AES+F frames time, power in theatre of the macabre, carnival of the absurd

Renowned Russian artist collective presenting two related works and concepts at KMB 2016

Kochi, March 10: If the sunken cheeks, unblinking eyes and stiff bodies were not convincing enough, the autopsy scars are, literally, a dead give-away. The ‘models’ on display at Aspinwall House are clearly in no state to appreciate the ballroom finery they are decked in. 

But it isn’t just pairing death and high fashion – or the futility of couture when confronted by mortality – that Russian artist collective AES+F intends with their photographic series ‘Défilé’. Their concern is linked to time and the ways people look to negotiate its march – dressing in the now to ward-off the inevitable. In a macabre fashion, it is a celebration of life and afterlife.

“Our concept was to invoke a sudden reaction in viewers on seeing decaying corpses dressed up in latest fashion attire, which asks disturbing questions about the triviality of human life and its aspirations. At the same time, we hope to impart an understanding of the circularity of life that makes death easier to contemplate,” said Evgeny Svyatsky, of AES+F.

The title borrows from the French phrase for fashion parade (défilé de mode), presenting life-size portraits of the corpses digitally draped in runway wear and arranged in poses found more on catwalks than in coffins. Adding to the out-of-place feel are the subjects themselves, who don’t look the sort to have indulged in fur jackets and silk shirts in life.

“Death leaves no beautiful corpses, rich or poor. Fashion trends are something that change with time and are followed religiously by some, but death comes for all. Ultimately, the clothes and obsession with luxury only serve to emphasise deadness,” Svyatsky said.

Playing with, even overturning, established structures and notions has long informed AES+F’s artistic practice. The four-member group has, over three decades, gained global recognition for thei monumental multimedia installations. It was formed in 1987 by conceptual architects Tatiana Arzamasova (A) and Lev Ezvovich (E) along with Svyatsky (S), a multidisciplinary designer, with fashion photographer Vladimir Fridkes (F) joining in 1995.

The conceptualisation of time is a common thread in the group’s production for Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016. Where Défilé is an attempt to portray time as much as a great leveller as a universal constant, the three-channel video art installation Inverso Mundus (World Upside Down) is a radical re-interpretation of its upheavals, about-turns and paradoxes.  

Drawing from 16th Century absurdist engravings, it depicts a parallel existence that is a mirror image of the contemporary world. Flying fish, rats and seals, pigs gutting butchers, a child punishing his teacher, a man carrying a donkey, men and women exchanging roles and dress, and a rag-picker giving alms to a rich man are some of the images in this alternate reality.


From a theatre of the macabre in Aspinwall to a carnival of the absurd in Anand Warehouse, the works capture the evolution and recession of power structures over time. From the direct correlation between the helplessness against, and fear of, mortality in Défilé to the cyclical gain and loss of power in Inverso Mundus. For Arzamasova, the two works reflect each other.

“As a woman I see change, women in many parts are gaining power. Who knows, in the future, a time will come when women will reign over men. It all hinges on how time changes things. As certain as our own deaths are, so too is it true that the oppressed will be one day be the oppressor,” Arzamasova said.


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