Onderstaande laudatio werd uitgesproken door Laurie Cluitmans tijdens de uitreiking van de AICA Oorkonde 2014 aan Witte de With en AA Bronson op 9 december j.l.
Dear AICA members,
Dear Defne Ayas,
Dear Sarah van der Tholen,
Dear AA Bronson,
Dear Marina Abramović,
Dear Nils Bech,
Dear Ryan Brewer,
Dear David W. Buchan,
Dear Michael Buhler-Rose,
Dear Elijah Burgher,
Dear Oisin Byrne,
Dear Nicolaus Chaffin,
Dear TM Davy,
Dear Michael Dudeck,
Dear Robert Flack,
Dear General Idea,
Dear Matthias Herrmann,
Dear Reima Hirvonen,
Dear Derek Jarman,
Dear K8 Hardy,
Dear Mike Kelley,
Dear Bradford Kessler,
Dear Terence Koh,
Dear Sebastien Lambeaux,
Dear Gareth Long,
Dear Carlos Motta,
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Keith Murray,
Dear Sands Murray-Wassink,
Dear Tom de Pekin,
Dear Chrysanne Stathacos,
Dear Scott Treleaven,
Dear Jeffrey Vallance,
Dear Louwrien Wijers,
We are gathered here today in honour of the exhibition ‘The temptation of AA Bronson’ that took place from the 5th of September 2013 to the 5th of January 2014, here at Witte de With. Although the title directly referred to AA Bronson, the long list of artists from this introduction, makes it clear this was not “just” a solo exhibition, but also not “just” a collaborative effort. Somehow, in this exhibition, there seemed to be a different sense of commitment between all the artists involved, based on a deeply and mutually felt empathy.
Within the context of this laudation and gathering today, organized by AICA – which is of course the association for art criticism in the Netherlands – it seems only fitting to have this award ceremony accompanied by some local art critical thoughts. Simultaneously with this laudation, an art critical debate is taking place in Amsterdam. With its evocative title It’s very political: engagement in the arts, the debate hints towards a discussion that is most likely as old as our modern notion of art: the assumption that arts and culture have withdrawn from society and now no longer have any influence. The central character of the debate claims not only that art no longer has any influence on society, but also that art no longer surprises, that engaged art has become an exercise of leftwing political thinking and most of all that ‘the world won’t listen’. Somewhat ironically, it brings to mind the legendary album of The Smiths ‘The world won’t listen’, or the, in my mind equally legendary, eponymous film by Phil Collins. Needless to say, these claims sparked, or ‘re-sparked’, a debate in Dutch newspapers, and are now brought to the stage by the Akademie van Kunsten. Considering that most of these initial written words of wisdom on the topic came from respected men, middle aged, with the right Dutch accent, (who by the way didn’t write about this exhibition), I feel a need to respond.
To engage is something heartfelt, urgent, not just now, but also in parallel temporalities, and it is a desire that modestly returned in the many discussions between this year’s AICA jury, consisting of Jhim Lamoree, Nanda Jansen and myself. One thing that became clear from those discussions is that we were all somehow grounded in different little pockets of the world, with different voices and different engagements. These discussions led to a selection of exhibitions that nonetheless shared our preoccupations: exhibitions that not only address, but also somehow artistically sublimate the controversies of the time we live in, the society we are part of:
- The strong, politically subversive and provocative exhibition ‘Fear at the core of Things’ by Christoph Schlingensief in BAK, Utrecht;
- The visual and conceptual entanglements between a political system and art, its hopes and disillusions, in the exhibition ‘Lissitzky – Kabakov, Utopia and Reality’ in the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven;
- The interweaving of historic and contemporary craftsmanship with notions of labour in ‘Hand Made’ at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam;
- The life of artworks, its meaning caught between past and future, in the collection presentation ‘Once upon a time…The collection now’, also in the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven.
- And, of course: ‘The temptation of AA Bronson’, here at Witte de With, Rotterdam.
I first met AA during an evening at the art space Rongwrong in Amsterdam, after he had just given a lecture at the Studium Generale at the Rietveld Art Academy. During the lecture that afternoon, AA discussed 45 years in 45 minutes; he talked about his love for books and magazines, the usage of low cost materials and viral projects, the early days of General Idea and his partners for 25 years Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal. He spoke of the self-portraits of General Idea, moving from slightly ironic puns and poodles, to the harsh reality of a crisis that politicians refused to acknowledge or recognize. And then, the question that silenced the audience: How to be an artist after a sharing of 25 years of both art and everyday life, had so abruptly ended? AA ended his lecture with how he became a healer and how his healing practice became part of his art. Something we somehow inexplicably thought to sense that night at Rongwrong.
The friendships, community, collectivity and human caring AA spoke of, with such intimate tone of voice, resurfaced when I visited the exhibition ‘The Temptation of AA Bronson’ in Witte de With. Feeling both stimulated and deeply moved, I was somehow caught off guard by some of its oversights and confused when trying to pin point these affects back to the exhibition, as art critics tend to do. This was clearly no average solo show nor an average retrospective. Was AA present as artist, as curator, as subject, as catalyst?
He invited all the aforementioned artists, younger and older friends, and some friends that are sadly no longer with us today. It somehow felt so natural to see artists like Louwrien Wijers and Sands Murray Wassink here in this context. Before this exhibition, they had talked often about AA and how his presence as an artist and human being had been so very important to them. Somehow, this exhibition banned the terminology of the artist as curator or notions of collaboration. All artists where present with their own identity and voice, yet spoke and speak to each other and the visitor on a deeper level.
Actually, AA’s presence in Witte de With started on the 14th of March 2012 at the time of the waning half moon. He performed a ritual blessing, with no audience at a secret location, to inaugurate Defne’s new program here. Although the exhibition ‘The temptation of AA Bronson’ is no longer here, it feels as though it has shaped the walls of Witte de With. I can still almost smell it; I can still almost see it; the impressive collection of queer zines from Punk times to now; the clinical beds of Marina Abramovic inviting us for a sense of concentration and isolation; the tantric and evocative drawings of General Idea; the beautiful collection of perfumes of Sands Murray Wassink; the mandala of rose petals, carefully laid out by Chrysanne Stathacos; the daunting performance of a man, his body painted, tied to a dog leash; the two large white boxes offering a hint of an unknown ritual that seemed to had taken place just before.
On the top floor an abrupt change in atmosphere: the strong scent of sage suffusing the body immediately and unremittingly; classic vitrines displaying The Ancestors: AA’s personal archive of books and curiosa; in the background Dolly Parton singing ‘I will always love you’ in a video work by Mr and Mrs Keith Murray; the black walls covered with texts from Gustave Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony; and then: the strange realization of the mirroring of life and death, literally in the darkened exhibition space.
The body, spirit, sex, religion, death, rituals and magic, collaborations and collectivity, all brought together in magic seals, crystals, mirrors, nudes and bodily juices. Objects merged with environments, archives and performative presences that could still be felt without the activating body. Together they invoked perceptions, experiences and recollections as auditory, tactile, aromatic and somatic as they are visual. Speaking to both the mind and body of the visitor, directly through the senses. Its meanings diffused, they resisted capturing, and as Deborah Cherry once wrote: ‘any certainty that the sensory affect will have a further effect’. The exhibition somehow touched on different memories too, that did not necessarily have to be personal. It brings to mind other social and historical relations. The artworks of many young upcoming artists and the works of artists that are no longer with us, together brought to life those social and historical memories, and clearly showed how they still exist in the present. Somehow it felt, as if the exhibition itself had exercised some kind of healing session over its visitors and both mourned and redeemed the alternative bodies of history.
‘The Temptation of AA Bronson’ brought a feeling of generosity towards all the participating artists and artworks, woven together by temptations, as the title suggests. Gustave Flaubert based his work La Tentation de Saint Antoine on the story of the third-century saint who lived on an isolated mountaintop in the Egyptian desert. It reads as a night during which Anthony is besieged by carnal temptations and philosophical doubt. Somehow the work shows, by its very eccentricity, not to say absurdity, the way writing for Flaubert was, for all its obvious external concerns, it was a profoundly personal matter and struggle for perfection. A struggle perhaps reflected in the fact that he wrote three different versions, the last of which he published in 1874.
‘The temptation of AA Bronson’ opened up new ways of thinking about modern subjectivity. As an exhibition created by a very particular subjectivity it made personal histories, gestures, fears, energies, desires and of course temptations collapse. Exactly because of this subjectivity, it demands a different way of relating to it, it demands from us art critics, a different vocabulary that goes beyond the standard notions of retrospective and collaborative practice, beyond the sensory impulse and immersive environments. Beyond one subjectivity. Beyond one world. And so it is with this that I would like to end this laudation: We are listening, and we do care. Congratulations AA Bronson and Witte de With.