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Twitter Interview: General Idea’s AA Bronson

August 2nd, 2011

General Idea File Magazine

Last week we invited you to submit your questions via Twitter for artist AA Bronson,  founding member of Canadian artist collective General Idea, to celebrate the launch of Haute Culture: General Idea at the AGO

Founded in Toronto in 1969 by Bronson, Felix Partz, Jorge Zontal, General Idea interrogated media image culture through now legendary projects like File magazine, as well as paintings, installations, sculptures, mail art, photographs, videos, ephemera, TV programs and even a beauty pageant. Curated by Paris-based independent curator Frédéric Bonnet, Haute Culture: General Idea is the first comprehensive retrospective devoted to the collective, providing an incredible insight into ‘the most significant, famous and influential art beast, single or otherwise, to emerge from Toronto, if not Canada, in the last half of the 20th century.’
From hipster beards to the politics of censorship, the questions you tweeted us were insightful, revealing and articulate. This interview is the first of a new series that gives visitors the opportunity to connect with artists, curators and other experts to find out more about the AGO. If you have any suggestions for people you would like to interview please get in touch.

Twitter Interview: General Idea’s AA Bronson


HCGI Twitter Interview Question 1: Do TO/CDN artists have trouble finding recognition locally unless they've been recognized elsewhere first? Why/why not? (From @eurekascastle)

AA Bronson: “That’s the standard wisdom in Canada, and it’s absolutely true. General Idea’s first solo museum show was in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1979. We had an immediate response to our work from Europe and only then did Canada start to take notice.

The first group museum show we were in was in Paris in 1973, our first solo museum show was at the Stedelijk in 1979, and our first residency was with De Appel in Amsterdam in 1979. There we were given a whole professional TV studio to produce Test Tube, which was made for television. All these amazing opportunities opened up for us in Europe and then, in response, Canada began to pay some attention, but not until the 80s.

Our first Canadian solo museum show was in 1984 at the Vancouver Art Gallery, closely followed by the AGO and the Musée d’art contemporain in 1985.”


HCGI Twitter Interview question 2: Will there be poodles? (From @flomac485)


“Absolutely! There are tons of poodles, mostly from the early 80s…. 2 sets of fake stuffed poodles, for example. There’s many paintings of poodles, there’s castings of poodles, drawings of poodles and some photographs of poodles too. The poodle was our attempt to provoke a discussion of sexuality and especially queer sexuality in the art world.”


HCGI Twitter Interview Question 3: My question for AA Bronson. Who are some of the current painters of photographers whose work you find more intriguing or enjoyable (from @inciteout)


“For the most part, young people. I find myself most interested in artists in their 20s or 30s. Two photographers who interest me are Ryan Pfluger and Paul Mpagi Sepuya. Both do fairly conventional portrait photography but with their own inimitable and somewhat homoerotic stamp. Toronto artists are engaging me these days: Derek Sullivan and Gareth Long, both from Toronto, are favorite artists of mine. Paul P.’s latest paintings seem to channel William Turner. And Terence Koh—who is from Mississauga, not Beijing—continues to blow me away with his performative sculpture, his use of ritual, and the ways in which his art and life are one.”


HCGI Twitter Interview Question 4: Would General Idea ever use Youtube, if it existed in the past of if they continue working? How does GI feel about Youtubers? (from @NatashaGouvela5)


“Not just Youtube but the whole Internet. When we started File magazine in 1972 it was a kind of simulacrum of the Internet before the Internet existed. It was a networking tool before electronic networking was invented.

If we had come along a little later I suspect we would be working almost exclusively with the media of the Internet, including YouTube.

YouTube is so ubiquitous at this point, we rely on it for everything – if it were gone it would be a total shock. It’s great how people who have no personal access to mainstream media can come up out of nowhere and suddenly attain an incredible YouTube popularity. It’s a very democratic medium.”


HCGI Twitter Interview Question 5: Have the politics of censorship eclipsed the message of your work, or have they contributed to the ideological impact (from @juiliawants)

“Canada and the US and Europe are all very different situations when it comes to censorship. In the US, institutions tend to censor things just in case anybody makes a complaint, so censorship is far more severe in the US than it is here. That has been a problem. It’s funny because the US makes such a big fuss over freedom of the press when in fact the censorship is much worse there.

For example, when we made the video Shut The Fuck Up (1984) it was premiered at the Museum of Modern Art, but they couldn’t print the title on the invitation card. The Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo put the same video in a General Idea touring exhibition but refused to show it in their own museum. That’s kind of typical for an American Institution, so when they censor something openly it’s quite a surprise because usually they’ve done it in advance behind the scenes. In Canada I haven’t had any problems, not with arts institutions, although the AGO did remove one work from the current exhibition under the guise of a liability issue.

The Ontario censorship board for television and video was a big problem for the art community in the 70s and 80s. There were big run-ins between the cultural community and the government, but that’s all been sorted out, decades ago now.

Maybe @juliawants is thinking of the Hide/Seek exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, where a David Wojnarowicz video was removed from the show. There were many demonstrations across the continent. I asked to have my work removed in response and was actually unable to have it removed. There was a lot of talk about censorship and culture wars around that exhibition. It’s true that with all the fuss about censorship, the political and social content of my work in that exhibition was eclipsed.”


HCGI Twitter Interview Question 7: Do you feel at least partially responsible for the hipster beard trend? (From @juiliawants)

“Yes! I don’t know… I think it’s more like I saw it coming, and got in on the ground floor.”




HCGI Twitter Interview Question 7: Who was your greatest influence when you began art-making, and who/what would you cite as a current, ongoing influence? (From @juliawants)
“Our biggest art influence when we started was Andy Warhol and his Factory and that’s probably pretty visible. But there were other influences from the literary world, writers like William Burroughs and Gertrude Stein. And then from another world completely, Marshall McLuhan. There were many different kinds of influences.

As for ongoing influences, I’m going to say Joseph Beuys because of his shamanistic stance, his use of his own identity as an integral part of his artwork, and his ongoing project of the Free University. AA Bronson’s School For Young Shamans (2008) can be seen as a response to Joseph Beuys.”


Haute Culture: General Idea is now open at the AGO. For details of how to visit the gallery please visit the main website or call us on 416-979-6648.

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  • Anonymous

    We are looking for new artists to feature
    Get in touch!
    Arts+Culture Magazine (nyc)

  • Debraj_joseph

    I did know the boys in the 70′s as a young artist going to the Ontario College of Art. All the artists, in my opinion, were performance experimentalists or minimalist. Video as a medium first started and these were long and boring as compared to film. The Experimental arts flourished and General Idea was just one of many artists. But fame is made in Europe and New York, not Canada. You cannot get a grant if you have not shown abroad! I found the exhibition very well done. Many artists were born in the 70′s.