When the Magic Bullets Fall: AA Bronson on General Idea’s Installation at MoMA
Curators Christophe Cherix and Thomas J. Lax talk with the artist about art in and out of time.
AA Bronson, Christophe Cherix, Thomas Jean Lax
Apr 14, 2021
Thomas J. Lax: AA, Thank you for speaking with Christophe and me. Can you tell us where you are—and, perhaps a more complex question—how are you?
AA Bronson: Greetings, always a pleasure! I am in Berlin, with my husband Mark, in our rambling Berlin apartment on Fasanenstrasse—before the Wall came down, and even before that, this was the heart of Berlin’s art and culture world, but now it is pleasantly old-fashioned, with gas street-lamps, small auction houses and galleries, spreading chestnut trees, and a generous population of Russian expats. And despite the pandemic and the almost constant lockdown, we are okay here. To be truthful, my life—as an old man—has not changed that much. Except that my occasional forays into Berlin nightlife regretfully have come to an end.
Christophe Cherix: I grew up in Switzerland, and like most people from Western Europe of my generation, my first memory of Berlin cannot be separated from the trip to get there, trying to fall asleep with a group of classmates on bunks while our train was crossing East Germany in the middle of the night. To a 13-year-old, Berlin felt like an island in the middle of a forbidden zone. I sometimes wonder if, for those who moved permanently to Berlin after Germany’s reunification, this forbidden zone, instead of vanishing, hadn’t stretched its perimeter to the rest of the world. In a post-COVID world, after months of isolation, are you worried to cross to the other side again?
AA: I first came here by car from Kassel in 1983, for an exhibition at the Akademie der Künste, where General Idea exhibited the very first iteration of our installation P Is for Poodle. It was January, the snow was literally three feet deep, and it was 20 below. We are Canadian, so this was not a problem, and we had heard about Berlin’s infamously Siberian winters. Now that is all gone, the winters are generally quite mild, rarely going below freezing. The installation was originally intended to feature three live poodles, big white König poodles, but the museum was unable to locate any in Berlin—they were French dogs, they insisted! And of course they were too difficult to import through East Germany. So they found a taxidermist instead (who coincidentally specialized in Canadian wildlife!) and the installation ended up with three fake stuffed poodles, all quite vegan, I assure you! Our crossing through the east was the scariest event of my life: we had to drive at a crawl pace between two high walls, with sentries with machine guns looking down on us, scowling. At the checkpoint, they practically took the car apart—this was still the era of German terrorists, and of course three men traveling together were looked upon with suspicion. In the end, I managed to convince them (with my high-school German, which magically came back to me under stress) that we were three artists, and their chief called a halt to the search just as one of the guards was about to open Jorge’s toiletry bag with its stash of weed. A miracle! From there it was a nighttime drive through an eerie darkness—there seemed to be no lights at all in East Germany! Modern Berlin is much different. But in this era of COVID, the population is remarkably disciplined and community-minded, even in the wildest circles of Berlin nightlife. So the COVID death rate has been low, and together with the natural spaciousness of the city, it feels remarkably safe. Frankly, I am afraid to return to the USA!
Installation view, General Idea’s Magi© Bullet, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, November 14, 2020–summer 2021
The balloons will fall, and the public is welcome to take a balloon home with them, so that gradually the piece will disperse into the city.