringing out a certain inadequacy in the contrast of the smooth and civilized presentation of the body as we are used to it from fashion magazines, television, advertising and so on. The titles of the projects also allude to other levels of meaning; however, it has to be said that the aggressive visual information often tends to destroy any subtler meanings. Thus these photographs serve mainly as a kind of subversion of the artificial image of physicality that is served to us daily, in glossy packaging, by the mass media. A photograph of a bald woman, with IVs and probes all over her body but dressed in an evening gown Defile, (2000–2001) tells us how little we are able to perceive the body for what it really is – vulnerable to illness, old age and death – instead of an idealized and aesthetic image of the body which has little to do with reality. It is precisely this deeply rooted illusion that AES ventures to shatter with their sharp use of counterpoint, often going beyond the limits of good taste to shatter the illusion, maya, into whose grasp we are slowly falling. Although at first we tend to laugh at an illusion, we may soon find that we have stopped laughing and are quite earnestly living out that illusion ourselves– and what is worse, we may find that we believe in it as though it were the only legitimate, unchanging reality. Although among AES strategies is the use of the most shocking and disgusting images in order to create this reaction, their efficiency cannot be denied.

I do, nevertheless admit, that I prefer another facet of AES work – work that is more subtle, intuitive, deeper, more ambiguous as well as more open, unfinished, more implicit and visually non-aggressive. Among such works we may list Suspects. Seven Sinners and Seven Righteous (1997–98), an installation that does not employ a sense of visual shock but instead works with the meaning of the title and the method of photographing. It creates a situation where the viewer is the one passing judgement, evaluating, condemning. The viewer becomes judge – based on the photographs, he or she is supposed to distinguish seven innocent girls from seven teenage murderers. All the girls are photographed in the same way, in neutral, unified en-face, making it impossible to presume guilt or innocence from such indifferent portraits. This way of communicating a message, more subtle and implicit, creates a more present reaction, and is more thought  provoking.

An uncompromising and ostentatious engagement, whether political or cultural, coupled with an aggressive visual aspect, has been since the beginning of 1990_s a well-tried PR strategy that allows one to rapidly transcend the limits of the micro-region and to export artistic activity onto an international platform. In this respect we should mention one of the more notorious AES + F works – a photo-mystification Islamic project (1996–1997, now reopened). The ikon of this project is the Statue of Liberty, whose face is covered by a burka and holding the Koran instead of the Declaration of Independence. The project was originally based on an exaggeration of the ideas of the American futurologist Samuel Huntington and his theory of the ‘clash of civilizations’. It consists of computer-manipulated views of key cities of Western civilization (Paris, New York, Moscow, Berlin, Rome, etc.) in the year 2006 – under the rule of Islam. Caravans travel across Central Park, a ruined Gothic cathedral in France is converted into a Mosque. However, the current international situation makes the original exaggeration seem less absurd and unreal than it would have seemed in 1996, turning it into a chilling prophetic vision.

Returning to the less ostentatious aspects of AES + F one should mention their King of the Forest, a series of projects realized in 2001 and 2002. ‘King of the Forest’ is the name of a mythological character appearing first in Germany as ‘Lord of the Elves’. The protagonist of the myth abducts comely children and surrounds himself with these infants in his sylvan palace, fascinated by their precocious charm. This mythical plot has been exploited a number of times, by such writers as J.W. Goethe or Michel Tournier, before AES + F decided to use it as basis for one of their more extensive works. The ‘King of the Forest’ series is in fact a chain of happenings that are supposed to take place in various countries – so far they have been realized in Russia and Egypt (France should come next). The first event, entitled ‘Le Roi des Aulnesa’ (based on the title of Michel Tournier’s novel) took place in the Throne Hall of Catherine II_ s palace in Tsarskoe Selo, near St. Petersburg. More than two hundred children between the ages of 3–5 and 11 were brought here from several specialized St. Petersburg sports and ballet schools, as well as modeling agencies. The children were deliberately given no instructions whatsoever as to what they should behave like. But the very presence of a video camera and a photo camera made these children – all trained and formed practically since infancy for work within the systems of advertising or top-performance sports – employ the forms of professional behavior they have been

In this case the theme of the mass media exploiting ever younger children via advertising, sports or modeling is treated rather as documentation of a situation, a state of being, without significantly manipulating it – the approach is based on observation and statement. Models, as well as sports and pop stars, are very young. The boom of ‘innocent aesthetics’ has been very visible in the last decade; one of the facts we come to realize when looking at the photographs of the children ‘naturally’ and easily striking poses in the golden cage of Catherine’s throne hall is that behind every child-star, behind every child’s face in an advertisement, there is the unique life of an individual child. There is a real child behind every advertisement, a fragile creature with his or her hopes and dreams of a beautiful world awaiting…and at such moments one is seized with anxiety…

The following part of the series is entitled More Than Paradise (2002), and was photographed in Mohammed Ali’s palace in Cairo. Again, there are over two hundred children of various ages – again there is the monumental architectural framework. The intention here, however, is different – to show the Islamic world not as a hostile, dangerous place, but instead to reveal its collective ritual aspect through the spontaneous behavior of They run about gamboling and frolicking in a hall built in the style of splendid traditional Islamic architecture, giving the viewer an inkling of a living, beautiful and at the same time mysterious rites of a culture different and unknown to us. Another aspect of AES + F can be glimpsed here – their interest in the Body in relationship to Architecture and Nature.

In static or dynamic form (still photography or video recording), AES projects reflect a wide range of contemporary problems, going across continents, civilizations, religious as well as political systems. The present introduction of the fifteen years of their activity is  far  from  comprehensive. I have omitted some projects altogether, and some I have mentioned only in passing. Among the benefits of the information era, however,  is the virtual Internet – AES + F being of those artists who make ample use of web presentation of their work. Further megabytes of    their work are thus available to us at their home pages:, as well as at With wishes of a fast   connection  and  a  strong stomach,

Simona Vladíková