Oral history interview with AA Bronson, 2017 March 3, 5, and 6
Archives of American Art
This is a transcribed interview with AA Bronson, a curator, installation artist, performance artist and publisher born in 1946. The interview was conducted by Theodore Kerr in March of 2017 in the artist’s studio in Berlin. The conversation is peppered with interjections, corrections and additions by Bronson’s partner, Mark Jan Krayenhoff van de Leur. It was conducted for the Archives of American Art's Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project.
The conversation between Bronson and Kerr begins with biographical, chronological information where he speaks on the similarities between his mother’s experiences with war in London and the AIDS epidemic in New York City in the late 80’s early 90’s. AA recalls his earliest memories, maps his geographical moves as a child, throughout Canada and notes how it was then that his love for nature blossoms. He communicates an early sense of collaboration in a specialized eight grade class. This notion of collaboration runs rampant throughout the entirety of the interview and throughout his artistic practice. Bronson speaks on his love for books and modernism, how this led to his studying of architecture. He states that he considered the decision of being an artist as a selfish decision, whereas architecture was laden with opportunities for a larger social impact. AA then leaves university, following his interests in alternative forms of education, and starting a commune in Winnipeg.
They map the beginning of General Idea in Toronto,describing that what they were doing
was yet to be named, but could now be regarded as social practice. Bronson recounts how the members of the collective were working and living in Toronto and New York city, working odd jobs. They communicated with one another though fax, sending work between members.
Bronson speaks on how the artists were caregivers for their friends dying of AIDS. AA notes that the states were still very much in a hushed state regarding HIV and AIDS, and how there was conflict with the American activist scene, who were younger than General Idea, and who accused them of being opportunistic regarding their involvement and political statement regarding AIDS and HIV. Given that the group was living in New York without papers, they had limited involvement with local activism such as ACT UP.
Kerr and Bronson discuss General Idea’s tremendous interest in networking, and social practice, which was later to be regarded within the framework of queer theory. In 1986, all members of General Idea moved to New York. Around this time the artist reinvented himself as AA Broson. Bronson says that he became AA as a bolder version of himself; as a bigger persona, bold, exuding confidence. He explains the divide between the two personas: Michael Tims and AA Bronson’s, as public and private, shamelessness and shamefulness. Later, Bronson relays the circumstances of the deaths of Felix and Jorge, and his emotional and physical state throughout and after their deaths. Bronson speaks on the negotiations of the managing of the estate, as executive, and as artist and collaborator. The artist speaks to how healing became an important factor in his practice,and how he began doing work as a healer after receiving certification and completing many workshops, which led to his healer persona fusing with his artist persona. Bronson discusses how the internet makes space for creating friendships and artistic relationships, mentorships and how collaboration remains integral to his art making practice, before, during, and after General Idea. The interview concludes with the inclusion of a work in progress entitled: A Public Apology to the Siksika Nation Where Bronson intends to address his great grandfathers’ hand in the first residential school east of Calgary. Bronson hopes that the apology will take the form of a performance on the reservation, with a publication to accompany it, in collaboration with the artist Adrian Stimson.
ITEM 2017.006 – available for viewing in the Research Centre
Videos, Artworks and Artists Cited
Frank Lloyd Wright
Roberto Burle Marx
Gilbert & George
File magazine – John Armleder
God Is My Gigolo – Ray Johnson
Club Canasta – General Idea
Miss General Idea Pageant – General Idea
The Miss General Idea Pavilion – General Idea
Shut The Fuck Up – General Idea
LOVE – General Idea
Nazi Milk – General Idea
Lena [Cries] – General Idea
Lana [Cries] – Marlene McCarty
Negative Thoughts – Joan Jonas
One Year and One Day of AZT – Ydessa Hendeles
Tent for Healing – John Greyson
Death Portrait – General Idea
"Untitled (for General Ideal)" – Barr Gilmore
Reconstructing Futures – AA Bronson
Showcard Series – AA Bronson
Test Tube – Kara Walker
The Gorilla Girls
Work Will Set You Free – AA Bronson
Queer Spirits – David Wojnarowicz
Gay Goth – AA Bronson
Paul P. and Joel Gibb
White Flags – Keith Boadwee
Fire in [My] Belly – Adrian Hermanides
A Public Apology to the Siksika Nation – Ebe Oke
David Michael Wojnarowicz