09/17/2007 11:07 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Istanbul Art Biennial

An art event for these times, Istanbul's tenth international art Biennial has just kicked off and will run through Nov. 4. Curated by Chinese-born globetrotter Hou Hanru, it bears the optimistic title:

"Not Only Possible But also Necessary, Optimism in the Age of Global War."

Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. My girlfriend Anya says it sounds like a piece of bad translation.

But the art is indeed global, and optimistic, in the way lively, direct, sassy pop-political work is.

Even sensational at times.

Chief sensation for me so far has been a "cool war-kids" work by the Moscow foursome AES + F, at a site called Entre-polis, a former warehouse (or some such) in the harbor district of Karakoy, next to new Istanbul Modern Museum of Art, across the waters of the Golden Horn from the ageless profiles of Aya Sofia and Topkapi. (This Biennal is spread across various sites in the city, featuring reuses of big industrial buildings.)

AES +F 's work is called Last Riot and Last Riot 2 - a pair of pseudo epic photomontages that work dark dark dark satire on pop glamorizing and war. Heroin-chic fashion kids desport in affectless frozen tableaus of limb-hacking brutality, with all accessories--designer sneakers, cool belts, gleaming swords and shiny clubs--acutely highlighted. Benetton, Calvin Klein, and American Apparel set up a photo shoot in Guernica, in Hieronymos Bosh country...where rats hump by still-life flowers.....and cool-clad youths off others and themselves with blank faces.

Leave it to Russians to work up such thrilling, charged stuff. Thirty years ago Russia gave us Komar and Melamid pop-riffing on Soviet icons. Now AES + F (all in their fifties) go riffing, in their words, on "this new world [where] the real wars look like a game on where inhabitants lose their sex, and become closer to angels.... The heroes of new epos have only one identity, the identity of the rebel of last riot. The last riot , where all are fighting against all and against themselves, where no difference exists any more between victim and aggressor, male and female. This world celebrates the end of ideology, history and ethic."

Please note is the official online game website of the US Army.

Please note a more genial, cheeky slap at things martial at Entre-polis, in the Kama Sutra-gets-weaponized sculptures of Hamra Abbas, who a 31-year old Kuwaiti female artist living in Pakistan. Her "Lessons in Love" are based on Indian miniature paintings (of indeed the Kama Sutra). The three colorful anatomically semi-explicit pieces on display have a Jeff Koonsy cheeriness. Friendly stuff in global war times..

Thanks to, where this piece first appeared on my blog BrainFlakes.