Toronto
2 min

Transcendental kiss

Freedom through bondage

LOOKING GLASS MENAGERIE. Security mirrors, the HIV molecule, SM and the Holocaust all figure in AA Bronson's exquisite Power Plant show The Quick And The Dead. Credit: Rafael Goldchain

“In us behold the looking glass of life: such you will be, for we were what you are.”



Text from AA Bronson’s wall drawing, inspired by a Latin inscription on a 15th-century German tombstone



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If sex, fetish and spirituality are healing balms for the living then AA Bronson has mastered the cure in The Quick And The Dead. This exquisite show portrays how fleeting life is and instills the hope of transcendence – especially in relationship to AIDS.



AA Bronson was a member of General Idea; this group put Canada on the international map of contemporary art by using gay/camp identity in the 1980s and by heroically championing HIV/AIDS issues in the early ’90s. This show is in part a memorial for his GI comrades Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal.



Three works greet viewers: a ceiling sculpture made of security mirror domes (a tribute to artist Robert Morris), Bronson’s product Rosebud Massage Oil (promoting his Healer series, available at Aabronson.com) and a 17th-century Tibetan divination mirror, used to see into the future. Contemporary versions of this convex mirror reflect key themes of impermanence and transcendence, placing the viewer into the art at all times and, hopefully, in empathy with Bronson.



Bubble Machine #2, a Buckminster Fullerish dome covered with mirrors, creates a touchstone for the exhibition; it’s based on an HIV molecule. This disease is omnipresent in the artist’s life and this show. Extraordinary bubbles waft from the ceiling. They soon pop, turning into a snowy-spermy concoction that proliferates in a way AIDS might spread internally or from one person to another or from one work of artto another.



Hanged Man #2, #3 and #4 are large colour photographs of the artist suspended by rope from his feet. The tarot-referenced self-portraits hint at Bronson being one of the last of his generation of artists standing or, in his case, hanging. These bravado photos celebrate his wonderfully middle-aged body – a no-no in the mainstream gay world, thank you! This work portrays an ultimate form of SM vulnerability but also calls to mind Christ and the two thieves.



Younger people (gay men, especially) may not easily relate to The Quick And The Dead due to recently improved AIDS/HIV medications. AA Bronson lost most of his loved ones over a 15 year period and rightly declares AIDS a holocaust. “Abriet Mach Frei” (work will set you free) is spelled out in mirrors across the length of the gallery and relates to the gates of Auschwitz; it also memorializes Zontal’s father who survived this concentration camp.



The smaller photography examines the self and SM. Bronson and friends are seen through the years looking into mirrors (trying to see their own future?). Some of these gorgeous photos show figures bound in black cord, reflecting SM spiritual possibilities: the beauty of pleasure and pain, the ultimate physical and spiritual orgasm – out of body – from one state to another, transcendence.



Nayland And AA are videos showing Bronson and US conceptual artist Nayland Blake smearing each other’s bushy bearded faces with vanilla and chocolate cake icing; these mystic/bear characters also show up French kissing in a follow-up projection. Their faces create a yin/yang, peacefully “feeding” on each other. Feeding and nurturing are offerings of hope from Bronson. It’s almost as if he is instructing us to really enjoy pleasure in the moment and for as long as we live.



The Quick And The Dead is one of the most powerful and moving exhibitions ever held at the Power Plant.



* The Quick And The Dead continues at the Power Plant (231 Queens Quay W) until Sun, Mar 7. Admission is $4 and free Wednesday evenings; call (416) 973-4000. AA Bronson gives an artist’s talk at 2pm on Sun, Jan 25.



Andrew Harwood is the director of Zsa Zsa Gallery and general manager of C Magazine; look for his Trucker show at Paul Petro Gallery at the end of February.