Nov. 12, 2008 - Issue #682: Tariq Ali
AA Bronson: Get the General Idea
One of Canada's true art stars finally comes back to Edmonton
“I actually lived in Edmonton when I was a kid, just for two years,” Bronson explained over the phone from his home in New York, “it was a winter when there was an extraordinary amount of snow. It was like a freak snowfall.”
Befitting his nature, Bronson and the neighbourhood kids proceeded to dig a huge labyrinth under the snow, an exciting adventure until one of the parents found out, effectively ending the children’s winter project.
When Bronson returns to Edmonton as part of the Exposure festival, things will be decidedly different, for him and Edmonton. Edmonton has since experienced an urban renewal, a rejuvenation of arts and culture, and Bronson has a lifetime of experiences to share with a city aching to learn and grow.
As part of the art collective General Idea, from 1969 to 1994 Bronson and his co-artists, Felix Partz and Jorge Zontals, created some of the most important conceptual and media art in Canada to date. Operating FILE Megazine for 17 years starting in 1972, they provided both a forum for art criticism and a platform for the realization of conceptual art projects. Their major artworks include their “Nazi Milk” advertisement, “The Boutique from the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion”, and “The Armoury of the Miss General Idea Pavilion.” The works pushed the boundaries of the museum space as the collective sold merchandise out of their “boutique”; they also practiced “logo busting” by subverting popular ad campaigns, which would continue into their later part of their career together.
In their later years, General Idea focused their work on the AIDS virus. Their “AIDS” campaign, a take on Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” logo, became iconic in its own right, a mass-media commentary on an epidemic of which there was little public awareness or understanding at the time. General Idea went on to create works like “One Day of AZT/One Year of AZT” which was a large scale representation of a day’s dosage of AIDS drug therapy, complimented by a year’s worth of the drug articulated on the walls. General Idea continued to raise awareness through their art until both Zontals and Partz died from the virus in 1994.
Bronson’s work has since focused on themes of healing and spirituality, including a stint wherein he practiced massage therapy as AA Bronson*Healer, setting up shop in gallery spaces on occasion. Earlier this year, he curated and collaborated on the show AA Bronson*School for Young Shamans, and he’s currently working with fellow Canadian Peter Hobbs on a series of séances.
Bronson has found his recent work with younger artists to be entirely fulfilling, mostly because of its diversity.
“I always have different advice for each younger artist,” he says of his mentoring style, though he adds that he tells them, “not to concentrate on the marketplace, but to focus on their art, not on their career.”
Though Bronson regrets not being able to spend more time in the city, to open up more of a dialogue with Edmonton’s artists, he does hope people can find some inspiration and guidance in his lecture.
“I’m going to try and give a history of my life as an artist through General Idea, and my work through a queer perspective,” he explains.
Whether or not you’re familiar with the work of General Idea or AA Bronson, his stories and experiences will provide insights into some important moments in Canadian contemporary art. Edmonton has a good deal to learn from Bronson, and with any luck we’ll see him back sooner, rather than later. V
Sat, Nov 15 (2 pm)
Lecture as part of Exposure: Edmonton’s Queer Arts & Culture Festival
Milner Library (7 Churchill Sq), Free
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