FAR AND NEAR (AESTHETICS AND ECOLOGY IN AHAE’S WORK)

Joseph Backstein / Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Moscow (ICA Moscow) Commissioner of the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art

Ahae’s works appear as a unique vision of the natural basis of human existence. His photographs would seem to provide the evidence: a forest, fields and meadows. But what actually unfolds before our eyes is a sort of metaphor for man’s ideal ecological environment.

There exist various levels of depiction. On an aesthetic level, he incessantly develops and transforms the “visual perspective” on the so-called reality that surrounds us and he reproduces the dialectic between “stability and change”. Stability is expressed in the fact that the person observing who reproduces the photographic fixation of the world – and this view ineluctably reaches the mind of the viewer – is always in the exact same position. This stability lends to the person looking at the photograph the unlikely and, philosophically speaking, ontological certainty and ability to see “the world as it is”, the world in its immutable essence.

Nonetheless, at the same time, this certainty represents the fixing of the constant changes which occur in the world, in particular in its underlying essence as natura viva. The immutability of his point-of-view offers Ahae the possibility of capturing and communicating the grandeur of nature, in particular when it manifests itself as the object of constant care and attempt to preserve its primordial essence.

And it is here that, once again, the “extra-temporality” of Ahae’s aesthetic approach is expressed. The images of the world with which he presents us could have existed centuries ago – the world has not changed. It has become more fragile and vulnerable, but all its beauty has been preserved. However, one must know how to see this beauty.

An important dimension of Ahae’s work is the ecological plane that is tied to the artist’s aesthetic and it is not completely independent of it. In fact, in the reality surrounding him, Ahae creates an “ideal ecological space”, but the term “ecological” only takes on concrete meaning when considered in relation to and in the light of the term “aesthetic” and not vice versa, as it could seem when it is held that the dignity of the “ecologically ideal environment” is sufficient in and of itself.

The viewpoint and “visual perspective” of the artist are different than the way a naturalist and/or an environmental activist sees nature and understands the environment. In addition, the polemical stance of the ecologist attains completion, perfection and validity only to the extent it is ontologically legitimized by the position and argumentation of the artist.

Ahae’s works attain further – and quite unexpected – significance when placed within the context of contemporary fine art photography. Taking as given that his works are technically perfect, it is evident that their failure to address the issues posed by the current debate around post-Modernist photographic approaches could perplex any photography historian.

But, drawing on the terminology utilized by Nicolas Bourriaud, it could be said that Ahae reproduces a version of “altermodern”, specifically a special “spatial perspective of time”. For contemporary culture as a whole, we have a characteristic situation in which “the more we are able to analyze the present, the less we require roots”.

One of the fundamental merits of Ahae’s work lies in the fact that in presenting himself to us, he attempts to counter this state of affairs. Ahae observes the “present” in such a way that, within his expressive system, it becomes “extra-temporal” and, at the same time, he insistently concentrates our attention on our own “roots”, “primitive nature” and man’s ideal ecological environment.

In essence, what we have here is an “iconography of nature” and, as in any sacred space, it forms its own iconostasis. But it is constructed in an absolutely democratic way, in the sense that every viewer has the right to construct his or her own hierarchy of subjects and situations.

In concluding, it should only be added that Ahae (to paraphrase Giorgio Agamben) offers us a “natural bare nudity of life” which nonetheless figures in the works of Ahae as the “source and bearer of rights”. The right to possess the “ideal ecological environment” and the right to a respectable existence in our globalized and contradictory world in which the “natural bare nudity of life” is subjected to constant experiments and a struggle for survival.

January 2012

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