Opera by Giacomo Puccini,
set design, costumes
1-channel, 3-channel (42'12"), and 8-channel (35'56") video installations,
series of stills, series of three 1-channel videos with custom code on blockchain (in progress)
Turandot 2070, Trailer, 1m20s
Turandot is an early “globalized” fable, in which, however, ethnicities and nationalities have relatively little bearing on the presentation of a fantastic, abstractly far-away world. Originally depicted as a Slavic princess by twelfth-century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi in his Haft Peykar (1197), Turandot became Chinese in a later manifestation of the story in 18th Century by the Italian playwright Carlo Gozzi. When in 2019 the Teatro Massimo in Palermo staged a new production of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot*, the libretto for which was closely based on Gozzi’s Orientalist play, they commissioned AES+F to do the art direction for the performance. The result was an opera that kept the Chinese setting but boldly shed its Orientalist past, transporting the viewer into a dystopian high-tech future where Beijing is the capital of a global totalitarian empire ruled by a techno-feminist matriarchy with princess Turandot at the helm. Directed by Fabio Cherstich, Turandot was subsequently performed in Bologna’s Teatro Comunale and at the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe. The set design that the artists created then became the basis for Turandot 2070, the video installations and prints that followed, with a contemporary soundtrack composed by Vladimir Rannev which distantly echoes Puccini.
Turandot 2070 considers the contemporary problematics of China’s threat to the West, the #MeToo movement, cancel culture, and authoritarian use of technology through the prism of Turandot’s story. It departs from the narrative in the opera’s libretto, extracting only its overarching theme of female vengeance as the most pervasive irrational fear of the global patriarchy. Translucent robots with forms resembling both the phallic and the feminine systematically torture and execute men with their many appendages, in revenge for the harassment and rape of princess Turandot’s ancestors. Turandot herself appears to the masses in the form of her many chimeric avatars that emerge from a Dragon Palace sailing above the city. Her constituency is a confused and repressed people whose displays of affection for the princess border on hysteria and mass hallucination. The landscape in the video depicts a sprawling city composed of colorful yet homogeneous biomorphic architecture, with all the properties of a futuristic metropolis one might expect to see in the year 2070.
The work highlights a myriad of today’s most pressing issues by exploring a possible future dominated by a grotesque totalitarian social system, whose rise is attributed directly to contemporary events, and which in itself constitutes an analysis of Western society’s fear for the rapid advance and expanding influence of China. The final scene in the video, titled “Paradise,” depicts a utopian and equally hyperbolized transformation of this futuristic society where everyone, stripped to nothing but pastel-colored underwear, cannot but engage in acts of tenderness toward one another with no regard for physical differences.
The video installation was first shown in 2021 at the Jeonnam Museum of Art in South Korea, followed by the Loop Festival of Video Art in Barcelona, Spain and The First International Biennale «Art for the Future» at MAMM, Moscow, Russia the same year.
* Co-production of the opera: Teatro Massimo, Palermo; Teatro Comunale, Bologna; Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe; Lakhta Center, St. Petersburg. Director: Fabio Cherstich