AA Bronson (b. 1946, Vancouver) is both artist and curator, subject and object, in this hybrid project that includes his recent solo work, his collaborations with younger artists, and works by friends, both queer and not. Also included are two of his curatorial projects: Queer Zines, incorporating more than 100 queer zines from the punk era until today; and Ancestors, a personal archive of books, editions, and ephemera that form a fragmentary and incoherent historical underpinning to the overall project.
Themes of body, spirit, sex, religion, community, death, ritual, and magic collide throughout The Temptation of AA Bronson in sigils, crystals, mirrors, nudity, and bodily fluids. Moving up through the old school rooms of Witte de With, the style of exhibition moves back in time: the white cube gives way to the immersive environment of the surrealist exhibition, and to the cabinet of curiosities, to finally arrive at the threshold of magic: the phantasm of images, smells, sounds, and action that contains the potential for healing.
The exhibition features a new commission by AA Bronson and Michael Bühler-Rose, The City of Nine Gates, consisting of two large cubes, each containing the remains of a performance. Bronson’s Invocation of the Queer Spirits (Rotterdam) will be enacted privately by a small group of invited participants at midnight prior to the opening. Bühler-Rose’s ritual, Invocation by Fire, is open to the public a few hours later at dawn.
A new iteration of Marina Abramović’s major installation Transitory Objects: Beds for Human and Spirit Use invites visitors to don white laboratory coats and earphones, and to lie down on wooden tables to experience the healing energy of crystals, which she calls “the most simplified computers of the planet.” Abramović says: “If you put in any impulse—that’s how you get digital watches—the impulse never leaves the crystal. […] They’re regenerators.”
During the opening, The Temptation of AA Bronson will be baptized with a confusion of simultaneous and continuous performances by Chrysanne Stathacos, Michael Dudeck, Nils Bech, Sands Murray-Wassink, and Sébastien Lambeaux.
The title The Temptation of AA Bronson alludes to Gustave Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony, the many references Flaubert’s tightly-knit text brings together, and its subsequent reverberations in art, literature, and theory. Flaubert began writing The Temptation of Saint Anthony in his twenties in the 1840s, and published three versions over his lifetime, the last in 1874. It was his Gesamtkunstwerk, his life’s work, and remained incomplete and inchoate. Michel Foucault describes it as the first modern text, the text that activates modern literature, that sets the library on fire: we look over Saint Anthony’s shoulder and witness a kind of movie within a movie enacted on the Egyptian desert and indexing the temptations which form our physical, moral, intellectual, and emotional life, sourced from the paintings and books of Flaubert’s world, and founded in The Bible, “The Book” itself. Like Freud, Flaubert could not escape sexuality, he spent his life immersed in cataloguing the perversions of humanity.
Saint Anthony was a very particular figure, the father of the desert fathers, the hermits who prefigure monks. He lived in North Africa at the end of that mostly undocumented period when Christianity centered in Africa, and Christians were primarily black. He died in 356, two decades after the center of Christianity was moved from Alexandria to Constantinople (Istanbul today) in Asia Minor. Only 1000 years later did the center of Christian power move to Rome, that is, to Europe.
Flaubert freely wrote of his own sexual encounters with prostitutes, mostly in Egypt and Turkey, both male and female, even with boys. He shared a history with Saint Anthony, not only of life in Egypt and Asia Minor, but also a life lived in continuous dialogue with temptation.
Salvador Dalí created his seminal painting The Temptation of Saint Anthony in 1946, using classicism, eroticism, and Surrealism to invoke the intermediaries between heaven and earth. It was his first painting on a religious theme and has become one of his most ubiquitous images. It is included in the exhibition in the form of a jigsaw puzzle.
Saint Anthony, Flaubert, and Salvador Dalí share a particular skill in representing a practice through personae. Their life work is not constructed as a sequence of cultural products or even achievements; rather, each represents a practice encapsulated in lifelong dedication to being present in the world.
The collaboration between AA Bronson and Witte de With started with ‘AA Bronson Blessing’ on 14 March 2012 at the time of the waning half moon, when Bronson led a ritual blessing, with no audience, to inaugurate the program of Witte de With’s Director, Defne Ayas, who invited AA Bronson to create an exhibition for Witte de With.
Support for participating artists in The Temptation of AA Bronson has been provided by the Alberta Foundation, The Canada Council for the Arts, Office for Contemporary Art (Norway) and the Austrian Ministry of Culture. For the presentation of K8 Hardy’s work Witte de With thanks Hans Boodt for their kind support. A ritual of queer rituals is co-sponsored by The Institute for Art, Religion, and Social Justice, Union Theological Seminary and the city of Rotterdam. Flag of Ecstasy is presented in collaboration with WORM and Peter Taylor. Special thanks to Philip Aarons and Shelley Fox Aarons, Nature Morte (Berlin), and Esther Schipper (Berlin) for their generous contributions.