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February 4 2009 4 04 /02 /February /2009 13:40

“If only your parents
Wanted to live on our island
Everything would be happier
And life would be easier for everyone”

L’île aux enfants – Christophe Izard

Well, it depends on the island you are invited to.... AES+F’s children island is closer to the Okishima island from Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku, 2000) than Casimir one. The emblematic work of the Russian artists group, children playing, acting dramatically realistic warriors on a 3D background is a relevant parabola of actual social and international relationships. It is connected to the Japanese drama and finally, to the children island stuff too.... 

Some commonplaces are ingrained. Every body stopped on a given pose inevitably refers to the antic statuary and Greek in particular (more precisely to the classic period for the pernickety-minded person). Xavier Veilhan’s statues (even if he plays with that too, all fussiness spirits are not of bad faith) would remind Praxiteles, Phidias & Co., as the children cut short of AES+F would be direct descendants of the Tyrannoctones group or Laocoon (yes, Hellenistic period...). Ok. But no. The statuary evolved, like painting or photography, and there is no need to come back to (dead) ancestors and (mortified) references to justify the quality (or not) of a piece. The main common point between AES+F works and the great antic statuary is undoubtedly their contemporary links to described events and their implication on the social and politic field of their time. Art was not neutral: it is still not.  

But come back to our island. An island as big as our world. Children involved in a fight without winners or losers, without blood, tears or screams, mime a fighting of silence, a factice and choreographed struggle. Maybe they are only playing? That’s the most disturbing part. Following the example of cinema, AES+F creates a virtual world, frightening but relieved of documentary implication. Closer to Marithé & François Girbaud or Calvin Klein ads than military confrontations images (we do not mention the ones of Gaza invasion... nothing to see!), broadcasted on a, not immediate because media covered, reality, on TV screens. But, as in Battle Royale, the decision to put children on murderers posture alarms. It could be interesting (but long) to analyze troubles, given place, evolution and status of child on our structured modern societies and its obligatory mirrored return to art field. Christian Boltanski appears as an obvious reference when we talk about, often dark, childhood. "The King of the Forest "series by AES+F offers the world as a playground to children, cruel or lost (as their paradise), imperious or orphans, worried or sad, like the vague look of (artistic) children of Boltanski. On "Suspects" (1997), AES+F mixes 7 neutral photographs of pre-teens murderers with 7 innocents and (involuntarily?) updates the piece Images d’une année de faits divers (1972-73) by Boltanski: 408 photographs incorporating murderers and victims on an unsettling but salutary lack of differentiation. 

The warriors of Action half life simulate fight on “virtual reality” (if this tarnished expression means something) backgrounds, between future taking shape, innocent video game and demoniac present. Because present is now on AES+F works. Europe-Europe porcelains show incestuous loves of political, economics, moral opponents (Neo-nazi and Turkish girl, policewoman and Arab boy, Tourist and Thai children, Businesswoman and Gastarbeiter...) on a bitter and violent critic of our social gangrene. On Islamic Project, the group redecorates occidental monuments on an Islamic way, asking to Occident to face its greatest fear... If political involvements of the Russian artists question, do we have to interpret them as linked to their Russian conscience (South Ossetia, Tchetchenia, Georgia...) or are we going too far? Are they trails to follow? 

We can notice that, from zombies with extracted guts on Corruption.Apotheosis or Family portrait in the interior, to corpses dressed up with luxury clothes on Defile, to stopped and smoothed images on Last Riot, AES+F operated on body and death visual themes an evolution to sobriety, going back time and fight finals backwards. If blood disappeared, violence became interior, underground, silent, and problably more deeply moving. The actors, younger, do not let us hopes to a possible future. Even kids kill each other. So, Christophe Izard is probably right: it would be easier if parents come live, and die, on this island...

By Benjamin Bianciotto

[Picture : AES+F, Islamic Project: New Liberty, 2003. Lambda print. Courtesy: AES+F & Art Statements Gallery, Hong Kong]

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