GWANGJU, South Korea — I have never been to South Korea before. Jessica Morgan warned that it would be hot and sweaty and of course Gwangju was exactly that — tropical! The first time I climbed the hill behind the Gwangju Biennale Hall, up through the park to the little three-story pagoda that became our home, I remarked on the size of the ferocious mosquitos that lay in waiting. They were our constant companions for the following week.
I should explain that my husband is the artist and healer AA Bronson. A year ago Jessica Morgan — the famous British curator from the Tate and now the Director of the DIA Foundation — arrived in our apartment in Berlin-Kreuzberg and offered AA this little pagoda as a site for a project at the 10th Gwangju Biennale. At the time, AA was convinced that he would die before the exhibition opened, but he did not, and so we were happy to go to Gwangju and to work on the pagoda together, both of us still quite alive.
The pagoda is octagonal, with a spiral staircase rising through the center. The exhibition space is a wide corridor wrapping around each floor, so one is continuously on one’s way somewhere but never arriving. AA thought of the staircase as “The Anal Staircase” made famous by the Coil song, and the space under the stairs he called The Sphincter. In The Sphincter we performed AA’s “Invocation of the Queer Spirits (Gwangju)” during the evening preceding the opening. We were joined by artists Yeonjune Jung (more about him later) and Carlos Motta, who had a sensational installation in the main Biennale Hall. AA wouldn’t let me take photos of the performance, so there is nothing I can share with you here. But this is a photo of me, Yeonjune, and Carlos at a dinner hosted by Jessica (in the background) for the artists in a fantastic little restaurant up a tipsy-turvy stone staircase in a back alley in hot and humid Gwangju.
I am very proud of the shaman’s robe that I made for AA’s performances in Gwangju. Because of the humidity, I made it of unlined linen. And we added a neck-piece of moose antlers and quartz crystals that we found in our favorite Parisian jewelry store, called Monies. The moose horn echoes the shamanistic background shared by Korea and Canada, and in fact shamanism was outlawed in Korea in 1895, the same year that AA’s great grandfather, a missionary, helped outlaw the famous Blackfoot Sun Dance in Western Canada.
AA performed “Artemesia for my Great Grandfather” during the artists’ opening and again the following day for the VIP opening. He spread 50 kilos of mugwort over the first two floors of the pagoda. Mugwort is a kind of artemesia used for magic in many countries, but it is special here. Mugwort is said to have taken human form at the beginning of time, and given birth to Korea. It is used to keep away bad spirits, as an offering to good spirits, and for domestic use too; it is smoked, and makes a delicious soup. These two floors are dark and shadowy, like the Magic Forest that AA likes so much on Fire Island in New York, but that’s another story. These light boxes are collaborations with Ryan Brewer, Los Angeles, and the pink and yellow hangings are collaborations with Richard John Jones, Amsterdam.
The dark and shadowy atmosphere continues at the top of the first flight of stairs. These woven hangings with Travis Meinolf are designed to filter the light, they are cloaks for the Magic Forest. On the right you can see the first of Elijah Burgher’s eight large sigil paintings. These are placed like spokes circumnavigating the Anal Staircase. Each of the paintings is performed as a kind of ritual, in which an intention is named and formed, right there and then, into a kind of cabalistic logo. Elijah sits naked on the canvas to make these paintings, and sometimes his cat, Monster, joins him. On one painting the registrar was delighted to find a perfect little cat footprint, and near it, also perfectly formed, Elijah’s sweet toe prints in blue.
As we circumnavigate the Anal Staircase, we find more paintings by Elijah Burgher, and more light boxes. “Blue,” a collaboration with Ryan Brewer, depicts the artists (and me!) as spirits of the underworld in the Magic Forest. “Return of the Prodigal Son”, a collaboration with Bradford Kessler, is based on Rembrandt’s painting of the same name. Bradford embraces AA as his mentor, both splattered in a kind of multi-colored Pollock-like bukake scene.
The shoji screens of the pagoda throw a pale light on another sigil painting by Elijah Burgher. In the foreground, K8 Hardy’s “Jockstrap Dress” plays its part as a kind of docent-with-a-difference. Her dress is indeed constructed of jock straps, both new and used; AA sent most of them to K8 as gifts over a prolonged period. To inaugurate the dress, K8 wore it to one of the major beach parties that animate Fire Island’s social scene, only to be firmly ejected. AA says she was trying to get the dancing boys to ejaculate on the dress, but I’m sure that can’t be true!
On the third floor, bright light reveals the Queer Zines exhibition, over 100 independent queer zines from the 70s to today, and assembled by AA together with the collectors Philip Aarons and Shelley Fox Aarons. Queer Zines was first shown at Printed Matter’s New York Art Book Fair in 2008. AA says that South Korea is both zine-crazy and homophobic, so I am curious what the response will be. Wallpaper depicting moments of queer trauma by the London artist Yeonjune Jung forms the background to Queer Zines. It depicts the bombing of a gay bar in Soho, the lynching of a gay couple in Iran, here depicted on Hampstead Heath, and other moments of queer trauma. Yeonjune was our collaborator and companion in Gwangju, introducing us to Korean food, and guiding us through the mysteries of Korean etiquette.
Many of the zines are in fact by artists, for example Bruce LaBruce and GB Jones, Paul Sepuya, Dean Sameshima, and Christopher Russell. In the foreground we can see the SLUTS zines by Matthias Herrmann.
The entire project of AA Bronson’s HOUSE OF SHAME is captured in these two little voodoo dolls by the Finnish artist Reima Juhani Hirvonen. AA, on the left, is constructed from his own Pucci underwear and decorated with ballpoint pen. Hidden inside are human hair, sage, turquoise, and semen. The doll of me is also made of my underwear, and includes human hair, tobacco, a dzi stone with 21 eyes, sage, and of course semen, and is decorated with multiple faces in ballpoint pen. When I first saw the doll I was very intrigued that Reima put my genitals on the back of the doll. He couldn’t explain why! Both are filled with the intention of love in the making, and so is this exhibition I think. AA Bronson’s HOUSE OF SHAME brings together, as AA likes to say, a community of the living and the dead. And at the center of this project, floating up and down The Anal Staircase, is love.
AA Bronson’s HOUSE OF SHAME continues until November 9 at the Gwangju Biennale (111 Biennale-ro, yongbong-dong, Buk-gu, Gwangju , 500-845, South Korea). Hyperallergic is the media sponsor for HOUSE OF SHAME.