Commercialism and Fine Art

Austria-born Clemens Ascher uses abstraction and reduction to strip down reality and reveal the simplistic beauty of situations, structures and landscapes. His aesthetic is clean and graphic, distinctly elegant and, most of all, human. In conversation with Aesthetica, Ascher discusses his newest series, The Red Drink.

A: What inspired your latest series and how did you begin to compose the styling, colours and figures within the series?
CA: I researched a lot about symbols and that actually led me to the idea of The Red Drink. Creating a symbol for the powers that influence and control us the most these days.

I wanted to make it the strongest possible – a red drink – performing a nearly religious act of swallowing the mighty power (drinking your enemy’s blood – something like a pagan ritual.) Everything  derives directly from the concept- meaning the people represent the different actors within our society – the styling helps to tell their story – and the sets are obviously constructed and nearly stage like, (to emphasis the representational character of the series.)

Because these pictures also act as a kind of asset library for the advertising of the actual drink I use the tools of corporate communication and throughout the process I precisely followed my conceptual script.

A: What is the significance of the “Red Drink” to you and how do the photographs reflect this?
The main topic in my work generally is control and this time I decided to not only reflect upon it in my photographs, but to actually perform it, and use photography as the main tool.

So I decided to bring The Red Drink to life – as a real /physical product – in an art context. Like a “normal” global beverage brand – or even, any brand – I’m creating a world around the product which fills it with life and emotion. But unlike other brands the world of The Red Drink maybe isn’t just as flawless and super happy.

Like real life it is ambivalent. So it is up to the viewer/consumer to descide between good and bad. As a kind of first experiment I’ve introduced the drink at a solo exhibition in Vienna /Austria. That worked really well – and the next step will be to go more international in 2017 and also bring it to the UK.

A: How does metaphor materialise in the photographs?
 “The Drink” is a symbol and everything else that appears in the series functions as a symbol. So that means I try to charge an item with meaning by giving it special attention. But I’m more interested in the metaphor and how to best create it best . The viewer decides what exactly it stands for. I think people are very well aware of most problems and just need to be inspired to think about them.

A: How do you think that the series responds to the notion of a globalised world, do the narratives attempt to tackle this in any way?
CA: I think the globalised world is an integral aspect of the entire project and as stated before the narrative tries to hint a few things and maybe kick off a thought process about what’s happening around us.

A: In what way are you trying to reflect on the notion of advertising and branded content in juxtaposition with fine art?
CA: I’m trying to re-enact the entire commercial process within a fine art context. From the actual product to creating a desire for it and a world around it – and finally selling it – but as an art piece. And what we are seeing here is the first chapter in this project.

A: Which came first in terms of putting these images together: form or content?
CA: Content.

A: How does the series compare stylistically to your other series, including In the Garden, which was featured in our 2016 June / July issue?
I guess they’re all part of my oeuvre. All my projects explore the same underlying topic , which is control. But since the style of my projects always results from and is an actual part of the concept, it can vary quite a bit – but I guess I can’t hide my personal photographic style and certain stylistic preferences.

See more images from the series:

Ascher appeared in Issue 71 of Aesthetica Magazine, published in June / July 2016. To see a copy of the issue, visit

1. Clemens Ascher, The Red Drink (2016). Courtesy of the artist.