On the occasion of the exhibition, Ephemera As Evidence,
curated by Joshua Lubin-Levy and Ricardo Montez for Visual AIDS, we
make available through download (to the side) a poem by award winning
poet Thomas Devaney. The work, "We Didn't Talk About This" is based on a
conversation between artist member Charles Long, who is in Ephemera As
Evidence, and Ted Kerr, the Visual AIDS program manager. Below, Kerr
provides context to the poem, which you can download from this page. The
poem and essay are also available in zine form, designed by Bridget de
The world was most profoundly known through
the accretion of language, the nuances of interpretation, anecdotal
accumulation and overlay.
Michele Wallace, "Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory"
Rhetoric is an invitation to understanding as a means to create a
relationship rooted in equality, immanent value, and
self-determination.Invitational rhetoric constitutes an invitation to
the audience to enter, the rhetor's world and to see it as the rhetor
does. In presenting a particular perspective, the invitational rhetor
does not judge or denigrate others' perspective, even if they differ
dramatically from the rhetor's own. Ideally, audience members accept the
invitation offered by the rhetor by listening to and trying to
understand the rhetor's perspective and then presenting their own.When
this happens rhetor and audience alike contribute to the thinking about
an issue so that everyone involved gains a greater understanding of the
issue in its subtlety, richness, and complexity.
Sonja K. Foss, Cindy L. Griffin, "Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric"
Ephemera...a kind of evidence of what has transpired but certainly not the thing itself.
José Esteban Muñoz, "Ephemera as Evidence"
The Ephemerality of Utterance
the spring of 2012 Charles Long was returning to Brooklyn. After
spending ten years doing frontline grassroots social justice activism
focused on poverty, health, race, gender, sexuality and HIV/AIDS around
the US he wanted to refocus on his art practice.
Hearing him talk
about the move it became clear that what he was going through was less
of a transition (my initial thought around what was happening) - and
more of a realignment. For over a decade he channelled his curiosity,
passion, and energy into direct action, civil disobedience, fundraising,
and training others. Now he wanted to knit, draw, conceptualize, and
perform. Same impetuses, similar goals, different practices. He didn't
know how it was all going to take shape, but he knew he had to keep
moving and growing--to communicate in different ways. His body and soul
were still on the line for what he believed.
Around the time of
his return I was co-curating a salon called, "I am not alone in this
way." The event was created as an invitation for audiences to consider
how our most intimate ways of being--striving and surviving, often in
hostile worlds--can be viewed as responsible for positive social change.
The salon was part of the exhibition "Don't Worry What Happens Happens
Mostly Without You" curated by Kris Nuzzi at Radiator Gallery in Queens,
NY. That show explored the personal identities of the invited artists
(Jeanie Choi, Camilo Godoy, James Richards, Aldrin Valdez, Sam Vernon
and myself) as we--in Kris's words--navigated:
world shaped by experiences of marginalization, silencing and
difference. Whether speaking from their own life, recreating a
historical memory or representing an underrepresented
community...communicating issues of immigration, race, queerness and
Seeing connections between the exhibition and
what Charles was going through, it was important to me to have his voice
and person included in the salon. Specifically, I wanted us to do an
interview together in front of an audience about what was going on in
his life, the ways in which art, activism, and his life were coming
together to create a path he was following. It was my desire that our
conversation not only be about his realignment, but to have it be a part
of it as well.
Charles and I met two years earlier in Mexico
City at the International AIDS Conference. He was a lead organizer with
CHAMP (Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project), an activist group I was
blogging for. Charles, and his friends and peers like Kenyon Farrow,
Coco Jervis, Emily Metzner, Cameron Lefevre, Josh Thomas, Walt
Senterfitt and Maxwell Simon opened my eyes wider around what AIDS
activism needs to be. They worked with an urgency around race, class,
gender and sexuality that articulated that the AIDS crisis not over, and
social justice was the effective way to reduce the harm of HIV. Without
hesitation they could string sentences together about prison and HIV
rates, water scarcity and infection rates, gender determination and harm
reduction. And they did it while being cynical, informed, funny,
honest, sometimes drunk, and always generous. If someone had a question,
explanations came. If someone disagreed, a conversation ensued. If
someone thought someone was talking shit, it was stated. And everyone
walked away smarter, witnessed, and committed.
It was this
informal way of learning and sharing ideas that I wanted to replicate
with Charles for the salon. What would others hear when we spoke? What
would others glean from the questions I asked, and the answers Charles
In the week leading up to the salon, I went to visit
Charles to talk about what we were calling our "live interview". I
wanted a sense from him what was off limits, if anything, to ask. "I
trust you. I wouldn't do this otherwise," he said. And with that we
chatted in his house, arranging to see each other next at the gallery on
the day of the salon. We agreed not rehearse or have pre-determined
questions and answers. Instead, we would rely on--and feed off --each
The salon was on an extremely warm spring Sunday
afternoon. It featured readings from Ella Boureau, Riley MacLeod,
presentations by Aldrin Valdez, Ariel "Speedwagon" Federow, Camilo
Godoy, and a performance of Portuguese Fados from Ryan Green. We set up
the stage at the back of the gallery, an all white narrow space,
sunlight flooding in from the skylight above. The gallery's cooling
system was broken so the packed audience sat where they could, some
leaning against walls or each other. Flush faces, and sweat pools
gathering on collarbones greeted Charles and I as we stood in front to
talk. We decided to keep it simple: we had 10 minutes; we'd stand beside
each other in front of a table and take turns thinking in the moment,
thinking together, and thinking our present selves against all else. No
mics, we projected our voices, and dove in.
I was happy to see the
poet Thomas Devaney in the front row. I knew him through working at
Visual AIDS with Amy Sadao, his partner. Seeing Tom inspired me to ask
at the last minute if he would take notes. A funny thing can happen when
you ask a poet to take notes--they may create something beautiful. In my
mind, I was hoping for some sort of transcription of what we said.
Instead, Tom did something else, something directly in the spirit of the
conversation at hand: he captured something of the scene, the exchange.
Instead of falling into the trap of trying to quote us, he wrote into
what he was hearing, and also some of the spaces in-between that too. At
the end of the performance Tom gave me his notes. Two years later I
found them and typed them up and sent them to him and he made some
slight edits and adjustments and sent it back to us. Years later, now
that the "live interview" is but a memory, what remains is the lacuna of
our collective poetry.
Or as Tom says, "the poem is the artifact."