World AIDS Day

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Will you remember me?

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Who is remembered?

Who is forgotten?

And who is it that gets to decide?

In honor of this year’s World AIDS Day on December 1ST the ICI sought to serve as a catalyst for precisely this discussion through our tactical event entitled Forget Foucault.  In this project various ICI members stationed themselves at two locations in Los Angeles armed with button badges printed with either Forget/Remember followed by the name of an individual lost to HIV/AIDS. It is a project that sought to challenge participants to ask of themselves who is it that they remember? Who is that they have forgotten?

As part of this project I was tasked with looking back to the ICI’s AIDS Bottle Project (1990-2000) to create an online facsimile of the comment journals used to record people’s reactions over the years.  It was a project begun in 1990 that employed a simple, etched glass jar emblazoned with the name of a person to memorialize those who have died from AIDS and HIV-related illnesses. As I read through the comments I was struck by both the sincerity and the cynicism of the writers.  It was a cynicism that I did not expect, but considering the time, was especially prevalent in the 1993 AIDS Bottle Project comment journal. It is a form of ignorance that unfortunately, for as far as we’ve come, I fear has more often than not over the years transformed into indifference.

With the multitude of burdens each of us has been tasked with it is easy to understand why so many disconnect themselves from a disease like AIDS that seemingly has no connection to them.  In turn it is precisely because of this that the ICI’s projects are so impactful because they ground this disease. They place it in a context that we as mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends can understand.

For me this was best summed up in one entry in which one person posed  a set of questions that we are all too familiar with:

“Do all of our years of turmoil, hope, love and living continue beyond our living, breathing cells? Or is what is left a vast emptiness of space contained only by the memories of those still alive?”. Williams College Museum of Art 1993 AIDS Bottle Project comments journal.

As this year World’s AIDS Day has come and gone it is questions like these that linger.  Within all these thoughts of death, and loss, and remembrance, all we can do is live in a way in which we do not sit idly by and instead “dare to reach out your hand into the darkness, to pull another hand into the light” (Norman B. Rice).

-Eliana

The Fight Continues

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

World AIDS Day, a Day Without Art, December 1, 2011

Now that Forget Foucault has finished its initial run and the buttons have been disseminated, I am left with a new perspective on a topic that I already thought I knew about. Both saddened and encouraged, I feel I have gained perspective on the state of AIDS awareness and sentiment in America for the first time.

30 years after the epidemic began, ignorance and hatred still persists in regards to HIV and AIDS. While giving away the buttons both at LACMA and Third Street promenade in Santa Monica, I received a diverse array of reactions to our cause. Many people were receptive to the buttons and supportive of World AIDS Day but just as many were not.

I was surprised to see that in 2011, fear and disgust still surrounds the term AIDS in the minds of some people. For some, the term made them avoid me and my ephemera, taking extra effort to walk at a distance from me. For others, the free buttons were a draw until I told them what they were for, at which point a few people immediately dropped the buttons in their hands and rushed away; some of whom claimed to be unsupportive of the cause and while others just seemed to fear sudden infection.

Unfortunately, some of the negative responses were the most abrupt and sincere. I had one elderly gentleman “explain” to me that while their deaths may be sad, my cause was fruitless because “those people got what they deserved” for being gay and “whoring around.” I calmly explained to him that gay men were not the only people affected and that many people also became infected by dirty needles or through infected blood transfusions, but most of my words fell on deaf ears. And at another point during the day, I was accosted by a man who claimed that I was only out to irritate him. That AIDS wasn’t even real and that it was only a clever government scheme to systematically frighten and kill people at will. When our director Lise told us about this belief earlier that day, I almost didn’t believe her, and yet here it was, right in my face, yelling.

On the flipside of this, I was also particularly struck by a lengthy conversation I had with a different man. Unlike some of the other negative sentiments that had been directed towards the project and the disease process that day, this man’s thoughts and actions seemed aligned with our cause, and yet his words affected me all the same. This man knew the facts and the statistics; he knew people who had died from AIDS; and he knew that that the epidemic was still spreading. BUT, what he didn’t know was why HIV and AIDS have seemingly fallen off the radar in the US. He asked me why the media had steadily decreased reporting on the issue since the mid to late 90s. He asked me why we never really seem to hear about it anymore, even as incidents rise in regions like the South. And he asked me whether or not the major global pharmaceutical companies were still searching for a cure. We hear about advances in cancer research and survival rates on a regular basis, but why not AIDS? Are anti-viral cocktails still the best they could come up with after all this time? Sure, people taking the anti-virals are living longer, (arguably) healthier lives, but those have been around for 20 years, why haven’t they created something new yet? Why does Magic Johnson still seem to be the poster boy for “living with HIV/AIDS”? Do they think that because he’s still alive, everything’s OK? They were all good questions, and I didn’t have pertinent answers for them. All I know is that if more people were having these conversations, maybe things might change.
As the buttons we gave out travel to their respective new homes and begin to spread beyond their dissemination points, I can only hope that they begin to spread discourse and discussion as well. Will everyone who comes across a button from the project know its meaning and significance? No. But if even one person uses theirs as a talking point, that’s one more person helping to keep HIV and AIDS alive in the public consciousness.

The event may be finished, but the project, like the fight against the AIDS epidemic itself, is far from over.

Looking into the future of the fight.
-Sue-Na

Forget who?

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

 

“While the collective memory endures and draws strength from its base in a coherent body of people, it is individuals as group members who remember.”

- Maurice Halbwachs  The Collective Memory


A project, come and gone, leaves a certain mark on you. The kinetic character of the progress and action is suddenly still and you are left with the remnants and marks of movement. I’m sitting at my desk looking at the bags of remaining buttons, all mixed up, the leftover printouts of AIDS resources pages, button assembly instructions and press releases. I wonder how the physical abluvion of these past few months will be kept, organized and interpreted by the next intern, fellow, archivist or artist to come. Will we create a clear lexicon and a concise abstract to guide the investigator towards our ideas and concepts or will these documents be left to fend for themselves with no signs to combat their investigators subjectivity. In all likelihood, given my experience with past projects housed here at the ICI, I would think it will be somewhere in between. I imagine the buttons displayed in a row of unassuming boxes, organized by name, color, and “Forget” or “Remember”, obituaries on small filing inserts at the front of each box; maybe a small diagram on the wall next to them which maps a person’s potential digital pathways from button to tag to web page to obituaries. There is something to be said about letting the person who is seeking an understanding of something wander through it a bit without instruction; something to be said about having to make sense of it yourself. Like navigating a new city with a good intuitive sense of North, South, East and West, and maybe an outdated map from a local gas station, instead of a GPS with street by street instructions. Getting lost can be fruitful in ways that we, the project creators, might not have anticipated.

While this archive will function as a kind of stamp of the project, the digital web linked to the project will be more like a planted seed. We will wait to see if it will get the necessary inputs to germinate and grow. I am interested to see this living archive has the kinetic energy of the project. Does the project continue through this modality? Is it a mirror? Or is it a separate channel breaking off from the first? I’m curious how it will function and whether it will ever join the physical archive as a still document.

Forget Foucault has interesting implications about which ideas, people, and systems we choose to resurrect, remember or forget. While so often pseudo-poststructuralists like myself (and sometimes Foucault) want to discuss the fact that we have little ability to overcome our taught predispositions towards memorial, faddisms and our strategic propensity to just put things out of mind, FF offers (or demands) that we assume a little agency. By wearing a button with the statement of forgetting or remembering we assume responsibility for our actions…at least that is the hope.

I saw only a few people actively concerned about the prospect of wearing the wrong statement. These people were upset when we didn’t have the button they wanted. Most of these wanted to remember someone, and found it an awful proposition to forget. Though these were the most impassioned people, I have a sense that it was due to a conditioned belief that remembering people is “good” forgetting people is “bad”. Though I had originally wanted more people to actively engage me, I now have a suspicion that the ones who could get the most out of the project might be the few, who in realizing that they just grabbed a button at random, will find themselves considering the implications of their mindless act. Disappointed in retrospect that they didn’t take the time to consider their options. That is my sincere hope.

-Kaylie

 

Meta Remembrance and Media Control

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

 

As I continue to do background research and prepare documents of the ICI’s upcoming project in conjunction with World AIDS Day, I have been really struck by the way in which information truly is power, especially when pegged against something like AIDS. While the Internet’s massive blogosphere has certainly done its part to open up new, uncensored forms of information, the vast majority of public information still comes down from the unfortunately biased and often times censored ideas of the mass media moguls.

I can’t help but to be influenced by the ICI’s past ongoing projects, such as the AIDS Chronicles, which visually displays both a lack of media coverage on AIDS and the bias with which epidemic has been reported on. By failing to bring up the global epidemic or only mentioning it from a specific angle (i.e. the transmission between gay men or intravenous drug users), it simultaneously quiets public interest on the matter (out of sight, out of mind) and creates skewed ideas around the facts of the disease process. Thus my mind has begun to focus more intently on social control via the control of information.

With these ideas fresh on my mind, I was further disturbed by the recent way in which all media and news personnel were strictly barred from getting near New York’s Zucotti Park during this week’s raid on the Occupy Wall Street protest. This to me was a blatant attempt at information control in regards to current events. (For what purpose, I can’t quite be sure.)

It’s the old adage about a tree falling in the forest; if no one hears about it, did it really happen? If information gets censored the media stops reporting on AIDS, will people still remember that it’s around and that people have perished from it? Perhaps we will only recall the ways in which we sought to remember these people through our memorials to them. Or worse yet, given enough time, be it weeks or decades, will we as a society simply forget all about those that we have lost and why they are gone?

It’s a scary thing to think about.

-Sue-Na

Minutia to Meta

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

The last few days have been spent editing and archiving video from our 1991 AID’s Bottle Project. The footage had been broken up for storage purposes, loosely labeled, and (being an older format) most of the footage made it hard to capture a clean still. But, I’ve discovered, the ICI looks kindly on the rough and worn down edges of our cultural record. After deciphering a few new editing tricks I was able to pull together some short, (hopefully) coherent, and neatly labeled videos chronicling the AIDS Bottle Project. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to review and engage this footage, never having seen the event myself. It gave a better sense of the sentiment and interaction sought by these projects. In editing new videos I tried to be cautious about cleaning, organizing, and adding to the record without tainting the existent aesthetic of the original videographer. The videos were constructed with the aesthetic of an insightful pedestrian’s, a filming technique that I wanted to respect and uphold. As I sifted through the clips I continuously returned to passages in Johnnie Graton and Michael Sheringham’s “Tracking the Art of the Project”. One in particular significantly contributed to my self-orientation while editing, “The project is frequently a lure, a device designed not to achieve a particular end, but to allow something unforeseen to happen.” It made me think of the balance needed between control and chaos; the desire to catalogue and create systems of organization in an attempt to better understand and control the untenable and overwhelming. However a true project embraces the inevitable leaks of chaos that serve to check, complicate and humanize our systems.

Thus far working at the ICI I have felt variably like I am wandering through a maze and standing on a bluff; between minutia and meta. A little lost at times but actively trying to develop a more comprehensive outlook.

-Kaylie