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Hunter Reynolds: Documentation as a Practice of Survival

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Hunter Reynolds, "Storm the NIH" (2015), archival c-prints and thread, 48 x 60 inches

Marc Arthur, head of Research and Archives at Performa, considers Hunter Reynolds' exhibition Survival AIDS Medication Reminder at P.P.O.W. Gallery below.

Please join Visual AIDS, Hunter Reynolds, Eric Rhein and Emily Colucci on Saturday, October 3, for a guided tour of Hunter's exhibition Survival AIDS Medication Reminder, as well as Eric Rhein: Ordained and Barton Benes: Museology. The event begins at 3 p.m. at Pavel Zoubok Gallery and continues to P.P.O.W. Gallery. Further event information here.

I first learned about the artist Hunter Reynolds from a photograph taken of him at the "Stop The Church" ACT UP demonstration in 1989. The picture shows Reynolds restrained by four police officers on a cleared-out Fifth Avenue just moments after he lifted a barricade holding back thousands of protesters. He was attempting to reach the ACT UP die-in in at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Though Reynolds's attempt has clearly been blocked, his eyes gaze forward, brimming with rage and with hope, made more powerful by the fact that he had received an HIV-positive diagnosis just days before the picture was taken. Throughout his oeuvre Reynolds maintains the fierce agency captured in this image as a mode of artistic production; since the '80s, this has allowed him to explore the relation between performance and direct action while creating images that problematize established representations of HIV-positive subjects in the United States.

In his latest exhibition, Survival AIDS Medication Reminder, at P.P.O.W. Gallery, Reynolds has combined newspapers from his personal archive from the early years of the AIDS crisis with images from his own artistic output in large format c-prints. Enlargements of mainstream and community-based newspapers fill the walls of the first gallery, taking the viewer on a journey back to the unpredictable and sometimes sensational narratives and images that scrambled to account for the emergence of HIV/AIDS. Large images from the artist's body of work are superimposed onto sections of these documents including his splattered blood series, documentation from his recent Mummification performances, and his Memorial Dress performances. A grid pattern has been woven with thread into each one of these works, which further inscribes the artist's hand into these archival materials.

In the catalog that accompanies the exhibition, an interview between Reynolds and the critic Jason Foumberg reveals that Reynolds is an obsessive collector and archivist of his work and the ephemera that surrounds and informs it. For Reynolds, archiving constitutes a major part of his practice and life--which began, in part, from witnessing the material contents of people's lives being dumped onto the street after they died from AIDS in the '80s, '90s and beyond. By not letting go of the paper traces of violence, trauma, and indigence, and through Reynolds's re-imagining them merged with the archive of his artwork, these newspapers are pushed outside the dominating purview of history. They become, instead, a form of performance documentation that Reynolds reconfigures as part of his own response to the intolerance of that period.

Also on view in the exhibition is a video titled Medication Reminder, which Reynolds has created from daily calls and interviews with his close friend and artist Kathleen White, who recently passed away. The video, which is an homage to White and to their friendship, features as its soundtrack voicemails from and conversations with White that the artist recorded over the span of three years when he was struggling to take a twice-daily regimen of HIV-medication. Routine and comforting reminder messages from White, the sound of a phone ringing to voicemail, and conversations that reflect on the ups and downs of being an artist play over Reynolds's rich, kaleidoscopic and queerly decadent visual language. Opulent imagery such as fake pearls and beads dropping between Reynolds's glitter-drenched hands fill the screen and can be understood as constructing a mythology and otherworldly beauty around the very real conditions of having to remember to take a daily dose of life-saving medication. It's also possible to understand the artist's visual language through what scholar and curator Paul B. Preciado terms the "Pramacopornographic," in which the compounds that pharmaceutical companies produce are "new microprosthetic mechanisms of control of subjectivity by means of biomolecular and multimedia technical protocols."[1] Indeed, when a large bin filled with empty HIV-medication bottles appears in the background of a shot, or when medications are interspersed with extravagant and colorful beads, the life-saving pills take on fake, prosthetic and plastic qualities.

Adherence is the clinical term that describes the challenges many patients face taking HIV antiretroviral drugs on a daily schedule. If a patient misses a dose, the virus in their body could develop a resistance to the medication and spiral out of control. Adherence is conceptually related to the artist's process of archiving in the way that both practices rely on memory as a means of survival. Meticulously keeping newspapers and other materials gives permanence to the experiences and existence of those who died from AIDS, as it was not clear if they would be remembered. Because collecting provides cultural and social validation to the precariousness of HIV-positive subjectivity, the artist's stubborn refusal to let go of anything can be understood as a politics of survival in the same way that remembering to take antiretroviral drugs is a stubborn refusal to let HIV obliterate his body.

Laced with the traces of original events, ephemera become essential records when the survival of one's representation is at stake. Reynolds shows us that the process of collecting these records is a performance in and of itself, a daily performance of survival like taking antiretroviral drugs. In the catalog he offers "as desperate as life can be, the process of living is always a beautiful thing." The material index of loss and indignation that Reynolds has accumulated throughout his life can be viewed in this exhibition as new and mythical images that exist outside of established history but inform the present of the ongoing crisis.

[1]Paul B. Preciado. Testo Junkie. New York: Feminist, 2013. 33.

Marc Arthur is an artist, writer and current doctoral candidate in the department of Performance Studies at New York University. He is also the head of research and archives at Performa and is co-editor of the Performa Magazine.

Call for Visual AIDS Curatorial Residency for March 2016

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Fourth Annual Curatorial Residency co-sponsored by Visual AIDS and Residency Unlimited
Residency: March 1 to 31, 2016
Application Deadline: November 15

A one-month residency, to take place in March of 2016, in New York City for a curator, art historian, or arts writer interested in the intersection of visual art and HIV/AIDS. Co-sponsored by Visual AIDS and Residency Unlimited, the curatorial residency seeks to encourage the development of exhibitions, programs, and scholarship about HIV/AIDS and contemporary art.

Residency Unlimited--a nonprofit organization which supports the creation, presentation and dissemination of contemporary art through its unique residency program and year-round public programs--will provide the curator with customized administrative and network support, shared office space at 360 Court Street in Brooklyn and a venue for a public program (lecture/screening/discussion) defined in conjunction with RU and Visual AIDS.

Concurrently, the resident curator will conduct research at Visual AIDS in the Archive Project and online Artists Registry. The Visual AIDS office is located in the Chelsea art district in New York City. The Archive and Registry at Visual AIDS hold over 20,000 images by approximately 750 artists living with HIV and those who have passed away. Studio visits with artists from the Archive Project are strongly encouraged. The resident curator is invited to create an online gallery hosted by Visual AIDS.

The resident curator will be invited to produce a free, public event co-hosted by RU and Visual AIDS. Panel discussions, film screenings, performances or a lecture highlighting the curator's use of Visual AIDS' resources or a presentation of international cultural production around HIV/AIDS are examples of potential programs.

The residency includes round-trip transportation to New York City, accommodations, and $1,000 stipend.

International applicants are strongly encouraged to apply. English speaking and writing skills are required.

TO APPLY: Submit a C.V. and a Statement of Purpose (maximum 2 pages) outlining your goals for the residency, and any past or current projects that have led you to cultural investigations around HIV/AIDS. Special consideration will be given to applicants living outside of NYC from locations without support for cultural production about AIDS, LGBT, and gender issues. Send application or inquiries to

Application Deadline: November 15.

Selected curator will be notified by December 11.

The one-month residency must take place between March 1 and March 31, 2015.

Location: New York City, NY, USA,
Duration: one month
Eligibility: practicing curator
Includes: travel, lodging and stipend

View information about our three former curatorial residents:
Angela Bailey, Curatorial Resident 2015, Australia
Aimar Arriola, Curatorial Resident 2014, Basque Country
Vladimir Cajkovac, Curatorial Resident 2013, Croatia

"Parla Memento Hedera"

On June 20, Simon Dickel met Christian W. Find and Hannes Hacke at the Alter St. Matthäus Kirchhof (Old St. Matthew's Churchyard, Großgörschenstr. 12-14, 10 829 Berlin, Germany) in Berlin's district of Schöneberg. The following interview took place at the cemetery's Finovo café. It is very close to Christian's sound installation "Parla Memento Hedera," which first opened in 2012 with active support from Hannes. The installation is a greenhouse with an ivy plant. When visitors go inside, they find a table with 16 buttons partly covered by ivy. Pushing them, they can listen to the original voices of 16 people whose graves are in the cemetery, including AIDS activist Hans Peter Hauschild and photographer Jürgen Baldiga, whose work courageously chronicles the AIDS crisis.

Could you first of all explain the sound installation's name?
Christian W. Find: "Parla Memento Hedera" is an ivy parliament of memories, whose name consists of three elements: Parla relates to parliament; Memento stands for the memento mori of medieval nuns and monks, a reminder of our mortality, even though the end is open; Hedera refers to Hedera helix, the scientific name for ivy. In this parliament different voices converge and engage in dialogue. It is about giving a voice to the thoughts and ideas of the people buried here in order to further pass them on. Listeners are invited to draw inspiration from those words. The voices emerge from ivy, a plant which symbolizes friendship. Ivy is an epiphyte, a plant that grows on other plants, while plant and host plant are mutually supportive. Ivy is said to have healing power, and it has been a sacred plant since ancient times. Even today ivy serves as medicine. And efeu, the German translation of ivy, is the name of a group organizing activities on the cemetery, such as guided tours. The letters of the group's name, EFEU, stand for four German terms which translate as preserve, promote, remember, and support. Ivy is a typical cemetery plant.

Which criteria have you considered in your selection of persons and sounds?
Find: The entire sound installation covers a total of 16 voices, with each voice lasting three to four minutes. All recordings are original voices gathered from several sources and archives. Exceptions are Hedwig Dohm and Minna Cauer; recording technology was simply not yet available during their lifetimes, and for this reason their voices are represented by read excerpts from their works. Hence, one is guided through an entire century during those approximately 60 minutes. I chose eight female and eight male voices to have an equal representation of gender.

Hannes Hacke: All of the voices are connected through this churchyard as the shared place of burial of the activists and artists, which means that to some degree the collective was formed arbitrarily. Some members had known each other, whereas others are separated by a span of 50 or 60 years between their respective lifetimes. All of them were politically active: for women's rights and the right to self-determination, for feminism, against racism, for gay and lesbian emancipation and against the criminalization of sexuality.

Find: The historical aspect has always been important to me. While editing the sound files, I realized that it is frightening how current those topics are, even Minna Cauer's ideas from the 1890s. Listening to the whole thing up to 2006, the year in which the last person passed away, is like a journey through time during which one recognizes the relevance of those contributions. The installation does not contain a single invalid statement. This reflects the concept of memento mori: to keep in mind that life goes on. The words of the dead will not become less important; instead the dead who spoke to us will keep on talking. We are supposed to use their words to further develop their ideas and concerns.

When Johannes and I were in the sound installation one year ago, we immediately got into a conversation with two women. I was fascinated by the fact that, as a recipient, one has a bodily experience with all senses included, while at the same time, one is very open and communicative.
Find: Yes, such an encounter of listeners is the ideal scenario: Two or three people happen to come together in the greenhouse and start a conversation on the subject. I wanted to push the limits of an audio-guide's individualization.I've also enjoyed some great moments in the installation. Once a week I come by to water the ivy. At times, when I arrive with my watering can, I notice visitors in the parliament. Then I take a seat on the bench. I've already observed three situations in which people talked to each other for a longer period of time. This is great.

Is the sound installation's transparency of particular importance?
Find: I always emphasize the fact that the greenhouse is a core element of the installation. It symbolizes transparency, and, at the same time, it elucidates that in order to grow and flourish the plant of friendship has to be taken care of. This is why my major concern is whether the ivy looks good (laughs). In case it didn't, it would almost be worse than a failure of the technical system.

Please tell the readers of Visual AIDS about some of the parliament's artists and activists. Who were those people that approached the topic of HIV/AIDS?
Find: I knew half of them personally, mostly the men. When I got to know them at the age of about 30, those were all people that gave me courage. They had personality. All of them were subject to severe attacks but stood up to those owing to their self-confidence. There is Andreas Meyer-Hanno, for example, who was an opera director in Frankfurt and the founder of the first gay drama group called Maintöchter. Later on he founded the Hannchen-Mehrzweck-Foundation, into which he put his entire personal wealth. Our parliament has also benefited from this.

Hans Peter Hauschild was an AIDS activist who co-founded the Deutsche Aidshilfe. In the beginning, this organization was a small autonomous group without any government funding. In the sound installation one can listen to him talking about these early days, during which AIDS activists had to stand up to discrimination and middle-class moral attitudes. Another interesting aspect about Hauschild was his attempt to bring together religion and sexuality. He himself was a Christian, homosexual, and member of the Catholic Church. He consciously endured this tension and approached it in an offensive manner.

I also met Napoleon Seyfarth in the gay bar Burgfrieden, which still was in East Berlin at the time. He was always sitting at the counter with his own coffin already positioned in the bar's backroom. The coffin also served as a champagne cooler in his apartment. Napoleon's approach to the topic of AIDS was blunt and provocative, but at the same time very optimistic and passionate. For instance, when it was clear that he didn't have much time left, he staged his own funeral. He wanted to be involved and thus celebrated his funeral as his wedding. In order to make his lesbian friend get his widow's pension, he married her. The Catholic priest didn't have a clue, or so people say; he was just wondering about the fact that all guests were wearing black. One should also read his book Schweine Müssen Nackt Sein. He was founder of SchAM, a gay organization in the German city of Mannheim. I'm also from Mannheim. This is the reason why I have a closer tie to him. Jürgen Baldiga got my attention through his photography, which courageously chronicles the AIDS crisis.

Hacke: I also got to know Jürgen Baldiga through his photography. Particularly his photographs of drag queens had a strong impact on me, and they profoundly influenced me as a drag queen. For example, his portrait of Ichgola Androgyn, the owner of this café, who is sitting over there, and also, his portrait of Bev Stroganov, who also works at this churchyard. Moreover, my job at the Schwules Museum (Gay Museum), in which Baldiga's estate is kept, offers me a new access to him. Together with a photography historian, Baldiga's last partner, Aron Neubert, is administering his estate. Neubert also hosts a Baldiga Twitter account where he publishes Baldiga's diary entries.

I would like to address the topic of memory. Hannes, where do you see differences between this sound installation and the Schwules Museum?
Hacke: Due to the café Finovo and the EFEU organization there is already a distinct form of memory culture at this cemetery. The café is run by Ichgola Androgyn, one of the members of Ladies Neid, a West Berlin drag queen group that was engaged politically in the 1980s and 1990s in the ACT-UP movement and generated funds for AIDS assistance projects through various events. Café Finovo is named after Ovo Maltine, one of the members of that group, who is also buried here and also part of the installation. The EFEU Association also offers organized tours to the graves and they provide various folders with information on the people buried in this graveyard.

Listening to the original voices in the installation is something very special, since it provides a different access, a new encounter with the deceased. One's own voice and style of speaking express one's personality. This is what I find special and powerful about this sound installation; the fact that you actually listen to the people's voices, which influences your connection to them. Maybe the museum context is more standardized. Of course, the cemetery is also a place of ritualized memory forms. From this perspective, the sound installation marks a change in those traditional forms of remembrance at cemeteries. It is a different form of remembrance than, for example, to walk silently to the grave by yourself, to show your devotion, or to leave plants or stones. It is a new form of memory when people get together and talk in the sound installation. This is rarely the case in the context of a museum, in which, due to its institutional nature and implied conventions, one is still in a more distant situation. Is it a place of memory in the first place, or isn't it rather a place of documentation? Although emotions are certainly aroused during one's museum visit, cemeteries can provide a different emotional encounter.

Find: I associate museum with dust and boredom. As a child I was reluctant to go to museums. I also find the name "Gay Museum" paradoxical, since it is more of a gallery or exhibition hall. I always picture dusty and old books when I think of the word "museum" and its close connection to storage. In this sense, the Schwules Museum is not actually a museum, unless one fills the term with new meaning and introduces new didactic forms and exhibition concepts. This is the only way museums can become more interesting. However, something else is more important to me. I don't make art for museums or galleries. I don't care about pictures on gallery walls. For me, art always provides an intervention to public space in order to disrupt things, to break with established paradigms, and to irritate. At cemeteries, two things come together: they are semi-public spaces with a ritualized memory culture. It is in this setting that the sound installation produces sounds and pierces through the notion of "silent memory". This may of course cause irritation and demands sensitivity. For example, I tested the volume for a long time in order not to disturb those people that favor silence. Although I'm sure of the fact that, even today, many of the dead would be very loud, particularly those 16 voices covered in the installation. I'm certain that they would find it awesome, if they knew they can still raise their voices here. It thus breaks with traditional forms of memory culture at cemeteries, a place, in which memory is usually silent. This doesn't apply to this sound installation. Here, you do hear voices. Here, you can listen to them. Those are the two aspects, which, on the one hand aim at creating a different form of memory culture, and, on the other hand, break with the conventional mourning tradition, which I find rather depressing.

Hacke: At the same time, it is a political intervention. There are specific personalities presented here who have stood for distinct political ideals and convictions. Activists' statements from the last 100 years are brought into conversation and once again become relevant for people today. Much is achieved, if, out of all visitors that have listened to this sound installation within the last 4 years, 20 say: I will look up who this person was. I will further look into this. I find this exciting. How did they spend their lifetimes? It is both a public and political intervention, which certainly refers to memory culture. At the same time, it raises current issues. Many different people visit this place: relatives of the people buried here, tourists, and guests of the café. All of them can discover new aspects in the installation they haven't thought about before.

Where do you see differences between an auditory and a visual approach to the topic of HIV/AIDS? Visual AIDS readers are probably more used to the latter.
Hacke: I like the process of remembering varies, according to whether one watches a movie or listens to a voice. When listening to a voice, one needs to create one's own images. Needless to say, I am still moved by watching videos of early AIDS activism. When I am watching those videos, it is always a combination of enthusiasm, remembrance, and sorrow, since I know that most of them are no longer alive. I find it exciting to learn which political strategies they chose, which slogans they had, which forms of protest they engaged in, and how they approached the relationship between activism and care. Of course this is true for both auditory and visual forms. Nevertheless, due to the emphasis on one's own images, the act of listening might evoke a different state in terms of remembrance than, for example, if one watches a movie. I am not sure whether it's possible for me to accurately describe this. Seeing and hearing are different conditions.

Find: In contrast to the act of seeing, hearing definitely creates closeness and intimacy. Vision always refers to images, it constructs a counterpart. Seeing has a corrective, an almost censoring effect on the images stored in my own memory. A person's photo quickly replaces my previous personal images of this respective person. In contrast, a person's voice triggers my memory's personal images. Solely hearing a voice is a very intimate moment, since it goes straight into me. Because hearing is the direct access to the heart. I process it differently. It is the same for me as you have said before, Hannes. I think it was a beautiful expression. It puts me in a different mood, namely not in the state of the seeing. Similar to smell and taste, hearing is an immediate sense, which somehow affects me more closely.

My last question refers to the future of this installation. This is going to be its last season. Do you have any plans to install and show it permanently?
Find: The sound installation has been set up for four summer seasons. I find this closure OK for now, since I hadn't planned it as a fixed memorial in the first place. Even though this will make me a little sad, because, meanwhile, I have developed a close connection to the parliament and its voices, and most of all to the ivy, which I water regularly. Since "Parla Memento Hedera" is not a monument, it is all right that it will become a part of the past itself. However, I don't exclude the possibility of re-installing it in a couple of years. At this point, I would once again like to warmly thank you, Hannes. Hannes was a great help in the research process for audio material and the selection of the female activists and their statements. He also helped me with the short biographies, since every pushed button renders a brief written description of each person. I would also like to thank the District Berlin Tempelhof-Schöneberg's Dezentrale Kulturarbeit, the Homosexuelle Selbsthilfe, Elledorado, EFEU, and last but not least the Verein Metropole Mutterstadt, which preserves Helga Sophia Goetze's heritage--she is also in the sound installation--and also allowed for the installation to be here two years longer than originally planned. It continues until September 27. Thanks also to you, Simon, for your great interest and the lovely interview.

Christian W. Find holds an MA in evangelical theology. He is an author, speaker, and editor of radio programs and features. As an audio-artist he is known under the name Baella van Baden-Babelsberg. Baella is the founder of the radio-laboratory radiOAton. Recent projects include "Durch die Blume" (with Tobi Möhring), a sound sculpture against homo- and transphobia, which is based on a spin dryer. Since 2010 it has been exhibited in city halls, libraries and festivals in Berlin, Bern, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Liverpool. Since 2012, "Parla Memento Hedera" has been exhibited each summer. Baella is the initiator and one of the curators of the queer audio festival QuEAR!

Hannes Hacke is a trainee scholar at the Schwules Museum (Gay Museum) in Berlin. He holds an M.A. in gender studies and is the co-founder of the queer audio festival QuEAR!.

Simon Dickel is assistant professor of American Studies at Ruhr-Universität Bochum. He is the author of Black/Gay: The Harlem Renaissance, the Protest Era, and Constructions of Black Gay Identity in the 1980s and '90s (2011) and the co-editor of After the Storm: The Cultural Politics of Hurricane Katrina (2015). He is co-editing a book on queer cinema.

Thanks to Alexander Flaß for helping with the transcription and translation of the Interview.

Mark I. Chester, "Fire in the Fast Lane" (1982)

Mark Chester is a photographer, writer, performer, curator, and drawing group host who has been living in San Francisco for over 30 years. His latest book, City of Wounded Boys & Sexual Warriors, documents his time in the gay and leather sexual underground over four tumultuous decades. His work is titillating and intimate, testifying to the vitality and eros of San Francisco over a period when it was both a beacon of hope for gay culture and a "desolate warzone" as a result of the AIDS crisis. Chester's photography is featured in the exhibition Art AIDS America, opening at the Tacoma Museum of Art on October 3 and traveling to the Bronx Museum of the Arts in the summer of 2016. Below, he is interview by Kyle Croft for Visual AIDS.

Preview City of Wounded Boys & Sexual Warriors here and order it here.

Please consider joining Mark at one of the following events this month:

Friday, September 18, 6:30 to 10 p.m.: Show reception, artist's slide show and talk, book release for City of Wounded Boys & Sexual Warriors. Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission Street, San Francisco.

Friday, September 25, 7 to 10 p.m.: Show reception at Mark I. Chester's studio, 1229 Folsom Street, San Francisco.

Sunday, September 27, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.: Mark I. Chester studio exhibition will be open to the public during the Folsom Street Fair.

How did you come to start taking photographs, and specifically to start taking sexually explicit photos?
I had occasionally taken vacation slides when I traveled, starting in my teens, but it wasn't a serious avocation. As I started to come out in 1969, I realized that the image of gay people was very negative in the mainstream media, films and books. The only other images of (supposedly) gay people that I saw were in early 1960s homoerotic porn. I didn't fit into either of these extremes and the men I was turned on to didn't either. So I started to photograph gay men at street fairs and gay pride parades in Madison, Wisconsin, and Chicago, Illinois, I think mostly as a way of understanding and validating what it was that I was turned on to.

When I moved to San Francisco in 1977, I continued to document gay men at street fairs and pride parades. Finally, I began to see images of men that matched my own personal interests and turn-ons. Photographing my sex scenes was a natural extension of the photographs that I was taking of gay men. Again, I think it was mostly a way for me to validate the way I was having sex. I didn't look like the typical leather master and some of the scenes I was doing (including Japanese rope bondage) were not common in SF at that time. So photographs helped explain what I was interested in doing far better than I could in words. But it went beyond that. In gay porn, for example, it was obvious that men in leather were models wearing some fetish clothing rather than real leathermen. And it seemed like no one was ever turned on or had a hard on. One day I had tied up a friend who jerked off in bondage while I photographed him. It was an ecstatic emotional experience and I was hooked. With these images, I finally began to see images of radical sex that matched my own personal understanding of the world.

I've heard that your apartment was ravaged in a fire in 1981. Could you talk a little bit about this experience and how it impacted your work and your understanding of San Francisco at the time?
I lived on a dead-end alleyway, off another dead end alley off of Folsom Street and behind the building that had formerly housed a mythic gay bar called the Red Star Saloon and its notorious upstairs bathhouse, The Barracks. This building was being refurbished and a workman, angry because he thought someone had stolen some of his tools, lit the building on fire. The building went up very quickly because it was a big empty wood box with air. Because the streets were two dead-end alleyways, there was no way to fight the fire except from the front, so the fire raced down one alleyway and then the other, wiping out everything in site.

The fire chief had been told that there were gay dungeons in the fire area so he declared that they were likely to find "bodies dead chained to beds." The firefighters further inflamed the situation by claiming that they smelled "burning meat." No bodies were found and thankfully no one died, but the fire was literally stopped at the door to my bedroom/playroom/studio. Police and firefighters essentially rioted in my apartment, the last building standing in the entire fire area. Boxes with hundreds of photographs disappeared. Much of my sex gear, including a custom hood and a beautiful set of handmade long-lash whips, simply disappeared, apparently taken as trophies. Many other belongings in my apartment had been ransacked or destroyed.

You have to understand, it was only a few years after Dan White murdered gay Supervisor Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, and not that long after the White Night Riots, protesting Dan White's light sentence for cold-blooded murder. There was a tremendously contentious relationship between the police and fire departments and the gay community. Firemen and policemen were seen wearing T-shirts that read "Free Dan White." So when they found my mostly intact apartment, they knew that they were in what they saw as enemy territory. Posters satirizing Dan White disappeared from my walls. Posters satirizing Dianne Feinstein, then mayor of SF, also disappeared. A photo of my bedroom showed up on the back page of the Saturday morning Chronicle and my bedroom was identified as a "torture chamber" for sadomasochists.

The impact was that I went into a deep depression as I had no money, no job (I had been fired from my job in the financial district only months before the fire) and no support from either the gay or leather communities. In fact, more than once I was told that I deserved what I got for daring to be so public and open about my sexuality in my work.

It also completely changed the work I was doing in both look and style. I went from flash-on camera documents of sex to extreme high-contrast dreamscapes and highly ritualized interactions. My work became a way for me to deal with the grief and pain of what had happened and a way for me to start the healing process.

I'm curious if you felt like you were part of a larger gay art scene in San Francisco or if your community was mostly built around leather and kink and your art was a way for you to interface with that.
Well, this is one of the things that have changed. When I moved to San Francisco I hung out at a bar called the Ambush, which was in the South of Market area, and also an art space called 544 Natoma Performance Gallery, which was the first gay performance gallery in San Francisco. Peter Hartman, the owner/creator of 544, was also a South of Market man. We combined all aspects of our lives including our sexuality, which meant that there was no dividing line between sex, art and life. It was all combined. We drank at the bar together, we went to events together, we did performance together, we had Thanksgiving together. I'm not talking about one specific group; these were overlapping groups with people moving in and out of different groups. But that energy has mostly disappeared.

Do you have a sense of when that shift happened?
Well, of course, it is related to AIDS. This is one of the things that I don't think people really understand. It's not just that a whole bunch of people died. It's the kind of people who died. You're talking about a group of people who all left their families and moved to large urban areas to be with each other. That took a particular kind of personality and a special personal courage to do that. And that is what has disappeared. As times change, cultures change. I'm not suggesting that we should be living in the past. You have to live in the present. But we're living in an evolving community and there's no question that it is different now than it was. And it should be different. My loss is in feeling like sexuality has been shoved to the side, instead of being at the center of who we are.

Did your work change in the face of AIDS?
As the AIDS health crisis reached grand proportions in the mid-/late 1980s, I started working on a series of intense sexual portraits called Sexual Portraits & Private Acts from the Warzone. Even the title made it clear that in doing this work I was acknowledging both AIDS and the devastating amount of death that we were experiencing in our community. I know it must seem strange to someone on the outside that my response to death and dying would be to take sexual portraits, but I felt it was important to recognize that while people were dying, the gay community was not dying. In all tragedies, including war--even in the most dire circumstances--life and sex go on. So, in a sense, each portrait was also a defiant battle cry against the encroaching darkness.

But in Diary of a Thought Criminal, my response to AIDS became even more focused and intense. My ex Robert Chesley, a well-known gay writer and playwright, whose plays confronted AIDS straight on in Night Sweats, Jerker and The Dog Plays, had seroconverted and was also suffering from Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) and KS lesions. I did two series of images of him that specifically related to AIDS. The first was more metaphorical. Robert was dressed in what he called his "doll suit," a custom-made, specialized, form-fitting costume that was blank on the outside. As part of a ritualized sex trip, he would have his partner draw his features on the outside of the suit, literally creating him as they went.

But when I started drawing on the suit, I was overcome by this sense that as a gay man with AIDS, Robert had already been "Xed Out" and was considered dead, even though he was still very much alive and still a sexual being. So instead of eyes, I drew Xs over his eyes, the standard symbol for someone who is dead. And then, since his voice was also being silenced, I drew an X over his mouth and across his chest. And finally as a gay man with AIDS, he was not allowed by society to be sexual and so I drew a big X over his groin.Of course by this time, Robert was hard as a rock, providing a wonderful counterpoint to the Xs. And finally he was put into a spandex bag that was almost like a smooth fabric sarcophagus, completing the idea that society had already declared him dead. And yet even then, you can see his hard dick pressing outward. I eventually showed a series of seven images from these photographs and called it Man X'd Out. Some of them were shown in a groundbreaking museum show, Don't Leave Me This Way, at the National Gallery of Australia in 1994. I had wanted him to show another series on AIDS that I had done with Robert called Robert Chesley - ks portraits with harddick & superman spandex, but the curator was too afraid to show them because they were even more explicit.

I was immediately drawn to that series when looking through your book. Robert is somehow simultaneously somber, dignified and still totally playful.
I was putting together a show of photographs that I had taken of Robert over the years and we decided that in order to be accurate and up to date, I needed to document the fact that Robert had AIDS and Kaposi's sarcoma. At the time, there were two kinds of photographs of people with AIDS. Photographers like Nicholas Nixon did horrifying photographs of gay men dying of AIDS in hospitals, terribly disfigured and wasting away. Other photographers did glamorous photographs of people with AIDS. Neither one of these extremes reflected how either of us felt. We wanted to do images that would be about life and living rather than about death and dying. Equally, we wanted them to reflect something real rather than something glamorized. Unlike some men with KS, Robert's lesions on his face were less noticeable, so I didn't really understand how disfigured he had become from them. So when Robert took off his shirt, it literally took my breath away. Angry red lesions covered his arms and torso. But we went ahead and took some very personal, potent and direct portraits of him.

When we were done, Robert, with a twinkle in his eye, asked if I was willing to do some more images. When he returned, he came back with a spandex Superman outfit. Spandexed superheroes flying free were some his favorite sexual fantasies. And as he started to get dressed, his dick started to get hard. He commented that while he had a hard time getting hard these days because of the AIDS drugs, he seemed to have no problem getting hard in front of my camera.

I know from the outside this series seems like a preconceived political and artistic statement, but I assure you it wasn't. It was something that came out of the moment where we both contributed equally to the shoot. But in the end, where I had intended on doing some simple yet powerful portraits, the series became about transformation from images of a diseased man to a proudly sexual man. And it became even more focused, when he chose the superman character, a persona that is powerful and impervious to the things that very human beings suffer from, like AIDS.

It is a confrontational series of images combining life and death, erotic turn-on and disfigurement and bondage and freedom. It is meant to have that jumble of conflicting emotions because that is what life was like, not just for men with AIDS, like Robert, but for all of us. Our lives were a confusing jumble of conflicting emotions and realities.

This series has continued to cause upset whenever it has been exhibited. In the mid-1990s, I was invited to participate in a show called Rated X - Works That Dare Censorship that was being held at New College of California in San Francisco. I hung the photographs of Robert and in less than a day they were taken off the walls because lesbians at the college complained that a hard dick coming through clothing would trigger women who had been raped and were therefore unacceptable.

I later tried to have them published in a magazine called Art & Understanding which was a publication specifically created to explore the artistic response to AIDS. They refused to publish the series declaring that it would put their nonprofit status at risk. I thought it was sad that when it came to AIDS that anything sexual was automatically unacceptable, compounding the tragedy of AIDS and what it had done to our community.

Now, 25 years after they were taken, this series of photographs of Robert Chesley will be part of Jonathan Katz's groundbreaking exhibition called Art AIDS America that will open at the Tacoma Museum of Art on October 3 of this year and then travel to a museum in Atlanta and finally the Bronx Museum of Art in the Bronx, New York. It is the first time that my work will be seen in a museum in the continental U.S.

Can you talk a little about your book that is coming out this week and how it came to be? What has your experience been promoting/publicizing/showing your work?
The seed money for this book and exhibition came from Bill Henkin, a friend of mine from the kink community in the 1980s, and a nonprofit group he was a part of called the Cumulus Fund. The Cumulus Fund funded small community projects that focused on radical sex and sexuality. In addition, I did fundraising and we took book pre-orders to raise additional capital.

I have self-published the book using a digital print-on-demand format. I did this to be sure that I wouldn't have to deal with censorship, something I had to deal with when I self-published my first photo book, Diary of a Thought Criminal, in 1996. But the downside is that the cost of each book is tremendous, about $73. The book is hardcover, with 132 pages and over 80 images. My work has changed so dramatically over time, reflecting my own personal changes and the tremendous changes that have occurred in my community. The monograph is set up chronologically, with each body of work prefaced by a statement to provide context to help people understand how each group of images came to be.

I believe in books and the importance and power of putting something into a book. Over the years my work has been damaged and nearly lost due to devastating fires and earthquakes. I don't think people realize how fragile and ephemeral it is doing this work, and how easily it could disappear forever. Putting these images in a hard cover book is a desperate attempt on my part to create multiple images and copies of my work, so that even if the rest of it did disappear, that something would be left of what I have spent nearly four decades doing. Those men (and women) and those times deserve to be documented, recorded and honored, for being who they were, and particularly for being the pioneers that they were and providing the ground work that has led to recent advancements in equality for all gay people.

Let me just say that there is much more to my work and archives than the work that is in the book, City of Wounded Boys & Sexual Warriors. Since my work will never receive grants from the government and organizations supported and funded by the government, support has to come from the gay community, the arts community or the sexual underground. I am looking for angels and heroes who believe that we as gay people have something special to offer the rest of world when it comes to sex and sexuality. Angels who want to make sure that all voices, even those from the underground, get recorded and saved for future generations so our lives don't just disappear like they have been written in invisible ink.

Mark I. Chester has created a dark, explicit photographic diary that documents his life in San Francisco's sexual underground from the late 1970s to the present. Mark's work captures these tumultuous times, politically, socially and sexually, through personal portraiture that crosses the normally exclusive photographic genres of fine art portraiture, social documentary photography and sexually explicit art. His art, serving as a visual journal of sorts for Chester. is uniquely personal, sexual, confrontational, devastating (parts are a response to the AIDS crisis) and full of pleasure as he chronicles the history in San Francisco's gay and leather sexual underground.

Kyle Croft is a graduate of the University of Washington and former a intern at Visual AIDS. He has also worked with MIX NYC and Seattle's Reteaching Gender & Sexuality. He is the project manager for this year's Visual AIDS Day With(out) Art Project RADIANT PRESENCE.

Hunter Reynolds, "Blood Spot, Berlin Sky"

Editors Alyson Campbell and Dirk Gindt have issued a call for essays for an international collection on HIV and AIDS in theater and performance. See below for further information.

Since the introduction of new anti­retroviral treatments in the mid-­1990s, HIV and AIDS have gradually diminished from cultural agendas in prosperous and politically stable countries of the Global North. On the other hand, there is a certain nostalgia for the theatre and activism of the 1980s and early '90s. In recent years, there have been acclaimed screen/TV adaptations and stage revivals of plays like Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart and Tony Kushner's Angels in America in North America, Europe and Australasia along with exhibitions and documentaries on ACT UP, Gran Fury and other American­‐based activists. Without denying the legacy and ongoing value of these works and organizations, their canonization risks reproducing the false assumption that new performance responses addressing HIV and AIDS are no longer being created or that theater about HIV and AIDS has become irrelevant after the success of anti­retroviral medications. This is a set of perceptions this volume seeks to address.

Meanwhile, performance and community-­based theater remain vital tools for many artists and activists in the Global South to spread information about prevention, address taboos such as the use of condoms, challenge poverty, political apathy and religious prejudice, critique the unbalanced gender order and the precarious situation of women. With the recent marked rise in infection rates in large parts of the world where it seemed medication had the virus under control, the question is if the disappearance of artistic representations of HIV and AIDS is so justifiable after all. Yet there is an awareness that, at the same time, performances that aim to educate about rising HIV infections may inadvertently raise fears about HIV and further stigmatize and debilitate people living with HIV (PLHIV). And stigma is identified as the greatest issue facing PLHIV in countries with access to effective treatment.

The volume seeks to address the following questions:

  • What are the methodological and historiographical challenges when studying HIV and AIDS theater and performance?
  • How can we balance the need to examine and document history with the immediate concerns of the present, honoring those whose deaths continue to risk falling into oblivion without forgetting that the HIV and AIDS epidemic is far from over and that performance responses continue to provide indispensable activist interventions?
  • What are the challenges faced by theater artists working on HIV and AIDS in the Global South? What, indeed, are the issues with terminologies such as Global North and Global South when speaking about HIV and AIDS and performance? What ethical issues are at stake for artists and scholars?
  • What is the relationship between "mainstream" or artist-­led work and the community of PLHIV?
  • What differences are there between community-­based drama and performance made with PLHIV and works designed for a wider audience?
  • How can creative and scholarly work deal with HIV and AIDS without taking away the voice and agency of people directly affected by the epidemic?

The proposed volume will be the first study to analyze the impact of HIV and AIDS on theater and performance in the twenty­‐first century from an international perspective. Contributions are invited from established and emerging scholars as well as from theater artists and activists that analyze the continuing challenges posed by the epidemic for theater artists, activists and scholars. Some topics to be addressed include, but are not limited to:

  • stories performed by and for marginalized social groups who live in the shadow of the dominant HIV and AIDS narratives, not least women, racialized communities and indigenous populations;
  • the manifold ways theater artists interact and collaborate with health and cultural authorities as well as non-­governmental organizations on local, regional and national levels;
  • unequal access to treatments and medications;
  • the continued stigmatization of people living with HIV;
  • the legal repercussions against people who do not disclose their HIV+ status prior to engaging in sexual activities;
  • the implications of consensual unprotected sex and deliberate HIV transmission;
  • homo-­and transphobia and hate crimes committed against queers living with HIV;
  • the effects of neoliberalism and neo-­conservatism on health and cultural politics;
  • the global feminization of poverty;
  • the financial interests of transnational pharmaceutical companies;
  • the commodification of HIV and AIDS by the cultural industry and the promotion of "acceptable" and profitable narratives at the expense of less lucrative ones.

Interested authors are encouraged to send an abstract (300 words) and a short bio including their affiliation (200 words) to the editors no later than September 30, 2015.

Essays (previously unpublished; 7,000 words all inclusive) need to be submitted no later than April 15, 2016.

Alyson Campbell, University of Melbourne,

Dirk Gindt, Stockholm University,

Clit Club flyer 1996

On October 1, Visual AIDS will host THE HARD CORPS: clubs, sex, activism, bodies panel and community discussion at La MaMa Galleria from 6 to 8 p.m. The program will re-engage the activist/artist-led alternative parties of panelists Julie Tolentino (Clit Club | Tattooed Love Child) and Aldo Hernandez (Meat), moderated by Joshua Lubin-Levy. The discussion will consider the range of affective and activist responses to the intersections of nightlife and community building at the heart of throwing sex-positive parties during the height of the AIDS crisis.

For the program, we are hoping to bring together anecdotes--fabulous, fierce and forgettable too--from comrades, compatriots, partners in crime, participants, revelers and the like from parties such as Clit Club, Tattooed Love Child, MEAT & PORK. We are particularly invested in considerations of HIV/AIDS activism, community-building, and creative escape in the scenes and spaces fostered and frequented at the time.

If interested in sharing your recollections, portions of which may be discussed aloud over the course of the evening, please send your recollections by Thursday, September 24, to Alex Fialho at Please note if you'd prefer to have your name accompany or be anonymous with the sharing, and/or if you plan to attend the program and share the anecdotes yourself.



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