I had an opportunity to visit La Mama as a part of my internship with Visual AIDS on its opening night last week. The exhibition, entitled “Everyday,” “explores the AIDS crisis through the lens of art that looks at and evidences daily experiences and practices in response to HIV/AIDS.”
It is curated by Jean Carlomusto, Alexandra Juhasz and Hugh Ryan. “Everyday” includes artwork by 32 artists and art organizations. A video piece I edited was a part of the exhibition, and was presented in a living room installation, which emphasized the exhibition’s theme. Visitors can choose from a menu of nine-hour video compilations by nine different artists, many whom have passed away, and some of whom are still alive and strong. These videos are part of an archive by Jean Carlomusto, from her documentary film “Compulsive Practice.” Her film will be featured at the New Museum on December 1st, World AIDS Day.
Creating this video took me about 100 hours, almost enough to meet my one-year internship school assignment, in three intense weeks. The subjects in the videos range from the homemade, where an artist talks about living with AIDS, to political demonstrations in Washington DC, an interview with a drag queen about HIV prevention, and recordings of fund raising events. Some are professionally shot, but many are simple VHS recordings from the ‘80s or more recent cell phone videos. One common theme is that the people who are in these videos had HIV, some for many decades. Editing them was an emotionally draining task. I often overlapped my own experience of losing my partner while editing them, but then came to realize this was the best way to process grief, creating art to remember something important. At the end, I felt I developed a strong connection to each artist in the videos. I heard their voices and saw their faces again and again as during the editing process. After looking at all this material, it was a very strange to meet the curator, Jean Carlomusto at La Mama on that opening night. She must have watched the same raw video footage hundreds of times, as I did in the past three weeks. And that is a very small part of her roomful of archives from artists who died from AIDS. I immediately felt a closeness with her. She and I know some details of artists’ life through the video, as if we have friends in common. We talked about how funny Breachman by Ray Navarro was. Video by Nelson Sullivan was way ahead of its time, using a selfie style video to walk though HIV/AIDS fund raising events, drag show, and neighborhood of the Lower East Side back in the ‘80s. I also had a chance to meet one of the artists, James Wentzy, during the opening night. This was the first time I met him, but I heard his voice during so many hours of editing.
I don’t know if other people who visit the gallery have the same level of connection to these artists by watching a 10-minute piece of video. Some visitors may reflect their own experience while watching the video, while others may know the artists personally. Many weren’t even born back then and I’m not sure how they relate to the material, or comprehend the level of crisis our community underwent. Overall, I am somewhat hopeful. The process of making this art freed me from the past, and is now helping me to prepare for what’s coming over the next four years.
“Compulsive Practice” https://www.visualaids.org/events/detail/day-without-art-2016-compulsive-practice