Fantasy Island: AES+F in the BoS

Posted on July 10, 2010

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AES+F, The Feast of Trimalchio, 2009 (video still), nine-channel video installation, 19 mins. Courtesy the artists, Triumph Gallery, Moscow; and Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow.

In the spirit of The Post Post, where all the news is old news, I finally made it to Cockatoo Island with less than a month to spare. Numerous people, from friends and acquaintances to respected Sydney gallery directors, had told me that the AES+F video was the highlight of the island, if not the entire Biennale of Sydney,  so I tracked it down with high hopes.

Mistake number one. It is always better to approach an artwork (or anything life throws your way) with low expectations; a pleasant surprise is much more likely this way. Now don’t get me wrong, AES+F’s video, The Feast of Trimalchio, is impressive. In fact, with 3 parts screening simultaneously across 9 massive screens arranged in 360 degrees, it’s something of a cinematic spectacle: super slick and super luxe.

With a fantastical island and a cast of fabulous nobodies indulging in endless decadence, I was going to say it’s like Second Life with extras, but I gather that the online alternative reality actually has a flourishing and lucrative flesh-market: digital extras a go go go.

The Feast of Trimalchio is more like Second Life with superb production values and way better looking avatars. Whatever your predilection: young, old, male, female, there really is someone here for everyone’s fantasy, from skinny red headed boys and African chiefs fairly oozing testosterone to Naomi Campbell look-alikes and more ice-cold Nordic princesses than you can poke a stick at. And no matter what their age, gender, race or socioeconomic class, they are all drop dead gorgeous.

And while the Second Lifers are getting it on left, right and centre, the horny beauties in AES+F’s flick are constantly lunging towards each other with languid, yet bizarrely syncopated, moves, but they never quite make contact. It’s like soft porn for psychiatrists obsessed with the endless deferral of desire. Anticipation being the greater part and all that.

Not being fan of soft porn in general, I found it a bit tedious. I don’t want to spoil the dramatic dénouement (if you haven’t already seen it) but it came as a relief when it all went pear-shaped in the end. And this is meant to be the point. The Feast of Trimalchio is pitched as a critique of rampant consumerism, an expose on sex tourism to third world countries where the rich lust after the exotic bodies of the poor. Yet the artwork is so lush and so seductive it reads more like an enticing advertisement than a damning indictment.

The Biennale of Sydney is on until August 1, 2010. Seven venues in Sydney. Free.

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Posted in: The Ugly