Oct 24, 2011

TREND | AIDS Video Art

Ivan Lozano, 2008
Why is video art such an appropriate medium for activism, specifically with respect to educating the public about the HIV/AIDS epidemic? The answer has to do with first, the immediacy and accessibility of video art and second, because of censorship. The latter is a tricky arena to negotiate. One argument is that the AIDS video movement is dependent upon censorship. Censorship requires a response, and therefore propels activist artistic movements forward. 

Which is true. However, censorship regarding AIDS proved itself lethal to persons living with AIDS in the 1970's and 80's and continues to do so. The idea that censorship makes it necessary for artists to explore issues about the AIDS crisis should not be confused with "censorship makes for good art". AIDS censorship is a problem. End of story. I want to use this blog post to explore some of the ways in which artists use video to talk about the AIDS crisis in a contemporary climate.

Ivan Lozano is a Chicago based artist born, in Guadalajara. His video Back Room Lament manipulates footage from 1960's gay comedies to create highly abstract imagery. His work serves as a memoriam for for people who have died of AIDS. Fallen soldiers, as Ivan calls them. The final product reveals itself as a mythic, AIDS-free gay way of life. In this Ivan mourns both the death of gay men who suffered AIDS, as well as the loss of a cohesive gay activist identity. Though highly manipulated, Ivan's videos create an immediate, raw impact on the viewer. His work is currently on display at UT Austin's VAC as part of the Queer States exhibition. 
Ellen Spiro, 1990
Diana's Hair Ego is a full-length documentary by American filmmaker Ellen Spiro. It is the first small format video to be broadcast on public television. Direct and sometimes humorous, this film is about a South Carolina hairdresser who aims to educate the local community about AIDS. She does so by turning her shop into an educational center, complete with baskets full of condoms. Spiro met Diana while working with DIVA TV to document an AIDS infected woman who was quarantined to her trailer in 1988, immediately following her release from a mental institution. Even as late as 1988, quarantines for PWA's were still considered a plausible response to the AIDS epidemic. Though humorous, Diana's Hair Ego never diverts its eyes from the seriousness of the subject matter. 

Aids censorship does not take the same forms it did in the 1970's and 80's. It is no longer a politically driven response to social taboos and harsh laws. Artistically, censorship lies in the current curator's timidity. The fact that generation X created an artistic power house because of censorship causes curators to hesitate before creating contemporary exhibitions about HIV/AIDS. Therefore, censorship due to non-censorship has become a problem. However, issues surrounding the drug azidothymidine, or AZT, AIDS issues in Africa, sex education and the fact that there is still censorship, make AIDS communication imperative. 

Juanita Mohammed, 1992
Juanita Mohammed attacks the problem of AIDS education directly. Her 1992 video A Part of Me features Lily Gonzales, a lesbian Latina living with AIDS. Gonzales is an ex-IV drug user who became a volunteer AIDS educator. The video was featured in GMHC's "Living With AIDS" as part of AIDS TV's community alternative video production. Mohammed makes a practice of what is called "camcorder AIDS activism", community produced political video art. The work is geared towards self-empowerment for PWA's, as well as community identity. The material and the viewing ability are deliberately accessible. That her work can be broadcast directly into your home serves as a response to censorship as well as to the mainstream media's representation of AIDS in general. 

-Noelle Fitzsimmons



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