The Frank Moore Archive Project at Visual AIDS's sole organizing principle -- preserving a visual record of the work of artists who live or have lived with HIV/AIDS -- separates it from other kinds of art-world spaces. The grouping creates a tremendous emotional, aesthetic and social power.
The breadth and scale of the archive is overwhelming and there was so much I didn't see. Yet spending time with the images that struck me was an intimate experience. The hours I spent there felt like being in a living room with the artists themselves, some I knew and a lot I didn't. Perhaps it was the tactile experience of looking through slides, or the warm atmosphere of the Visual AIDS office itself with Amy and Nelson and the many volunteers coming and going. Or perhaps it was my interest in learning about (or constructing) a collective history of living with AIDS, of AIDS activism and queer activism, image by image as a kind of peer-to-peer consciousness-raising.
I found myself drawn to work that directly addresses the disease and its social and political causes -- most especially the homophobia that pre-existed AIDS. In my selection are images that particularly moved me with their combination of beauty, humor, pain and defiance. The title, Why Do You Insist on Flaunting?, taken from Carlos Gutierrez-Solana's work, refers to the selected images' use of life-affirming vitality and "gayness" to disrupt the social and political status quo that perpetuates the crisis.
There are disruptions to physical sites of "business as usual" as in Angel Borrero's handwritten cries for help inside sterile office buildings; and the lyrical bodies of Tara Popick's urban mermaid and John Lesnick's subway dancer.
And conceptual disruptions like Robert Blanchon's Cruising New York City tours reclaiming the lost spots of pre-epidemic gay cruising; David Wojnarowicz's kissing couple queering the world map; and Valerie Caris's bloodwork personalizing a mass-produced hospital gown.
There are formal aesthetic disruptions within images: The shape and quantity of pills interrupting both the enjoyment of the bright rainbow colors in Joe DeHoyos's Color Pills and the simple AIDS text in Max Greenberg's image.
There is documentation of disruptions in the streets, demonstrations and protests, as in Brent Nicholson Earle's photo capturing a CDC die-in filled with vividly alive masses and rainbow flags, or the banner in W. Benjamin Incerti's photo questioning lesbian visibility in the AIDS crisis. (This question also seemed to parallel my experience of trying to seek out the women and lesbian-identified artists in the Frank Moore Archive Project. I found very few.)
I am drawn to the high heels in Hugh Steers' Morning Terrace; the discomfort of Arnold Fern's beautiful young man submerged in water; Jerome Caja's cheery gay picture stamped with an AIDS ribbon; the humor and depth of loss in Becky Trotter's Pull Up a Chair series; the motion of the bodies in Keith Haring's Silence Equals Death (I can never see enough of this image); the humor in Carlos Gutierrez-Solona's subversion of a corporate sensitivity training questionnaire; Affrekka Jefferson's Two Sapphos (I want to read this story!); and the assault of gayness with Gregory Veney's many, many papi chulos.
May we continue to insist on flaunting.