Last week in honor of the 25th anniversary of Day With(Out) Art, a national day of mourning and action in response to AIDS on December 1, Visual AIDS premiered ALTERNATE ENDINGS, seven commissioned short videos by artists and art collectives addressing the current state of the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis.
Conceived of by Visual AIDS and New Queer Cinema filmmaker, artist and Gran Fury member Tom Kalin, who also made his own moving video Ashes for ALTERNATE ENDINGS the seven videos provide a diverse and polyvocal approach to discussing HIV/AIDS, frequently layering personal experiences with wider public and political histories. Representing various processes, techniques and practices, ALTERNATE ENDINGS ranges from Julie Tolentino silently balancing Asian medicine cups on her nude body while names of influential people in her life create a dissonant soundtrack in evidence to Hi Tiger’s recontextualization of New Order’s poppy song The Village as a queer anthem, reflecting memories of love and loss.
Weaving together differing genders, races, ethnicities and generations, ALTERNATE ENDINGS depicts a fresh perspective on the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis–one that is not only focused on preserving, remembering and honoring the past losses from HIV/AIDS but also imagines a glimpse at the future.
While I enjoyed each video for its unique take on HIV/AIDS, I selected my three favorite ALTERNATE ENDINGS videos, which not only interested me upon viewing last Saturday at the Brooklyn Museum but also stuck with me for days afterward. Even though these three are my personal picks, this certainly does not mean the other four are any less evocative and meaningful. Therefore, I placed the remaining four videos at the end of the article.
Go ahead, faithful Filthy Dreams readers–watch, pick your personal favorite and let us know why.
Rhys Ernst, Dear Lou Sullivan, 2014
Countering the lack of transgender voices and histories in the discussion of HIV/AIDS, Los Angeles-based artist Rhys Ernst presents trans and AIDS activist Lou Sullivan, a gay transman who died from complications from AIDS in 1991, as a forefather for the intersection of gender and sexual identity, as well as HIV/AIDS. Creating an intergenerational dialogue between Sullivan and current trans and AIDS activists, Ernst layers interviews with Sullivan with grainy VHS porn and cringe-worthy Grindr chats, uncovering both the curious and phobic conversations around HIV/AIDS and transgender identities on these social hookup applications. Through the interview clips, Sullivan emerges as an outspoken and honest advocate, who bravely discloses that he was diagnosed with AIDS after complications with his bottom surgery. By representing Sullivan’s struggle with and ultimate acceptance of having, as Sullivan poetically describes, “an uncooperative body,” Ernst’s video works to articulate a history of transgender people with AIDS.
My Barbarian, Counterpublicity, 2014
“Can you see my disidentity?” croons art collective My Barbarian in their video Counterpublicity, transforming queer theorist José Muñoz’s writings on disidentification and queer counterpublic spheres into a danceable, earworm of a song that I’m still singing in the shower. My Barbarian’s video is largely inspired by Muñoz’s chapter in his seminal Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics on Pedro Zamora, a Cuban-American living with AIDS who starred in The Real World: San Francisco. Performing their own disidentificatory strategies, My Barbarian reenacts eye-roll-inducing scenes from The Real World in which cast members discuss AIDS. By taking on the language of Real World-ers like Puck whose comments tend to be douchey and outright offensive–spoken in the video unexpectedly by Jade Gordon, My Barbarian reveals the ridiculousness of reality television and Zamora’s unique place within its mass cultural sphere. Expertly merging academic theory with a fun yet powerful video, My Barbarian’s contribution to Alternate Endings would certainly have been adored by Muñoz.
Glen Fogel, 7 Years Later, 2014
In 7 Years Later, artist Glen Fogel reunites with his ex-boyfriend Nathan Lee, seven years after their breakup when Lee became HIV positive. Through their meeting, Fogel and Lee discuss the events leading up to their breakup from their open relationship to Lee’s seroconversion. The video is filmed entirely with a fascinating and, at times, nauseating rotating camera in Lee’s kitchen in Providence, Rhode Island, capturing both their conversation at the kitchen table and Fogel and Lee at multiple other locations in the apartment. Not only creating a dizzying effect that mirrors the overwhelming importance of their conversation, the video also juxtaposes the difficult and seemingly personally momentous conversation with an almost mundane domestic interior, revealing the everyday and commonplace aspects to these events.