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As We Canonize Certain Producers of Culture We Are Closing Space for a Complication of Narratives

December 10, 2013

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'Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me!' Vincent Chevalier with Ian Bradley-Perrin. Click image to enlarge.

"Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me!" Vincent Chevalier with Ian Bradley-Perrin.
Click image to enlarge.

"It is not the remembering and it is neither the history, nor the material culture nor the valorization of the battles won and lost that impedes our movement forward," writes Vincent Chevalier and Ian Bradley-Perrin for their poster/VIRUS artist statement,"but rather the unpinning of our past from the circumstances from which the fights were born," Their poster, "Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me" was the first poster released for poster/VIRUS 2013 from Toronto's AIDS Action Now, curated by Jessica Whitbread and Alex McClelland. Visual AIDS interviews Chevalier and Bradley-Perrin about how the poster came to be, their influences and what they mean by death and nostalgia.

Visual AIDS: How did the poster come to be?
Ian:
I began thinking about nostalgia in response to some of the cultural production coming out of a handful of artists within the movement. I initially had an intense reaction to a reproduction of "the past" of AIDS, which foreclosed a possibility of an experience in the present, and at the time (as is still the case), I was negotiating what it meant to be poz today. My initial visions of the statement as a poster were rooted in an historical understanding of nostalgia and particularly colonial nostalgia and the role it has played in overwriting the realities of the period with visual cues of comfort and community and had discussed it with some close friends who similarly took on the phrase as a rallying point around which to discuss and challenge some of the production of this present moment.

Vincent: For better or worse, this poster emerged from social media. For a while I'd witnessed an increasing nostalgia pervading the blogs and Facebook feeds of my internet community. This nostalgia manifest itself to me both aesthetically and politically: I found that it was more than just a nostalgic imagery being disseminated via these platforms. This turn was showing up in the work that people were doing, the art people were making, the actions people were supporting. I first came across the phrase, "Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me!" during a heated Facebook exchange between an activist and artist. The activist was levelling the accusation against a video the artist had produced that uncritically deployed nostalgia in its message and aesthetics. Further down, the activist suggested that the artist take a break from art and engage in more direct action by joining one of the many reemerging chapters of ACT UP. What I found interesting about this exchange was both the artist and the activist were prominent members of organizations developing contemporary cultural and institutional critiques around HIV/AIDS and its related systemic issues. But in this instance both were adhering to nostalgic solutions to art and organizing.

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These thoughts lingered and I decided to appropriate the phrase "Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me!" as the slogan for my AAN poster. Appropriation seemed to be a key strategy in uncovering the ways that nostalgia has embedded itself into our modes of representation, both of our selves and our movements, on and off the web. It was only after posting a screen cap of a quick and dirty rough draft onto my Facebook that I found out Ian had been the originator of the phrase. After an earnest conversation with Ian and a humbling moment where I had to think hard about what it meant to just snatch uncredited ephemera from the web, he proposed that we collaborate together on the concept, design, and writing around the poster. Our teenage AIDS bedroom baby was born.

Visual AIDS: In what ways do you feel nostalgia is killing you?
Ian:
What initially drew me into conversations around nostalgia was its incongruity with an experience in the present and I feel like this is really the deadly part. In what ways is an aesthetically prepackaged memory of AIDS, the AIDS movement, and particular moments of the crisis occupying a critical discussion space which could be better filled with the pressing issues of the "now moment" of AIDS?

When we think about the 80's and the 90's and we talk about the ashes action and the public funerals and we uproot them from their historical specificity -- when we say things are different for us now -- we are not thinking about the ways in which criminalization is exacting a "death" on poz people today. When we celebrate and idolize certain community actions and successes, we close the conversation to ongoing struggles for treatment access and healthcare access. And as we canonize certain producers of culture and certain moments of memory, we are also closing a space in which a complication of narratives could arise through varied experience. The unevenness of experience that existed then, as it does now, make necessary the production of false memories that unify -- nostalgia -- but they dislocate the lived experiences of the past in the present. What we are left with are palatable and commodified "memory" representative of the past in the present. This reproduces many of the inequities of the past in the present telling of the story, the same people get left out as before and the same experiences get privileged. And in that way I think things aren't so different now.

Visual AIDS: Whose nostalgia?
Ian:
This seems like the perfect moment to talk about "intergenerational sharing." In my academic work and particularly in my work with oral histories and life stories the art of reading through the stories being told to understand why they are being told in the way they are and what is motivating this kind of telling is essential. What is privileged in the sharing of a story, a personal narrative with political consequences, between people?

I think we all tell our stories within certain cultural strictures -- even if they are not so simple as beginning, middle, end -- we nonetheless create arcs and archetypes, climaxes, heroes and antiheros. There are certain material remnants of these stories we pass on and want to pass on (I save all the AAN! posters for instance) and we accompany these with stories that validate and valorize their worth, we create the conditions that permit their fetishization.

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This article was provided by Visual AIDS.
 
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