In 25 years he’s started, edited and written queer punk magazines so underground you’ll never hear of them (Google “J.D.s” and "Don't Be Gay manifesto" now). He’s been president of the Queer Palm at Cannes Film Festival. Written and directed over nine feature films and three theatrical works, including one project at X Homes in Johannesburg. Made countless short films. Had work banned in Australia. Had Catholic picketers throw an explosive device through the front window of his show in Madrid (they weren’t thrilled about themes of religious and sexual ecstasy). And his films are now in the permanent film collection at MoMA.
Featuring old and new work, Bruce’s new solo retrospective show “Faggotry” at L.A.’s Lethal Amounts Gallery opens to the public 8 July. It’s hard to dish out any other 25 years this colourful, and his new show dares you to feast your eyes on a handpicked selection of some of the most brilliant moments. It’s an audio visual immersive trip down mind-bending faggot lane. Promise.
We talked to Bruce about the upcoming show, new work, what’s hot right now, and the recent shootings in Orlando - the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in the history of the US.
First of all, is there anything you'd like to say about the shootings in Orlando? The reactions. How people are dealing with it. The temperature in the LGBT community.
There's a lot to process and unpack regarding the recent Orlando mass shooting. My husband is from Cuba and very active in the Latin American LGBT scene in Toronto, so it really hit close to home for us. The personal stories of suffering and loss from the victims and their families were painful to hear. The grief of the mothers of the victims really brought me to tears. In terms of the shooter, the psychology and motivation are very complex. It doesn't help that extreme elements of the Islamic (and Christian) religion spew hatred against homosexuals, making many of those who are both queer and religious tormented and conflicted about it. It doesn't help that historically the US has supported fundamentalist Islamic factions in the Middle East, has slaughtered many innocent civilians in unjustified wars, and has generally destabilized the region indefinitely. And it doesn't help that weapons designed for war are so easily available in the US, and that some ridiculous adherence to an antiquated amendment to their constitution seems to make gun control impossible, particularly considering their broken Congress and the power of gun lobbies. Gun control laws are the most common sense and immediate course of action to help stop the carnage.
It seems like an impossible task to handpick work to showcase from the past 25 years...!
MoMA in NYC gave me a retrospective of my film work last year, showing the nine feature films and a number of shorts I've made since 1990. My photographic work has run parallel to my cinematic work, so it seemed like a good idea to look back retrospectively at the photographs I've taken over the years and put them in some kind of context. When Danny Fuentes from Lethal Amounts offered me a show, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I took some of the photos I'll be exhibiting on my film sets as production stills for promotion and posters; others were shot for magazines or for gallery shows I've had over the years. As with my movies, I started shooting photographs on actual film - black and white and colour slides and negatives - and then made the transition to digital, so it's interesting to see that progression as well.
Well, I am a faggot personally, so it makes sense on that basis. There used to be a hot underground magazine in the eighties in Canada called "Fags and Faggotry," so I was always drawn to the word. And I just think that in an age of too much political correctness and policing of language, the funner "F" word makes a statement.
Can you tell me more about the live Polaroid-based performance/photo shoot at the opening?
Over the years, I've done a series of "Polaroid performances," mostly at the openings of my own gallery shows, but also at public art events. I photograph and take Polaroids of several models that I've recruited, often having them dressed as terrorists, or Islamic terrorists, or zombies, or zombie Islamic terrorists (in London, they were IRA zombie terrorists; in Barcelona they were Catalonian zombie terrorists), usually in the context of some abduction/torture scenario. Then I invite members of the public to join in, encouraging them to get naked or semi-naked and to be splattered with fake blood. I take two Polaroids, keep one for myself, and sign one for the subjects, for which I charge five or ten bucks. It's a way for the audience to participate in my work, to buy a really cheap piece of art, and also to act out these horrible terrorist videos or photos we are always inundated with in the news, and to play them out playfully and cathartically. I had a ten year retrospective of this style of Polaroid work of mine several years ago at Gallery Wrong Weather in Porto, Portugal.
What can we expect from your new work?
Some of my newer photographic work has been dealing with imagery that examines the intersection of religious and sexual ecstasy. I had a show in 2012 at La Fresh Gallery in Madrid showing this work, and it was quite controversial: the Mayor of the city tried to have the show shut down, there were Catholic picketers during the run of the show, and the day after the opening, someone threw an explosive device through the front window of the gallery, which, thank Goddess, didn't go off! I've also been doing a series of photos with transgender subjects.
You have a new line of jewelry and a perfume. How did the collaboration with Jonathan Johnson come about?
Jonathan came to a show I had in 2010 at the gallery that represents me, Peres Projects, in Berlin. The show was a screening of my film L.A. Zombie, along with silkscreens of photographs that I took during the shooting of the movie. Jonathan arrived with a gold L.A. Zombie ring as a present for me, and we've been collaborating ever since. He designed our "Revolutionary" and "Saint" rings for two of the characters in my 2013 movie "Gerontophilia."
"Cunt," "Anal," and "No Skin Off My Ass" ring - which one would you wear?
I like to wear my "Anal" and "Cunt" rings side by side.
How would you describe the perfume? What vibe were you going for?
It's actually an Eau de Parfum, which we developed in collaboration with the Hamburg-based perfumer, Kim Weisswange. It's part of my "Obscenity" line, so we were playing with essential oils (no synthetics) that are sexual, sensual and Biblical - top notes including honeysuckle and cumin (known as an aphrodisiac), middle notes including tobacco and patchouli, and base notes including frankincense, sandalwood, and oud. The fragrance concept is fougere (fern), and the interpretation is ambery. And for good measure, we put actual spring water imported from Lourdes into the mix!
Can you tell me about your new film The Misandrists? Why fund the film on Kickstarter? Have you had a great reaction?
I'm going to start editing The Misandrists in August in Berlin, so hopefully it will be finished for the new year. The film is about a faction of lesbian feminist separatists who live in a remote country house, running a school for wayward girls as a front for their terrorist activities, which include making lesbian porn. When a young male leftist fugitive accidentally stumbles into the scenario, chaos ensues. Part of our funding has included a Kickstarter campaign because these days, you really have to scrape together the financing for unusual and provocative movies any way you can, and from a number of sources. It's particularly difficult to find financing for queer feminist films with a little porn action thrown in. The Kickstarter campaign was successful, and there seems to be a lot of anticipation for the film.
You're particularly diverse as an artist. How do you view yourself as a creative? Are you always looking for new ways to channel your ideas?
I'm a writer, a filmmaker, a photographer, and an artist, and even occasionally an actor, so I express myself in a number of ways. It all comes from the same place. It's a creative drive that you have, which for me is quite interconnected with the sexual drive and the life force.
What/who is really inspiring/exciting you at the moment?
I'm really into Petr Pavlensky, the Russian performance artist and political activist, the one who nailed his scrotum to one of the stones in Red Square in Moscow. He's really making strong artistic statements that challenge the corrupt Russian system of government, and their attempts to clamp down on personal and artistic freedom. And I really love the TV series Transparent. It's the most groundbreaking queer television ever.