AES+F: Allegoria Sacra

Published to News on May 18, 2017

Allegoria Sacra

Third part of The Liminal Space Trilogy


HD video installation (3- channel version), 39’’


2015 - “PINO PASCALI AWARD 2015”, Foundation Pino Pascali, Italy.

2014 - “NORDART FESTIVAL 2014”, Main Award, Germany.

2012 - “KANDINSKY PRIZE 2012”, Main Award – Project of the Year, Russia.

2011 - “SERGEY KURYOKHIN AWARD 2011”, Russia.

Allegoria Sacra still #3-1-11, 2011, still from 1-channel video, c-print on Fine Art Barite paper, 32 x 57 cm, limited edition of 10


Giovanni Bellini’s Allegoria Sacra (Sacred Allegory) hangs in the Uffizi in Florence. The subject of this painting is a mystery to art historians. The earliest figures of Christian and ancient mythology are gathered together on a balustrade by a sea or a wide river, surrounded by hills on which can be seen, in the distance, village huts and a palazzo. St. Sebastian, the Madonna, a centaur, small children playing by a tree in the center, a Saracen-Muslim, a man somewhat like the Apostle Paul with a sword in his hand, in the background a peasant with a mule, two beautiful ladies one of whom is St. Catherine, a naked old man reminiscent of Job – this is a far from a complete list of the heroes who Bellini brought together in this picture.

One interpretation of this painting is that it showed Purgatory, where the souls of the righteous, of virtuous pagans and of unchristened children await their fate – heaven or hell.

This painting has always intrigued us. When we started to think of a third project after Last Riot and The Feast of Trimalchio, shown at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and 2009 respectively, we decided that the mysterious image of the Allegoria Sacra was in keeping with our view of the modern world.

We see Bellini’s heroes in those passengers who meet accidentally while awaiting their flights at international airports. The feelings of being cut off from one’s life and of the as yet unachieved aim of traveling from one world to another are familiar to the majority of those who fly, whether with large or small airlines. We become part of a special club of people who are united by the condition of a body and soul located between the abandoned and the not yet found. Together, i.e. simultaneously, we listen to the flight announcements, watch the flight board with its changing tableau of figures and cities, try to focus on the newspaper, on an SMS or the internet, or simply on the advertisements on the airport monitors. But everyone is wrapped up in himself and it is this, which unites us. There is, perhaps, one more thing we have available and which somehow links us during this interval in time – we look at each other, having never seen one other before and being unlikely to do so again.

Allegoria Sacra still #3-1-09, 2011, still from 1-channel video, c-print on Fine Art Barite paper, 32 x 57 cm, limited edition of 10

The airport is Purgatory. Only there does one understand that the knowledge of one’s ‘tomorrow’ is a total illusion. We imagine the airport as a space where reality transforms itself – it gets covered with snow, which alters the interior and then melts, the runway turns in to the river Styx as in Bellini’s painting, airplanes become ancient, mystic craft. The lightboxes in Duty Free live a life of their own, showing pictures of heaven. In our new project, Allegoria Sacra, we wish to retain Bellini’s metaphorical heroes using the image of modern-day people from various countries and cultures. At the same time we believe that the airport space can include such mythological personalities as the centaur, who we imagine in his literal embodiment. Or the Indian elephant-god Ganesha, with the features of a coffee machine. Even the various companies’ planes may take on the image of ancient gods like the eastern dragon.

The allegorical heroes of the painting can be seen in those awaiting their flights. The Saracen turns in to a group of transit passengers from Darfur or Peshawar. Sebastian is a young traveler from the exotic countries of the south, naked to the waist and barefoot, having not yet changed his shorts for jeans. Job is represented as an elderly patient being transported on a hi-tech stretcher and covered with tubes, indicators and monitors, who becomes younger before our very eyes and turns in to a magical mutant-baby. A policeman of Biblical appearance carries a sword alongside the more traditional equipment, like Paul. The stewardesses, angels from a new heaven, appear on fantastic flying machines like the cabin crew in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and start to serve passengers.

The film follows in part the reality of airport life. As well as experiencing the usual crowds of passengers we witness the location and destruction of an unidentified piece of luggage, a fight between migrants, the emergency services helping a patient. Alongside everyday reality we see a whole range of mystical transformations of this world, from a jungle with exotic tribes to an underwater kingdom, then to a snow field which melts to form the river Styx, flowing to the horizon in to an endless sea in the direction which the passengers will eventually fly, their planes becoming mystical craft.

Allegoria Sacra, Still #3-3-11, 2011, still from 3-channel video, c-print on Fine Art Barite paper, 20 x 106.7 cm, limited edition of 10


Short Biography

AES+F achieved worldwide recognition and acclaim in the Russian Pavilion at the 52nd Biennale di Venezia in 2007 with their provocative, other-worldly Last Riot (2007), the first in a trio of large-scale, multichannel video installations of striking originality that have come to define both the AES+F aesthetic and the cutting edge of the medium’s capacities. The second of the series, The Feast of Trimalchio (2009), appeared in Venice in 2009, and the third, Allegoria Sacra (2011), debuted at the 4th Moscow Biennale in 2011. United as The Liminal Space Trilogy, this tour-de-force series was premiered in September 2012 at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, and the Moscow Manege, the central exhibition hall of the artists’ home city. The Trilogy was shown in the Museum of Fine Arts in La Chaux-De-Fonds, Switzerland (June–September 2014). Most recently all three videos were shown at Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY (June-September 2015). In 2015 AES+F presented the new project Inverso Mundus at 56th Biennale di Venezia. AES+F received Sergey Kuryokhin Award 2011, the main award of the Kandinsky Prize 2012, the main award of the NordArt Festival 2014, and Pino Pascali Prize 2015 (18th Edition) – all for the project Allegoria Sacra. AES+F were awarded Bronze Medal (2005) and Golden Medal (2013) of Russian National Academy of Fine Arts.

AES Group was originally formed in 1987 by the conceptual architects Tatiana Arzamasova and Lev Evzovich and the multidisciplinary designer Evgeny Svyatsky. Exhibiting abroad from 1989, the group expanded its personnel and name with the addition of the photographer Vladimir Fridkes in 1995. AES+F’s recent work has developed at the intersection of photography, video and digital technologies, although it is nurtured by a persistent interest in more traditional media — sculpture especially, but also painting, drawing and architecture. Deploying a sophisticated, poetic dialogue among these media, and plumbing the depths of art history and other cultural canons, AES+F’s grand visual narratives explore the values, vices and conflicts of contemporary culture in the global sphere.

By now the subject of almost 100 solo exhibitions at museums, exhibition spaces and commercial galleries worldwide, works by AES+F have been shown in such prestigious venues as the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, ZKM (Karlsruhe), Casino Luxembourg, Kiasma (Helsinki), the Moderna Museet (Stockholm), Tate Britain (London), Institute of International Visual Arts (Iniva, various UK venues), the Passage De Retz (Paris), the Vanhaerents Art Collection (Brussels), MACRO Future (Rome), the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (Madrid), the State Russian Museum (St Petersburg), the Museum of Fine Arts (La Chaux-de-Fonds) and many others. Among the important European institutions collecting their works are the Moderna Museet (Stockholm), the Sammlung Goetz (Munich), the Neue Galerie Graz, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (Paris) and the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris). Works by AES+F are also presented in Australian public collections at AGSA / Art Gallery of South Australia (Adelaide) and MONA (Tasmania). Their works are also found in the foremost collections of Russia, including the Multimedia Art Museum Moscow, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, the State Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow) and the State Russian Museum (St Petersburg).


Was born in 1955, graduated from Moscow Architectural Institute (MARCHI) – State Academy in 1978. Lives and works in Moscow.

Was occupied in conceptual architecture. Award winner «Grand-Prix» of a jointly OISTT and UNESCO competition «Theater of Future».

Participated in conceptual architecture exhibitions in London, Paris, Venice.


Was born in 1958, graduated from Moscow Architectural Institute (MARCHI) – State Academy in 1982. Lives and works in Moscow.

Was occupied in conceptual architecture. The prizewinner of the OISTT competition «The Tour Theatre» in Stockholm. Participated in conceptual architecture exhibitions in Milan, Frankfurt-on-Main, Paris.

Worked as art director in animation film (6 films), as director in puppet animation film. Also worked as art director in film «Sunset» (live action, «Mosfilm» studio).


Was born in 1957, graduated from Moscow University of Printing Arts (department of the book graphic arts) in 1980. Lives and works in Moscow.

Was occupied with book and advertising design, poster and graphic art. Participated in international poster competitions, exhibitions of book illustration and design, graphic art.

Worked as creative director in few publishing houses in Moscow («Otkryty Mir» and «Intersignal»)


Born in Moscow in 1956, lives and works in Moscow.

Works as a photographer of fashion. Published in magazines: VOGUE, Harper»s Bazaar, ELLE, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Sunday Times Style and others.

Artists united as AES group in 1987. Vladimir FRIDKES joined AES group in 1995. Group changed name to AES+F.

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