Last night at Dashwood Books in New York, Canadian-born conceptual artists AA Bronson and Peter Hobbs launched their book Invocation of the Queer Spirits (Creative Time Books/Plug In Editions), which sums up recent years of performance. The two met at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, during an artist residency in 2000, and coincidentally ended up there for another residency in 2008. "We were very bored because it was a very straight kind of residency with extraordinarily boring people as our co-residents," Bronson told A.i.A. last night. Banff is located on an ancient sacred aboriginal site; Bronson and Hobbs held a midnight séance in which they invoked the "queer spirits" of that location.
"We decided to do an homage to that energy and that sacred place which has now become a big tourist site," said Bronson, the former director of Printed Matter and co-founder, with Jorge Zontal and Felix Partz, of the pioneering art collective General Idea. After researching other marginalized communities with homosocial and homosexual histories, the duo went on to perform four more seances—in New Orleans, Winnipeg, and Governors Island and Fire Island in New York—over the next two years.
The artists book accumulates impressionistic takes on the performances with, for instance, lush silver and black duotones of the Magic Forest, the sex stopoff between Cherry Grove and The Pines on Fire Island; a 16-page excerpt of glow-in-the-dark spirit photos (printed in black and gold duotone, with an additional layer of silkscreened phosphorescent ink) from Winnipeg's Hamilton Family Archive, the world's largest archive of spirit photography. Chicago artist Elijah Burgher contributed playful color pencil drawings of Bronson and Hobbs at the Governors Island invocation. As Hobbs explained, the book is meant as another invocation not an explanation: "the inspiration was to make art for ghosts."
The performances weren't documented or recorded, and Bronson and Hobbs shared no particular anecdotes about them. "We've never talked about anything that's happened and even in the book there's no record," said Bronson. Hobbs added, "By not documenting the actual performance you create mystique. All of those lessons from General Idea are lessons in how to create glamour . . . One of the lessons I learned from AA is don't go into a project knowing what you're doing."
Outside of drawing a circle for safety (as is done in ceremonial magic) and invoking attendant spirits, these secret seances—the collaboration of a few participants, no observers and infinite ghosts—took unexpected directions. What was left was some orgiastic splendor, like an environment viewed only through a "glory hole" in a deserted 18th-century military fort on Governors Island (for Creative Time's exhibition "PLOT 09"). Similarly evocative is a hazy black-and-white cell-phone photograph taken on Halloween 2008 of Bronson posing in a secret location, rooster feathers (tied to a butt plug) emerging from his backside, in Winnipeg.
The duo had researched both the Mardi Gras Indians and the voodoo traditions of the area. About their rooster feather costumes, Bronson said: "Nobody can take themselves too seriously wearing a butt plug and rooster feathers, and at the same time it is physically grounding. There is almost no chance of spirit possession, which was one possibility we wanted to guard against."
Bronson should know. He orchestrated a School for Young Shamans at John Connelly Presents, New York, in 2008, and has been working as a mentor to young shaman/artists since then. His business card says "Healer" and he's been performing an eclectic mix of healing techniques, including what he calls "butt massage," for years. He sees positive energy proliferating among emerging artist collaboratives like Bruce High Quality Foundation and Type A. "There's a renewed interest in the political and social elements of making art," he said. "There's a kind of a '68 feel in the air right now." For all we know, Bronson may well have invoked it.
Invocation of the Queer Spirits is available at Dashwood Books and online.