"I do think there remains a decisive line between the infected and the uninfected regardless of all the changes happening. Part of this has to do with the fact that successful combination therapies are still very new, really new. They have only been around for less than 20 years, and every time we think we’ve found a way to eliminate HIV we find it hiding some place else. I know the HIV virus has been powerfully suppressed in my body, but I also know that it is lingering in various tissues. I know it is inside my body and probably not ever, fully going to abandon me. One of the exciting and scary things about HIV is how it has become this huge experiment we are all going through: We are all experimenting on our bodies, with chemicals, with new concepts and politics and practices. I think there are ways in which one can command this experimentation and deploy it in highly directly, self-conscious ways. But we also don’t know what the future of any of these things is. I don’t know what it will mean to take my pills 40 years from now, what the effects will be, and what the HIV lingering in my body might start to do.”
While HIV/AIDS begins with a virus, we can also understand it as an assemblage, not just self-tasked with replication, but also driven and made bigger through accumulation. Within the assemblage of the epidemic, time is not a line, as HIV/AIDS becomes the organizing principle, the lens through which many experience the world, and many try to make sense of it. This issue of the We Who Feel Differently Journal invites you in—as is the case with previous issues—to think and to feel differently.— Ted Kerr
She is our queen.
I can’t with people on PrEP comparing their experience to people living with HIV. Like, just don’t.
Below is an excerpt of a conversation between academic Alexandra Juhasz and writer Ted Kerr about AIDS on Film. It began as a discussion about Dallas Buyers Club but quickly evolved.
The passage below focuses on the role assemblage plays in current AIDS understanding as well as an attempt to try and understand the how the internet, and history factor into recent past images created by and for gay men.
TK. Right, Dallas Buyers Club uses the same images but with no understanding that these signifiers have shifting and diverse meanings. In the film, there is an idea that AIDS is a thing, or a look, or one way of being (sick and weak and skinny), whereas for me, aside from my understanding that HIV is a virus, I function—even as an HIV-negative gay man—with an idea that AIDS is an assemblage: a constellation of things, processes, and experiences (including those of the past and present) having to live alongside and in connection with each other. It is this idea that allows Untitledto work that very same footage so differently. Instead of a talk Hodges was commissioned to give at Artspace in San Antonio on the billboard project of artist Felix Gonzalez Torres, he collaborated with Marques da Cruz and King to make this sixty-minute montage of found footage, ranging from news clips, activist video, avant-garde films, educational videos, and sitcoms, to put the viewer in Gonzalez-Torres’s “room” (yet another resonance to the private but political bedroom in the Your Nostalgia is Killing Me poster and in Irwin Swirnoff’s and Catherine Sallfield and Zoe Leonard’s films, yet to be discussed). I see the film as a people’s history of the last thirty years in America where AIDS is written as the core. It is a visualization of how one can see the violence, tenacity, and creativity of America through the lens of AIDS. But it is also a collection of moments, truths, images, and impacts that, when placed along side each other, add up to the ongoingness of AIDS.
AJ. While I readily agree that Untitled is an amazing use and depiction of the past of America, where AIDS (images) function as a key to our history, the video also focuses, almost entirely, upon the experience and images of gay men. It cuts through the archive, pulling certain threads into focus. In counterdistinction to the normative mode you described earlier where AIDS is never seen in our present, Hodges looks back and sees it everywhere. This is connected to what we were hoping to do at that time, when we were making these early images: to assert, representationally, that AIDS impacted all aspects of American life.
TK: What is interesting to me is Untitled’s assemblage of footage comes at a time when the technique is being used in many and various ways (queer and not so), most popularly in Lana Del Ray’s mainstream debut, Video Games(2011) and more intimately in Irwin Smirnoff’s film, he said. Smirnoff’s film slideshows a dreamy constellation of moments in one queer man’s life: a life full of desire, sickness, influence, memory, landscape, paranoia, and softness. It reminds me a of a moment in photography that began maybe ten years ago, best understood as coming after or being influenced by Nan Goldin, Wolfgang Tillmans, Cass Bird, Ryan McGinley, and Lina Scheynius and instigated by gay men born in the late Seventies and early Eighties who maybe did not grow up with the Internet, but grew into adulthood with it. It is best exemplified by photographers Quinnford and Scout (now Oisin Share and Colin Quinn), Zachary Ayotte, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Steven Beckley, the early filmwork of Jim Verburg (For a Relationship, 2007) and projects likeButt Magazine, Original Plumbing magazine, I Want Your Love (Travis Mathews, 2012), and Weekend (Andrew Haigh, 2011) and even the music video for Holopaw’s Dirty Boots (Adam Baran, 2014). For these artists, the feedback loop of themselves is rooted in images of the past, and present-day porn. The work they create and share is for them, their visual vocabulary, communicating a desire to be seen: here we are now, in all our sunburst erotic everydayness, in our banality and vulnerability. These are images of young men who are aware that they will be able to/can get married or fight in wars for their country; but most likely will not do either. Rather they are making breakfast, hanging out on the couch, staring at each other. They are trying to make sense of the world around them based on their own terms, the politic they find themselves in as young gay men. AIDS is part of this, and this is embodied in Swirnoff’s film where HIV/AIDS both frames and is erased into daily life.
he said gets to how/why assemblage, in terms of adjacencies, is such an important part of AIDS cultural production now. Swirnoff’s film is about adjacencies: photos of sunsets, car rides, album covers, handsome friends, body parts, vials of blood, medication, road trips, photos of old photos, people in his room, which all come up against each other while the words “He says I don’t want you to be afraid of your body” play over the top.
AJ: This is a similar construction to Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, a much earlier intervention into the AIDS home-movie landscape, where Mark Rappaport also assembles movie footage, again of Hudson, into adjacencies by substituting these public images for the gay home movies that could never have been taken, all the while writing himself into the picture (as did Vargas) and then speaking his overt analysis about homophobia, HIV/AIDS politics, and gay images on to these images. Swirnoff is the lucky queer son who need not hide in (nor be uncloseted from) his own home movies.
TK: Yes, and his is a film about AIDS, and the inheritance of gay men born after the start of the epidemic in other ways, too. Many feel plagued by the plague that is now at a remove (given that HIV, as we discussed, is not part of their everyday lives as it might have been if they were born fifteen years earlier), and yet a fear of the body and what it can transmit lingers as a trace of another time and other deaths: the oppression that would have existed without HIV/AIDS is articulated through HIV/AIDS and its absence.
Films like Swirnoff’s that are about an embodied and integrated life with HIV in the present are few and far between. The film powerfully and beautifully illustrates the ways in which, even coming of age within the second silence, AIDS remains a preoccupation. AIDS is. And yet, silence accumulates and overwhelms.
There is a common refrain in the HIV/AIDS community that young people don’t talk, think, or know about AIDS. But that isn’t true. It is just communicated in ways that may not be recognizable or legible to those who come from, or need, a more visible experience of AIDS and its activism. But this, too, is changing, in part through AIDS Emergence.
Read the article in full: http://www.cineaste.com/articles/aids-article