Jordan Eagles Uses Life's Blood in Life's Work

Contributing Editor
Jordan Eagles holding one of his artworks, "Community Pint."
Leo Herrera

Many creative folk say that art is in their blood. For Jordan Eagles, blood is in his art. The native New York artist considers blood not simply as a color in his palette or an artistic tool, but as a precious, universal life force.

"Mostly, I work with abstraction with blood and resin," Eagles said. "Half the work I do is with animal blood, and the other part of my work is with blood donated from individuals in the LGBT community." The handsome Eagles uses it to create art that is not only provocative but also meaningful in a social and political way.

"Back in 1998, I started really questioning the connection between body and spirit," Eagles said, "which led me to using blood in my work."

Currently, the talented gay artist has two works exhibiting in New York. "Blood Mirror" is a dynamic sculpture using layers of blood encased in resin to create a beautiful, if eerie, work that reflects the viewer's own image. It was created in two phases across 2014 and 2016, using the blood of 59 gay, bisexual, and transgender men of varying ages and backgrounds. The inspiration behind the work was to tell of the hypocrisy of the United States government's stigmatizing and discriminatory blood ban.

In 1983, in an early response to the AIDS crisis, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implemented a lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. More than 30 years later, in December 2015, the FDA updated its policy to allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood, but only if they are celibate for a full year. There is no celibacy requirement for heterosexuals, regardless of their risk for contracting HIV. A 2014 study by the University of California-Los Angeles law school found that lifting the ban completely could save up to a million lives annually.

"To have a policy that tells me that I have to be celibate for one year before my blood is worthy of being donated is ridiculous," Jordan, who is HIV negative and on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), said.

"This is a project that could not have been done without the participation and collaboration of a lot of people," Jordan explained. "Aside from the blood donors themselves -- obviously, it couldn't have been done without the blood donors! -- we needed a medical supervisor and a medical technician."

The entire artistic process was documented by filmmaker Leo Herrera, who interviewed the donors and documented the process of preserving the vital fluid. The films were also scored by The Carry Nation (DJ Will and DJ Nita).

"The four of us would get together and have really intense brainstorming sessions, discussing the issues and figure out the kinds of blood donors we would need to tell the story." They decided on the men who could best tell the story from the beginning of the AIDS crisis to the blood ban. Specifically, they wanted men who sleep with men that could best highlight the hypocrisy of the issues.

"We thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to find someone from Africa, because the AIDS crisis is still happening there?'" Eagles said. "And, 'Wouldn't it be great to find a set of identical twins where one of them is gay, so their DNA is the same, but they're treated differently?'" He continued, "I wanted to find a gay priest, someone who could talk about the spirituality of blood. I knew I wanted someone who was in the military, because they can spill blood on the battlefield, but they can't even donate blood to save lives."

"Blood Mirror" has been exhibited at American University in Washington, D.C., Trinity Wall Street in New York City, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama. Currently, it's on display as part of the Museum of the City of New York's Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis exhibition.

Another dynamic work by Eagles now being seen in New York is "Jesus, Christie's," on view at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. For this piece, Jordan was sparked by Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi." Last year, the painting was sold for $450 million, making it the most expensive artwork in history. Eagles decided to take the image of the da Vinci work from the Christie's auction catalogue and pair it with test tubes of donated blood from people living with HIV who have an undetectable viral load, long-term HIV survivors, and activists.

"I wanted to address how society way too often prioritizes and values objects versus human lives," Eagles said. "You know, when you start to think about the irony that the images of a likeness of Jesus Christ, who actually wanted to help cure the sick and the needy, and then this money is being spent on an image of him! It really begs the question of how we choose to prioritize things in our society."

Jordan continued, "The idea of the blood of Jesus being shed on the cross for the sins of all man, I view that as the world's greatest blood donation, and it connects to the work that I do about donation policy."

"Jesus, Christie's" juxtaposing the image of Christ with the medical vials of blood shows two philosophies of what constitutes a savior. "Many people picture the savior of the world like [in the da Vinci painting] 'Salvador Mundi.' And in another way, science becomes like a savior of the world." Jordan explains, "for example, here's a blood donor who is a long-term survivor [of HIV]. 30 years ago, this person was fighting for his life. Here we are now in 2018, and this individual is totally undetectable and healthy and living a thriving life as an older gay man. I mean, it's pretty remarkable. I actually think, in a way, it's a miracle."

"Jesus, Christie's" will be on display at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art through January 13, 2019. "Blood Mirror" will be on display at the Museum of the City of New York through April 28, 2019. For more information on Jordan Eagles and his art, visit his website.