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Re: <eyebeam><blast> Art and Media

Melinda wrote:

>However... art does not exist outside a political context. Art is a
>tradeable commodity just like pork belly futures. Art is, and always 
>has been, a public relations/information/education arm of political
>/religious/revolutionary/ capitalist/whoever entities.

It seems to me that a "public relations arm of revolutionaries" can't
only be a commodity. Art has always been a means of communication. I
prefer to think of it--a la Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Hans
Haacke--as  part of the conciousness industry which includes Madison
Ave, Hollywood, etc. It seems vastly over-simplifying to consider
silence=death or the red ribbon or even Guernica as *only* commodities.
How can they be invoked without thinking of their content(s)--both
original and those overlaid by time?

>There were
>powerful groups involved in the altering the positioning of HIV and PWA
>in western culture before any "art" images errupted. By the time the
>Benetton "HIV positive" adds appeared,  HIV had almost become a
>"fashion". Hollywood embraced HIV with  "philadelphia", which it would
>not have done if it wasn't already a mainstream, safe, feel good issue.

You have your AIDS-art chronology wrong (and I wonder which powerful
groups besides the WHO were involved in this "altering the position of
HIV and PWAs").
This is the chronology and every item on it appeared before the cynical
Benetton ads and "Philadelphia," which wasn't nearly so easy to produce
in a reactionary Hollywood culture as you imply:
AIDS was named in 1982 and the first wave of photographers working to
combat horrific, sex-panicked, mass-media imagery circa 1985, altho
their work wasn't immediately exhibited. The NAMES Project Quilt debuted
in 1987. Silence=Death debuted in 1987-88. Gran Fury debuted in 1988.
Museums first began to show AIDS photos in 1988 (Nick Nixon at MoMA,
Rosalind Solomon at NYU's Grey Gallery; neither Nixon nor Solomon are
queer or afflicted with HIV), Visual AIDS' Day Without Art debuted in
1989 and its Red Ribbon in '91. Pop culture-wise 2 TV movies at least,
unlike Philadelphia, offered realistic gay characters and relationships.
They were: An Early Frost (1985) and Our Sons (1991).

>I do however question whether art by itself can alter perceptions.

Tell that to the Catholic Church during the Renaissance. Altho "by
itself" may be another matter. As an artist hasn't art altered any of
your perceptions? (As the most complex form of knowledge, it certainly
helped male me the person I am.)

>The Quilt was a brilliant marketing association of all-american folk
>family values with the "innocent" victim of disease.

Not true about the "innocent" victims--ie hemophiliacs and children. The
Quilt necessarily foregrounded queers for obvious demographic reasons
from the outset.

>I do think that a lot of
>good was achieved, but visual representations only played a small part
>in this way down the attitudinal change line.

I disagree completely. Bear in mind that in the US--the epidemic's
epicenter during the 80s (along with Africa in the second half of the
decade)--that Reagan never uttered the words AIDS in public. By
contrast, the Quilt and Ribbon helped raised this unmentionable subject.
It's remarkable that artists' works--rather than schmaltzy Elton John
songs and made-for-TV movies--became the iconic symbols and images of
this epidemic.

>Currently I'm  doing research and new work on another virus - HCV
>(hepatitis C) which is in plague proportions (4 mill americans?), and
>which throws its differences with HIV and the position of art to alter
>ideas into a harsh light. HCV affects the lives of, and  will kill, many more people than HIV, but doesnt have powerful & wealthy lobby 
>groups, established media star sufferers who are prepared to 'come 
>out,'  nor an
>underlying gay liberationist adgenda. the HCV positive, who are often
>ex- IV drug users, utilize the net for support, cause they are too
>stigmatized to 'come out' in thier local community. They are too tired
>to be activists. They are invisible. And dying from invisibility.

Well, why blame earlier victims? We queers felt like we were dying from
invisibility too (silence=death). In the early '80s being gay was not to
belong to a powerful and wealthy lobbying group. When the New Museum
organized the first out queer museum show (Extended Sensibilities) in
1982, almost no gay artists of note would participate. It was considered
a career-killer a la Hollywood today. You're absolutely right about the
gay liberationist agenda, but please let's keep the historical record
"straight" about such recent history. Ironically, AIDS demolished the
art-world closet, once-and-for-all. It also provided a model that allows
you to even consider an activist initiative by and/or for those
afflicted with a virus.

Cheers and thanks for your good work re HCV.

Robert Atkins

PS My work about AIDS and public art can be read online at
www.queer-arts.org (archive section, fall '97), in the catalog for "From
Media to Metaphor: Art About AIDS", the first major museum exhibition on
the subject, which Tom Sokolowski and I co-curated for ICI (it travelled
throughout the US and Canada 1991-94) and the forthcoming, "The Gay and
Lesbian Looker: How Queer Artists Revolutionized Art at the End of the
20th Century."

r o b e r t    a t k i n s

voice: 212-662-2961    fax: 212-222-4524    email: RAtkins@idt.net
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