ROTTERDAM, the Netherlands — Nothing says mystery like an invite-only launch featuring a performance piece scheduled for one minute past midnight. I was told the above diamond-dusted serigraphs give some idea of what took place. And further reports suggested the raison d’être of it all, Canadian artist AA Bronson, held a seance in which ‘queer’ spirits from history were invoked and given the run of his sexually liberated show.
Seven hours later, just as it got light, high priest and artist Michael Bühler-Rose embarked on a no-less-ancient Hindu ritual to set the tone for the coming day. The Witte de With arts center came alive to the sound of 5,000-year-old mantras and some very real health and safety risks. The flames you can see were ably stoked with ghee butter and cow dung.
The mural in this shot is by Carlos Motta; visitors can help themselves to a poster bearing a manifesto for the rest of the show. It reads: “Build an agenda based on the needs of queer minorities. Reject the politics of assimilation. Stop begging for tolerance. Welcome the celebration of sexual and gender diversity. Demand the transformation of the system. Truly desacralize democracy and demoralize the judiciary. Define your emotional and sexual needs on your own terms. Value critical difference instead of false equality.”
It is a show which weaves into and out of the life of AA Bronson, a “feminist” show featuring many his friends. The above is among these collaborative works, one of 30 tantric drawings executed in collaboration with Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal — two artists with whom Bronson had formed the group General Idea. GI ran between 1969 and the pair’s untimely death in 1994. Devastating as that must have been, here they are recollected with scurrilous humor.
It’s not easy being a goth, particularly given the wonderful summer we’ve had in much of Europe. Being a gay goth, however, is a real challenge. But as you can see from AA’s curatorial project Queer Zines, communities can be found. The archive also demonstrates the healthy existence of queer skinheads, queer punks, and queer nerds. Do goths even have sex? Evidently, yes.
Photography being a chemical reaction, just what happens when you add semen to the developing process? It’s not exactly the question we’ve all been asking, but the outcomes are fully demonstrated by works like this: “The Cum Pieces” by Matthias Herrmann. In this picture we can see that a couple of classical gods were the stimuli to push the artist over the edge. Shades of Thomas Pynchon here, and his kryptosam (Google it).
Curved blades and male members may be quite an eyewatering combination, but like every piece in this show, this work by Mike Kelley — “The Death of the West” (2009) — fit in as snugly as a metaphor I’ll let you insert yourself. It is not clear if the artist painted or commissioned this work, but given the real threat of decapitation in some parts of the non-Western world, this is a brave and powerful painting.
The second floor was given over to ancestors and the dead. But despite the dark paint and low lighting, its mood was celebratory rather than grave. Only Bas Jan Ader didn’t get the memo, so here you see the ill-fated Dutch artist in floods of tears. And yet, as the title of his film suggests, there may be some humor in the still included here: “I am too sad to tell you” (1970). You want to comfort him — after all, worse things happen at sea.
This opulent tent would be the perfect spot for a sybaritic hermit to sit amidst a desert and enjoy visions. And it was reported that witchdoctor Michael Dudeck materialized here for a chanting performance with a landlocked fish. Literary-minded readers may also recognize that a show called “The Temptation of AA Bronson” is a reference to Saint Anthony and an homage to Flaubert (whose magnum opus, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, was a lifelong obsession). But despite the numerous galleries springing up in the Arab Gulf it is still easier to bring the desert into the work rather than vice versa. The resultant work, “Cabine” (2008), is a collaboration with Scott Treleaven, a previous version of the work was staged in 2008 at John Connelly Presents in New York.
Petal by petal, with all the seeming time in the world, Chrysanne Stathacos built this 12 foot rose mandala throughout the afternoon of the launch. She describes it as a way of celebrating the “impermanence of beauty and the beauty of impermanence.” As you can gather, there’s an Eastern theme emerging. Bronson has met the Dalai Lama and even been initiated into certain intimate tantric practices which allow him to practice as a healer.
With incense, music, and performance, this was a show which sought the senses. Its ace card, however, was sage. Bronson and an assistant spent much of the afternoon of the launch scattering several large boxes of the herb throughout the second floor. As a result you could say the show was olfactory, aural, and haptic. It was crunchy underfoot and just a little intoxicating. The aroma was in evidence up and down the Witte de With’s bohemian Rotterdam street.
As you can see from this photo, Marina Abramović has a captive mass audience now. And it is one thing to be skeptical of the healing powers of crystal, but with rocks that big it is harder to disbelieve. Here we see five museumgoers charging up on chi, or something. The earphones block out the sounds of even the most excited chatter.
In a panel discussion on the aforementioned zines, the sentiment that got the biggest cheer was: “We’re not gay as in happy, but queer as in fuck you.” Here you see Bradford Kessler is nothing if not in-your-face. Chained up like a bad dog, in a cyan monk’s robe, drinking from a bowl on the floor and then spraying green dye all over the wall, there was no ignoring him.
One of the most heavily-insured pieces here was Sands Murray-Wassink’s cabinet of some 500 perfumes. At the launch he could be found stark naked (save for the word “acceptance” painted on his chest). And thus attired he gave expert consultation, aiming you find your perfect scent. It was a generous, relational piece which embodied the spirit of the day; no matter what you get up to at midnight or otherwise, you can come up smelling sweet.
Hyperallergic is the media sponsor of The Temptation of AA Bronson, which continues through January 5, 2014 at the Witte de With (Witte de Withstraat 50, Rotterdam, the Netherlands).