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"When Did You Figure Out You Had AIDS?": Eric Rhein

July 23 2013

Rick Perry

Image: Eric Rhein, Rain (self portrait) 1992, silver gelatin print

As part of our series NOT OVER, Visual AIDS asked artists in the La MaMa exhibition three questions about the ongoing AIDS crisis. The first question is taken directly from artist Vincent Chevalier's work, "So, when did you figure out you had AIDS?", 2010. It is left to the artist to decipher the meaning of the question, to decide if it a question about their status, how AIDS functions in the world, or both. Overall, the goal of the questions is to get at the complexity of HIV/AIDS, understanding it as a virus in people's bodies, an assemblage that has changed the world, and as an every-evolving phenomenon.

When did you figure out you had AIDS?

In the summer of 1987 a trip to Europe that my then Swedish boyfriend took my mother and me on for her 50th birthday was shadowed by the pending results of my HIV test upon our return. Though it wouldn't be until years later that I would receive the diagnoses of AIDS, the HIV positive confirmation that met our New York homecoming signaled that our lives had been altered forever.

What does NOT OVER mean to you? What is NOT OVER?

Along with the vital need for prevention strategies and research for treatment advances and vaccines, there are regiments of wounded veterans of the plague. Vulnerable, and with taped together lives, they are traumatized by loss of contemporaries while continually layering bandages over their own, unyielding wounds. They are the keepers of stories, the collectors of tears, living on a precipice. They need to be supported and be seen.

What is AIDS 25 years from now?

It is my hope that in 25 years, whether or not AIDS as a medical condition is still in the picture, it will be recognized that those who experienced this past 25 years of HIV and AIDS (and what they contributed) have helped cultivate a more humane and compassionate society of lasting accord.

The interviews are collected on the tumblr site: NOT OVER INTERVIEWS

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