Excerpt—Time is Not A Line: Conversations, Essays, and Images about HIV/AIDS Now

Speak, 2011, Ted Kerr

Artist Carlos Motta asked In The Flesh contributor Ted Kerr to guest edited the third issue of the We Who Feel Differently journal, which is a sporadic online publication addressing critical issues of queer culture, featuring analyses and critiques of international Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex, Queer and Questioning politics from queer perspectives. 

Entitled, Time is Not A Line, Kerr’s guest-edited collections of essays, conversations, stories and images explores the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic now, looking at PrEP, nostalgia, the role of women in the crisis, and the current state of activism.

Accompanying each text are images by a variety of artists, many of whom are members of the Visual AIDS Artist Registry. The images should be seen not only in relation to the text they appear with, but as artistic expressions in their own right.

Below we excerpt Kerr’s introduction and provide links to the journal’s articles. Visit the We Who Feel Differently online journal by clicking HERE

In 2010 a version of David Wojnarowicz’s video Fire In My Belly was censored as part of the exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Around the world artists, activists, along with galleries, museums and other art organizations responded by screening the video for free and sharing it widely online, hosting public discussions about David’s work and career, and organizing protests. In New York there was a march that started at The Metropolitan Museum of Art with people waving placards, chanting, and creating spectacles through their manner of dress and action. Within the crowd were people wearing masks of David with his mouth sewn shut drawn from the video Fire In My Belly. As powerful as these masks were, they struck me as being counter productive. David was being silenced again—even in the grave—oppressed by a government he understood as being implicit in his death, and we were joining him by being muzzled. To truly honor David, to fight for and with him, shouldn’t we have been chanting through masks with the mouths ripped open? Talking to some of the protesters I understood that they were trying to represent what oppression felt like for them. The protest was well covered by the media and the conversation about the censorship was sustained through out the run ofHide/Seek (helped in large part by artist AA Bronson asking that his work, Felix, June 5th, 1994 be removed from the exhibition out of respect for David and his work).

Looking back, this protest stands for me as the day where the second silence around HIV/AIDS was broken and when a public conversation about the AIDS epidemic started to take place again. Although David’s art is about more than his HIV status, the virus was very much part of his life and work. For the American right wing to silence David in 2010 was a whiplash flashback to the culture wars of the 1990s. It is fitting then that a protest in his name would bring people together—and back on to the street—preparing them for the onslaught of AIDS related cultural production to come.

If we can understand the first silence being President Reagan’s silence around AIDS during the epidemic’s first five years, I am suggesting the second silence is the twelve-year period that began in 1996 with the introduction of life saving medication that prompted a severe decline in the space HIV/AIDS took up in the public sphere, even while there were scientific and political breakthroughs, ongoing artistic and cultural productions around the epidemic, and many new cases of HIV infections. After much activism and loss, AIDS went from a public concern to a private experience. Services for people living with HIV were reduced and systemized, and generations grew up with AIDS in the ether—taking up little space in real life, even when they found themselves living with the virus.

A few years before the 2010 censorship of David’s Fire In My Belly, the second silence had started to be broken by the production and dissemination of cultural products by people who looked back at the early responses to the AIDS crisis. Daryl Wein’s Sex Positive—a 2008 film documentary portrait of AIDS activist pioneer Richard Berkowitz who famously, with Michael Callen, called for the use of condoms to reduce the transmissions of HIV early in the epidemic—being the most emblematic of the coming trend.

In the years that followed there were more films (We Were Here by David Weissman, 2011; United in Anger by Jim Hubbard, 2012), as well as books (Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father by Alysia Abbott, 2013; Fire In the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz by Cynthia Carr, 2013), exhibitions (AIDS in New York: The First Five Years, New-York Historical Society, 2013; Not Over: 25 Years of Visual AIDS, La MaMa Galleria, 2013) and even an uptake in ACT UP activities in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York.

Working at Visual AIDS, where we use art to remind the world that AIDS is not over and support artists living with HIV, I have been part of a team that has had a hand in promoting, disseminating and generating conversation around this rush of cultural production. From my vantage point it seems as if we have been culturally going through what I call an AIDS Crisis Revisitation. It has been amazing. Since then we have seen an increased involvement from people who were early responders to HIV/AIDS who for their own reasons had to leave the movement, more stories from long term survivors of HIV being shared, and cross generation conversations about HIV/AIDS taking place, among other things.

At the same time, something is missing within the AIDS Crisis Revisitation. In a series of conversations between media theorist and filmmaker Alexandra Juhasz and myself we have noted that largely absent—most obviously in the mainstream films (Dallas Buyers Club by Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013; How To Survive A Plague by David France, 2012and the HBO adaptation of Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart by Ryan Murphy, 2014) —is the foundation of collectivism, intersectionality and feminism that the AIDS movement was built on. A past is being repackaged to us—both those who were there and those who were not—and it is incomplete. Couple that with the second silence (the reduced circulation of AIDS narratives from the last decade) and you have an incomplete and faulty foundation from which to move forward.

It is from here that we begin the third issue of the We Who Feel Differently Journal with a focus on HIV/AIDS, a look at the recent past, and the current moment to both unearth the conversations had and the work produced within the second silence, and to share ideas and conversations that are taking place now.

Click on the highlights from Time is Not a Line to read the full articles:

This collection of essays, conversations, and images is not meant to be read as comprehensive. Rather it is a jumping off point to think about the issues and ideas the writers and artists are engaging in, while also inspiring the reader to think about all that is still not being discussed.

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