My current project is a moving image piece designed as a submission to Balaclava.Q’s event – HIVideo 2017Balaclava.Q was founded in 2016 by Stiofan O’Ceallaigh as a reaction to the Pulse Nightclub shootings in Orlando, Florida of that year. Which left 49 dead and many more injured in a senseless act of violence. By recruiting an international team of volunteer artists – the aim of the collective is to generate discourse and awareness through tactics that disrupt, subvert, activate, and instigate discussion on contemporary queer concerns.
Tactic 2 is the moving image strand of Balaclava.Q and on the 1st of Dec 2016 brought together 6 artists on a global stage. Each of whom created a short video piece in an aesthetic, political and informative way with the aim of promoting dialogue on the subject of HIV.
Art & activism have been very compatible bedfellows for nigh-on a century. From DADA’s commentary on the horrors of war to Banksy’s anti-establishment murals; artists have used their skills to challenge social injustice and the status quo. The reputation of photography for factuality has enabled it to become a powerful tool when it comes to questioning supposed world truths. So when AIDS began to devastate the gay community in the early 1980’s artists rose up and began to raise awareness and accuse governments of apathy in not dealing with the outbreak. One of the many was New York’s David Wojnarowicz (VOY-ne-ROH-vich) seen here in a striking image by Andreas Sterzing in the poster for the film Silence=Death. Unfortunately it would seem that HIV has fallen out of fashion these days and the silence is once again deafening…Red Ribbons are worn because it is de rigueur but their message seems to have become lost. While the rate of new infections may be slowing people are still facing a shock diagnosis and even in the western world people are still dying.
The assumption is you just take a daily pill and everything is fine again; but this ignores the problems with side-effects. Not to mention the stigma that still surrounds HIV – we, the infected are still seen as dirty & diseased.
When I put forward my initial interest at submitting a piece for this year’s HIVideo event it was greeted with great interest – not least because my voice would be shown from the rural perspective as there is still the assumption it is a disease of the big cities.
The inaugural event last year showcased some very powerful short films –
Emmanuel Barroyuer’s piece titled Silencio is beautiful in its simplicity. The camera slowly pulls out from the portrait of a young boy, while Emmanuel himself reads text from “One Day This Kid” by David Wojnarowicz describing how hostile the world will prove to be to these innocent eyes. All because a cruel twist of genetics would make him desire his own sex. While HIV is not explicitly mentioned the poignant wording describes a hostile world that would soon turn even more hostile once the full implications of this virus was to become clear.
Jose Luis Cortes dons the persona of Ivan Terrible. Painted and naked he stands before a fractured mirror and tells us the viewer of his life. How ignorance of the facts about transmission of the virus eventually led to him becoming infected. The broken mirror could be seen to represent a search for identity within a minority that still shuns us; while he exposes his naked body yet simultaneously hides it beneath a layer of paint. A mix of Dali, Mondrian but also South African tribal and Haitian voodoo art he personifies both the enlightened artist and the misguided primitive.
For my piece, I wanted to ensure it was thought provoking; that it captured the eye yet was still accessible to the common man to ensure the message was not lost. The intent was to produce a kinetic postcard – by referencing this green and pleasant Duchy and its reputation for happy family holidays I sought to ask the viewer to consider the difference between this vision and the reality of rural life with HIV; particularly when it comes to familial relationships where ignorance can lead to exclusion. Or indeed where our own sense of shame or fear of causing them worry leads to self-banishment.
Taking my lead from Derek Jarman’s 1993 film ‘Blue’ which consists of a static blue background overlain with Jarman’s voice reciting poetry or speaking of the mundanities of life with HIV – I wanted the voice to play the dominant role & the visuals to act as support to the main narrative. This enabled me to act in a more collaborative manner with the men who agreed to participate and lend their voices and experiences to the piece.
I had to carefully consider the ethics of representation. I did not want to taint the film with my prejudices – it was far more important for me to allow the subjects their voice and to create the visuals afterwards to complement their words. This could then be a cathartic experience in allowing their frustrations to be heard in a sympathetic way. I was very aware that I should not guide or load their questioning. I was also extremely careful in the final edit that their meanings came across without the chance of being misinterpreted. It was important to me to be able to destigmatise and normalise these men…to show them as Joe Average and not some faceless diseased profile on a hook-up app or internet chat site. To humanise them and allow them pride in their sexuality. Lastly the theme of Undetectable = Untransmitible had to be brought to the viewer’s attention and the message of intimacy without the fear of transmission. There is a fine line between encouraging safe-sex to prevent transmission of other infections, but also attempting to remove the fear and stigma that still surrounds the chance of contracting HIV.
While interviewing, shooting and editing the actual film. It was also necessary to source and arrange a venue to host the Event on the 1st December – World AIDS Day.
The intention being that each artist would show all of the films locally. So we ended up with 14 films shown in 14 cities worldwide.
Here was an opportunity to engage with the local population; both LGBTQ and heteronormative to re-awaken awareness for those living with the virus.
I was determined that Cornwall not only be involved but should impress with the venue and audience. I approached the University Student Union and was eventually greeted with a show of interest.
In the meantime I was also advertising the Event through social media and word-of-mouth as well as placing posters in high footfall areas around the campus to hopefully garner interest. As the day got closer I increased postings on Facebook using stills from my film to keep the event in peoples eye.
Unfortunately I was very disappointed by the lack of engagement on the evening itself. Only 9 people attended which is very telling in itself. Whether this was due to me missing my target audience, whether it was the location and very cold weather or if it was down to the general lack of interest in anything to do with HIV. San Juan Puerto Rico had an attendance of over one hundred, but I console myself that Paris managed around twenty. I also question whether the lack of attendance is down to how our engagement with media has changed drastically in the internet age. We seem to expect to access what we wish to watch or listen to at our convenience in a format that suits us rather than at specific set times as we did with television and radio programs in the recent past.
So this now leaves me with a challenge to find the best way to increase engagement with my video piece in order to get its message across to as wide an audience as possible.