Luv Letter, # complicated

A guy from Mexico contracted HIV. We had condomless sex. I remember this well. Some four years after our hook-up he contacted me because of Luv ’til it Hurts. He wanted to catch up. He wanted to know when I contracted HIV. He needed to dispel an idea that maybe he had carried HIV since the night of our lovemaking. I needed to react with annoyance. I did not. I needed to allow this. Also. It seemed. I had allowed it before in fact. This inquisition into memory and desire and night and sex and lovemaking. It was in a graveyard, a detail I should probably leave out.


My longtime partner in NYC is a black man. He contracted HIV since we broke up. I think I have to register this. 


I contracted HIV in São Paulo, therefore I could not have passed it to the Mexican guy … on a timeline this does not add up. My former partner told me of his status because of Luv and seeing it online. 


When I first contracted HIV I was with someone living with HIV. I needed to blame many things including the world itself. I blamed him. I tried to do it gently. I blamed him and he let me. Maybe he felt he needed to do that just as I needed to hear my Mexican friend in his quest for understanding. Maybe we do this. Maybe we torture ourselves, but maybe we won’t have to do that for much longer. 


Maybe I can say I’m sorry for blaming in a different way. Maybe I can try to understand something new that says thank you. Maybe that will hurt and seem unassociated. Maybe it has to. Maybe that’s lovemaking. 

Some remarks before I make the video

Hi Deza, 

I’ve been thinking about something and I’d like to share it. Perhaps these are thoughts that go into the production of a short video clip. While I don’t pretend to know how to edit such a thing, and barely know how to turn my camera on (something I don’t often do for skypes). I don’t like to give away my ‘eye power’ so much. 


I wanted to start with something I recently read. In Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Art, one of his citations suggest that an artist will often attract attention to her/his/their self in order to then re-direct it somewhere else. Without re-reading or reading into the statement too much, I get it. Given my interest in art history, it is quite easy to think up of various incidences and artists to which this idea pertains.


At times I jokingly refer to myself as crazy. I do this because I realize that some people I encounter find me that way. I do this with humor to ‘put it aside’ .. to confirm my hunch that they think so, and move on. 


I like crazy ideas, and so I don’t dismiss crazy or wild approaches in general. One sometimes needs a touch skin for them. Like what I mean here is that I don’t personally avoid people who I find difficult. I avoid them if I don’t like them, but not due to difficulty. I must have some magnet in my heart. I return to them. I often want to understand what is being communicated by a stance, style, approach, attitude, bombast and/or provocation. 


What I don’t do is to completely ‘overlap’ or conflate the notion of being crazy with the ‘rule book’ of crazy. I suffer from depression and some manic rebounds. I’ve been steadily medicated for this for some time. I have seen these things in my father. My brother and I are the next versions of our dad. This has always needed tending too. This chain of depression that seems genetically coded into our existence did not just come up in my dad’s generation. His uncle shot himself in the barn in the head. His father and my grandfather had other ways of expressing some sort of dark and difficult tendency. He died fairly young too. 


After contracting HIV, there were general stigmas that I faced, but too I needed to figure out the next wave of family engagement, and what this new development might mean. Needless to say, it gets a slightly different reception than my brother’s Type-2 Diabetes or the onset of Multiple Sclerosis in another close family member.


I am not so naive to have imagined that chronic diseases would not be weighted for family (and religious) relations. Did I mention I’m from a cattle, horse and crop farm in a part of the South (US) referred to as the ‘bible belt’. 


So with the added ‘stress’ of HIV, I have decided to share some thoughts on the collision of two things considered ‘chronic’ in me: HIV and severe depression.


I recently watched the David Letterman special with Kanye West. West was talking about having ‘bipolar disorder’ and got right up to the point (in discussion with Dave) of considering his own creativity in relation to his mental ‘standing’. Sometime this year I saw the last Daniel Day-Lewis film, Phantom Thread. He played a perfectionist tailor. Around that time he said he would not star in more films, explaining that lately he has a hard time coming out of role. He alluded to artistic process and mental state. 


Just this past week, I received some feedback that I’d ‘come on too strong with someone’. And the reason I have to pay attention to this is because ‘coming on too strong’ is not necessarily about disagreeing. What I realize in making art is that this very ‘energy’ I refer to is a part of the things I make and sometimes why they don’t get made. 


So, learning how to ‘deploy’ the energy / enthusiasm to the right target is something I work on. And, too, I don’t always try to control myself. 


Deza, when we first talked about your CHAOS project, I remember you mentioning some statistics you had that showed how people who have a lot of energy (or an extraordinary style) are avoided in social settings. 


Ha, I think I’ve experienced that a few dozen times:)


And, while I’m just me (experiencing me), I wanted to suggest that we are aware of these avoidances. That sometimes there is a comfort in being oneself regardless of the reaction. 


And, speaking as an artist, there are sometimes when we draw inspiration from or action by this special energy. 


What I needed to learn from my family (before or during learning how to be an artist) is that talking is better than not talking. Bottling things up is somehow deadly in my experience. 


By the way, I believe everything I’m saying to you … as much as I do the fact that I take a pharmacological solution pill each day to help manage … energy.


xo

todd


PS, I’ll have a version of the LUV game in French by October 25th for an Ankh Association event. I hope you will find a way to use it too for CHAOS!!

Think Twice Questions for Luv

My name is Todd Lanier Lester and I started the project, Luv ‘til it Hurts, a two-year project on HIV & stigma. The Think Twice Collective has agreed to join the LUV ‘coalition’ … I’ll explain what that is along the way, but just wanted to say thanks for being in an open-ended conversation with me. The last project I co-made, Lanchonete.org was a five-year investigation of the right to the city in São Paulo, and also took a collective form. I enjoy the pace and other characteristics of collective decision-making. freeDimensional, a 10-year project on free expression and artist shelter was the first of a three-project set that have spanned almost 20 years. What connects the three projects is that they are all durational, rights-focused and open to multiple stakeholders. 

I really appreciate the questions Think Twice came up with and appreciate your attention to my project. 

Paula Nishijima (a Think Twice member) and I met in Milano at ENGAGE, a Public School for Social Engagement in Artistic Research hosted in October 2017 by Via Farini. Paula is Brazilian and I live in Brazil, so we started there. That was followed by a Skype chat with the group in Leiden (Netherlands), and an ensuing discussion about our ‘projects’ being in dialogue. I’d like to dive into the questions:

1- What is “Luv ’til it Hurts”? Why did you start it? 

LUV is a two-year project on HIV and stigma. In the FEATURES section entitled Field Notes, I discuss some of the parameters I apply for the making of a durational, rights-focused, multi-stakeholder work. I share the ups and downs of this style of ‘making’, and try to point to ‘spots’ of learning from both my previous projects and those of other artists. I plan to keep this section going throughout the two years. In fact, these are the field notes for a book I’m writing that focuses on methodology and looks at a twenty-year period of such art making. It’s a different and related project I’m working on as I shift more into writing. I first presented the ‘hinge’ in my work between LUV and some research writing I’ve embarked upon at the Economy and Society Summer School, a weeklong doctoral symposium co-hosted by University College Cork and the Waterford Institute of Technology, bringing together scholars from diverse disciplines to discuss fresh perspectives on ‘the economy’; the market, the state, production, consumption, redistribution, value, money, work, commodities, poverty, welfare, inequality. 

[*Paula, when we met in 2017, Lanchonete.org was not quite over yet (and still isn’t:). I was already rabidly note-taking for the book, but probably didn’t yet know LUV was going to be a project in this series. I have had the idea for an HIV-related project ever since I contracted HIV in São Paulo some five years ago. In Milan I showed the Queer City film, representing an important ‘episode’ of Lanchonete.org, and actually the most rhizomatically robust of the various sub-projects/foci that comprise the five-year research platform of Lanchonete.org on the right to the city. In fact, Queer City continues still in various forms. Queer City was the way I began experimenting with HIV themes in the hybrid artistic director/curator/ administrator/producer role I assume for durational projects that I set off and forecast end dates. I proposed Queer City ‘into’ Lanchonete.org just as any of the multiple stakeholders could propose and develop ideas into action. When I use the words ‘producer’ and ‘action’ herewith, I’m referring to Walter Benjamin’s 1934 address at the Institute for the Study of Fascism (Paris), The Author as Producer.]

I can jokingly say that I’m tired of making multi-stakeholder projects. But I also plan to have fun with the last one, Luv ‘til it Hurts. What I mean is that I plan to use some of the methods and tactics from the first two projects in order to lean-down bureaucratically and shorten (to two years) the LUV project … rather abstractly. But at the same time, LUV is the most personal of the three projects I refer to here. I started it because I’m HIV+. I started it because it is personal. But, too, I believe it can have a ‘benefit’ (as such) on a macro level. 

2- How did LTIH start? 

In February of 2018 I received an unsolicited R&D grant. I had mentioned to a colleague in philanthropy that I planned to make a project, but I didn’t say what it was. This was an exciting encouragement, and frankly the first time in my 20-year practice that I have received money in advance to work on a project. That money was used for making a website and paying people. Most of the money was redistributed as re-grants to initiatives such as Humans as Hosts, Coletivo Amem, the Houses of Zion and LaBeija, participation in the 2019 holiday Love Positive Women (a project by artist, Jessica Lynn Whitbread), creation of the LUV game with a team of Egyptian designers, etc. In discussion with Taiwanese artist, Kairon Liu we decided to make a limited edition postcard set from his Humans as Hosts project, which he carried to the 2018 International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam. In a very useful way, this served to launch the two-year period of the project, and it therefore ends around the time of the next international AIDS conferences in 2020 in Mexico DF and San Francisco

I mention above (when referring to Queer City) that I have the prerogative to create/direct/lead a portion of the LUV project and invite others to participate. This includes corresponding with others and writing for/on the site; designing a game with other people; collaborative events; media partnership; playing the new game together; and sharing in the construction (um, conjuring) of the ‘end game’ of the project, which will be an artist-led, philanthropic device offered to the Elton John AIDS Foundation

At the same time, the projects have historically been flexible enough to accommodate the ideation and leadership of other artists, participants or stakeholders. Looking back at freeDimensional, somewhere around the midpoint, artist Sidd Joag was hired to direct the organization. One of the first things he did was to create new schematics for how freeDimensional explained how danger can affect global artists and how the project addressed this urgency. You can see visualizations in the 2011 Artist Residencies & Conflict Areas event publication, and they carried forward to illustrate our most comprehensive output (an artist safety guide) as a project, the freeDimensional AdvoKIT (download). For Lanchonete.org, there were similar ‘episodes’ led by other participants. For example, Zona da Mata is a project by artist Rodrigo Bueno who participated in one specific way focused on the environment. Another way to see this is that Lanchonete.org participated in Rodrigo’s project for the year, 2016. And, Episódio Haiti was led by Raphael Daibert who participated in all the activities of Lanchonete.org, having helped to launch the project from the beginning. This was natural as his focus is on migrations.

Here you asked me how it started and I’m about to tell you how it will end. One is that we might be able to say something about the philanthropic device by the time of the AIDS conferences. In fact, I’m working on a graphic zine with artist Niki Singleton that should be ready by February 14, Valentine’s Day 2020. By that time we will amp up our plan to reach Elton, and in the meantime someone will hopefully ‘steal this idea’ and run with it. What I’m saying is that the duration, start and end dates are both important and somewhat arbitrary. The projects don’t stop on a dime. And, if they are launched well–at least inter-planetarily or intergalactically–they keep advancing even after the end date. These ‘durations’ allow for a form of accountability to the stakeholders, communities and demographics that the projects include and address. 

3- Why is it an “interplanetary” project? and why “galactic”?

I am working with an old friend. Here is where I brag on a buddy, Adham Bakry. He is mentioned in this article, Street Art Illuminates Egypt’s Lingering Problems. Check him out. When freeDimensional was moving around (it had mobile desks for a year each in ‘residency’ in the Middle East and Cairo specifically at the Townhouse Gallery and South America via a residency at Casa das Caldeiras in São Paulo) I met Adham and he did some of the original design work for freeDimensional in Cairo, joining the team for the remainder of the project. He then drew the first schematic for me when dreaming up Lanchonete.org.  There was a lot going on in both regions at the time in residency field, and these two cities provided a look into the regions. Around that time I led the writing of desk studies on residency practice in each region for some partners whose names I forget. I should find those two documents for my site:)

The idea for Lanchonete.org came, of course during my freeDimensional residency in 2008 at Casa das Caldeiras. My friend Joel Borges who created TodoDomingo at Casa das Caldeiras (as well as its international residency and various community programs) both welcomed me on that 2008 residency and has been a part of the ideation for Lanchonete.org from the beginning. He serves as the President of the Associação Espaço Cultural Lanchonete (the cultural association/ entity under Brazilian law) until now.

So for one, I’m working with partners and friends who have been stakeholders to past projects. I’m asking them to perform in certain ways, perhaps building on past actions. I raise money to pay them:) I’ve asked them to help guide me … to help me get the maximum out of the idea based on how we know how to work together. 

Adham and I know how to make interplanetary and intergalactic projects. I had to urge him to give me first designs early and not perfect them. I wanted it a little raw. But too we agreed on a face-to-face design session that was this past March. I would go to Egypt (Port Said) and see into his current project, a popular heritage museum with a revolutionary mentality. Pedagogy and learning and local change. I would engage his project at the level I wanted him to engage mine. We would eat fish together at the Suez Canal and take our bikes on the ferry to Asia. I would understand what he’s going through, and he would understand the same in me. We would care for each other at that basic level. We would reconnect a little before making work together. We would break bread… to go with the fish. I would meet his wonderful colleagues on the museum project and revive my interest in the Arabic language. 

In the richness of ideas that comprised those days in Port Said and Cairo, an idea sprung up for a game. It came from Saif, a 23-year old guy from Port Said, but with Cairo-savvy. He said, why not model it after Exquisite Corpse, a game I’ve come to learn is played all over the world … sometimes with image continuation and others with words. Before I even understood what he meant, he gave me the scenario of going into a Cairo cafe and seeing an iconic sticker/tile on the back of a laptop, and it referencing the LUV project, or game as it were. That one would know that the person with the laptop was cool with HIV .. or something like that. You all at Think Twice are thinking about language. I was in Port Said in a café w/ Saif, Adham and others. I was acting a little queer. I had black fingernails. The manager turned off the radio, and waited for us to leave. So, Saif is not wrong to consider a ‘safe’ way to play, as such…

Or, another answer as question: Don’t you think there are enough ‘global’ things, organizations and such? If what constitutes art can sometimes be called an art world, shouldn’t we perhaps board the first spaceship out?

4- What is the aim of the “coalition”?  

The coalition is for doing exactly what we are doing. For having a discussion. You’ve asked me some questions that find me in a methodological and rather light mood. I’m heading to NYC soon to launch a publication on Artist Safety Hosting and it’s been a throw-back to some earlier ideas. The coalition is for ‘doing something’, and I’d really like for folks involved to understand what I want to do with the philanthropic device, and perhaps lend a hand. But at the very least they should play the game with us. 

5- How are you featuring this “gamification” in your work?  

Saif and I jammed on the game idea sitting in a circle of ten guys on the floor drinking the booze Adham had gotten at the airport using my ticket stub for duty free. We watched videos and smoked hash. Some of us did. I laughed at what, in Arabic, made them laugh. We spent time together. By the next day in the office Adham was ‘on it’ .. he doesn’t like the virtual side of things (preferring the street stencil), so he wasn’t thinking anonymous, multiplayer (online), but rather the logic of the game and design of the tiles. What might become iconic and end up on the back of a laptop. In Cairo or New Delhi in a cafe. Adham poo-poos the idea of a virtual game, while introducing me to ‘his game guy’ Sanjay in New Delhi, saying ‘he’s the one who can do that for you … I’m doing the first part.’

Here’s the design challenge I posed to Adham and his team. I was already almost sure I would treat the LUV project in three acts, and that Adham’s (and the ensuing game) would be ACT I. I had come to Port Said to get some work done, big picture work. The challenge:

I’m making a philanthropic device in the midst of the LUV project, which should also be a discussion. We should talk about what we need, and what we can do / offer. We should make a new ‘device’ to help out. On HIV and stigma. As artists. And/or poz people. 

HIV is personal. By March I was already 9+ months into the project. I told Adham’s team that I would pull back on broad stakeholder outreach. I would seek out partners from past projects, but not specific to HIV ideas and work. I would reconfigure a team or ‘agency’ for the purpose of getting to the end(game), the device. I can say better later how Acts II and III move the process along. 

I told Adham’s team that I needed an ‘activity’, something to do with a public. Something that would enlist stakeholders in a way I’d not tried before, one in which I did not ‘front’ each conversation. The activity would allow me to ‘deploy’ the evolving process of device-making into various contexts (art world and non). It should be good. It should look nice. It should open up online, social media and PR opportunities through its application. It should stand alone. It should be fun. A game. 

It should be something so simple (perhaps more so than the philanthropic device that takes a whole two years to make) that it would open up countless new discussions that cannot be generated outside discussion. 

OK, so we (Paula N. and I) talked, and I asked if Think Twice would be interested in helping to launch the game. The game is ready. You can get the gist of it in Thank you to Lois Weaver (ample version), and if you all are game, I’ll get you a game pack in the coming weeks. We already know that it launches in Grenoble on October 25th in French and Arabic, and hopefully Bogotá on the same day with Daniel Santiago’s project, Luciérnagas. So, I’m sure we can find a unique way to engage between LUV and Think Twice in this general timeframe and direction. It could take the format we find most useful. It could work/aim toward your potential meeting next Spring on the topic of language. 

There are lots of ‘language’ angles in the project. 

I think that if you give me the ‘go ahead’, I’ll consider how to communicate the game to Think Twice as we are developing ‘packets’ for Grenoble and Bogotá, so relatively soon. We are launching the game online on this year’s World AIDS Day, December 1. As well. Think Twice and the coalition can be a part of that. Somehow. The game changes as the ACT progresses, so we should really just play, and you’ll see. 

6- What is action research and how is it developed and/or materialised in the project? 

Oh gosh, what is algebra?  I’m kidding. I was reading an article the other day that called ‘artistic research’ a discipline, area and method all in the same article without differentiating usage. Action research is perhaps related to grounded theory or various participatory methods. I figure phenomenology is a part of it. I am working on a book and PhD at the same time. The book is called Variations in Worldmaking. The PhD is in Sociology. My advisor, Maggie O’Neill has experience in action research. With all that in the ‘soup pot’, I decided to ask Maggie if she could help me tease out characteristics of my methodology, the methods I practice with, by keeping an eye on the LUV project. I produce writing on the overall book, but she knows that until the end of the two-year period (until July 2020) I have to give special attention to the final project in the three-part series. I let her know when I post new field notes online. But it is my responsibility to pull those into the research I’m working on. It is my design to have the final project, action-like hinge with the research that uses the timeframe of the three projects taken together, as well as their rights-focused themes and those taken up by other artists interviewed for the research. What a mouthful.

7- What are your other projects you inspired yourselves to when you founded LTIH? 

The artists who got together in various ways like the Treatment Action Campaign, ACT UP, VisualAIDS and many other activist and artist-led (or fully included) endeavors. I want to give a part of myself to help out. I want to do it in a way that invites others to join me. Something like that. I think at a later stage in our discussion I’ll be able to share the short list of artists I’m interviewing for the Variations book. That would be another way to answer. 

8- what’s the difference between you and these projects? 

Not much. That’s good and bad. I have a playful writing project coming called El Mejor Karate. It will have a site. It will have some things to say about the ‘splitting’ we do and don’t do as artists when we make immersive projects. Adham is involved in it. It’s coming soon. The website will be www.tllester.info/elmejorkarate someday soon. 

9- How does this ‘personal aspect’ you mention influence the methodology or the way how you engage the stakeholders in relation to the previous two projects?

Up above I mentioned the design challenge I went to Adham and team with. Working on HIV elicits emotions amongst the artists and activists who share their stories. I want to think that multiple stories can be told through LUV. In the beginning however, I ran at it too hard. I got bruised by some of the initial engagements. In some of my field notes, I speak about this ‘emotional heat’ that I see as both essential but also to be ‘handled with care’. If this seems vague, please make sure to read the Benjamin text I’ve mentioned above. I think it is fair to say that the first two projects hold themes that affect me but don’t infect me. That’s a bit crass I suppose. I care about artist housing and safe haven, and would want it if I needed it (freeDimensional). I love cities and living in them. I pretend to live between NYC and São Paulo after all. To have my eyes open (in these two places and others I travel to) is to be in a discussion on the right to the city. But for LUV I need some space. If it gets too hot for me, I don’t produce. Ask me more, and I’ll be explicit about what I mean. The ‘art world’ (as such) is not a place that automatically gives care. I think one needs to have support to make a project that touches on the ‘autobiographical’ … I chose sociology for its ability to accommodate personal narrative. 

10- What would you say is the necessary quality, in order to be able to contribute in the LTIH projects? 

Help me make some noise. Ask hard /nice questions like these. Let’s find a discursive way to launch the game together in your context. I travel to the Netherlands a lot. I’ve spoken at Leiden once. In the process of my research in Cork, we are engaging the gallery at the university. When I was last in Cork (second city in Ireland), I was on Grindr and someone thanked me for sharing my HIV status. When I talk to my colleagues in Cork (the ones involved with my research), I ask them, ‘what do we need here?’ There is a conversation to be had in Cork, Ireland. There is a conversation to be had in Leiden, Netherlands. Please oh, please do not let us keep this at the treetops of discussion. With an old colleague I’m discussing how the game travels with a theatre piece around Zimbabwe. Let me discuss now with you, new colleagues how the game plays out in your context. 

11- How can interested people contribute to the project and collaborate with LTIH?

Make LUV.

what’s the connection between Luv & CHAOS?

Hi Deza,


Luv ’til it Hurts is a two-year project focused on HIV and Stigma. CHAOS is a campaign about mental health. As a person who has a chronic mental health condition as well as HIV, it is easy for me to consider and ‘internalize’ how my mental state and HIV ‘get along’ within me. As an artist who makes public, multi-stakeholder projects, I would like to ‘externalize’ a range of topics that pertain to HIV and stigma. I am using my own experience to ask how others contend with the two ‘co-morbidities’ (as the doctors call them) of HIV and depression. 


I use the metaphor ‘get along’ as if HIV and depression are kids that need to behave together on the playground. I have other metaphors that come to mind, but prefer this one. On a good day, they do get a long ok. I pop three pills (2 for HIV, 1 for depression) around lunchtime each day. I had already dealt with depression before contracting HIV, so I wasn’t surprised when I needed to take a higher dosage to contend with the stress of learning my HIV status. This dosage has gone down (and back up and down a few times) over the five year period of being HIV+. 


There are other times when I start to worry about the different medications interacting, even if prescribed by the same doctor. There are times when I’ve felt my dream life become more active, and wondered if it was the change from an older HIV med to a newer one, or the sometimes shifting dosage of the depression med. I have HIV+ friends who have also expressed their confusion (and sometimes denial) of side effects, but I admit that these conversations are not as common as the ones in which we compare HIV meds (like, what does your doctor have you on now?), and at the same time make mention of our ‘co-morbidities’ and the other drugs we take, entre nous. 


There is no question that talking with other poz folks offers a form of solidarity. However I don’t remember talking so much to other depressed folks before I contracted HIV. From a personal standpoint, I’m quite certain that open conversation and solidarity are important to quality of life and happiness. I think this is the connection for our projects.


I vividly remember an awareness campaign over a decade ago for which you worked with the City of Paris, and beautiful black and white images representing able bodies in a way that moved my understanding on ‘ableism’ were on the sides of city buses. Deza, I think you are a brilliant campaigner, and in Cameroonian terms, you are my big sister. Given that CHAOS and Luv ’til it Hurts are happening concurrently, I would simply like for our campaigns to ‘bang up against each other’, one learning from the other. If that’s ok?


Thank you to Lois Weaver (ample version)

Conceived by Luv ’til it Hurts participants during a design workshop in Port Said, Egypt, the LUV_GAME is inspired by The Long Table, a performance process by Lois Weaver. The game is designed for art world and non-art world venues … public, private and super private spaces. At the same time it may be available online one day. The game pieces will be downloadable from the LUV site by World AIDS Day, December 1, 2019. Each time the game is presented in a new language, the translated ‘instructions’ will be made available from the site. The game can be played in black and white or in color. 

The game is modeled after Exquisite Corpse. There are five shapes, including a signature heart. Four of the shapes are varied in size (large and small), design and color when feasible. The black-and-white game is meant to be played with very little overhead. The geometric shapes of the tiles as well as the graphic designs of the tiles allow for almost infinite configurations.


The ‘heart’ tile carries the LUV logo and a description of the project. A second version of the heart tile is available for partner events. The partner’s logo is on one side. On the back of the four variated shape tiles, there is room for a LUV_NOTE. The public or audience is encouraged to take a tile and write something on the back. Ask a question or share a thought on HIV. If it’s in an art or community context (whatever the grounds for playing the game), the public is encouraged to respond to their surroundings, in as general or as personal terms as the like. 


The LUV_GAME requires a wall or floor.

The first tile is placed, and tile holders are invited to place theirs around it–or shooting off from it. The tile holder decides if the design faces out or if their LUV_NOTE faces out. This can happen in passive or active settings. For example, in a museum or gallery context, there are a set of five or six large tiles on the exhibition wall. Succinct instructions for the game are printed on the nameplate for the piece. The variated tiles are stacked beside the piece as broadsheets sometimes are. A space is made available on the wall for the initial set of 5/6 tiles to expand and extend (perhaps being refreshed at the beginning of each day). 


A scheduled viewing of the same group show, similar to other public settings offers an active context in which to play the game. The process is led with the instructions announced. Tiles are distributed. Markers and sticky tape for writing and pinning the LUV_NOTES. 


Having a discussion after the allotted time period for reflection/writing/pinning-up the tiles is suggested, and is meant to be an extension of the process. The game does not need to be discussed per se, but perhaps the broader context–art show or community center–does. 


The game should help discussions along. 


Thank you Lois Weaver. 

Fault Lines

Luv ’til it Hurts is the third in a series of durational, multi-stakeholder, rights-focused art works: freeDimensional (2003-12), Lanchonete.org (2013-17), and LUV (2018-20). In Why Make an ‘Open Work’? I discuss some of the logic around stakeholder recruitment. Between the first and second, the first and third, and the second and third projects, I have invited cross-over stakeholders. For example, Adham Bakry who is working on ACT I has worked on design outputs for all three projects. There is a practicality in doing so: to learn to work with another artist or designer ‘practices a muscle’ that gets stronger through repetition. If it works, it really works, and can reduce some of the time needed to train production staff on a project that includes a ‘cross-over stakeholder’ and for which they are contributing a similar skillset offered for a past project. Design is an easy example to use here.


With multiple stakeholders joining a process and taking different levels of ownership and leadership, the topic of authorship invariably comes up. I became fascinated by questions of authorship and ownership when making the first project, freeDimensional. fD created a bridge between the human rights and art worlds for the express purpose of using artist residency ‘bedrooms’ for artist and activist safe haven. We humbly aspired to create a ‘sea change’ on the issue of artist safety hosting.  A dialogue happened along the way (10 years) with this goal. At the time I understood intuitively that in order for an idea to spread effectively it would need the largesse of an ‘organization’ and that typical considerations of authorship, ownership and artist credit would be muted by this strategy of imitation. Around this time I started using the term ‘organizational form’ to describe my work. Working in organizational form is synonymous for me to institutional critique. My projects ask institutions to change the way they act, and propose an example, solution or prototype on which to test a new idea for or functional form of ‘organization’. Therefore, and from a very early moment in its lifespan, LUV is explicitly offering a critique on authorship and ownership. I think this will become clear in ACT II when the project proposes a business plan for fighting HIV-related stigma.


Admittedly there have been frustrations around crediting within all three projects. They do seem unavoidable. And, yet I would argue that the cumulative output of the overall multi-stakeholder project justifies these, at times, tedious discussions. While I enjoy exhibiting and curating when I get the chance, there have been points in both freeDimensional and Lanchonete.org when I did not want them understood in these terms. Stepping outside some of the art world systems is therefore a conscious decision, for these are but some of the institutions that LUV hopes to move to action. Over the course of the 1st and 2nd projects, I began to understand the relationship between art world power and access, patronage and funding, and ultimately have to rethink how to finance the multi-stakeholder, durational art works (or projects) I fancy making at each turn. For LUV, the process of raising art world money and seeking art world access will be included in the ‘story’ or archive of the project. 


The idea for LUV started forming shortly after I contracted HIV while living in São Paulo. At the time I was co-making Lanchonete.org, a project on the right to the city focused on São Paulo’s center. With many other partners, Lanchonete.org developed (curated and produced) a year-long program called Cidade Queer or Queer City. Several initiatives and ideas came up during this period, such as the EXPLODE! Residency, ATAQUE Ball, Queer Graphics LaboratoryJanta: Queer Food / Queer Politics, the first episode of TravaLíngua and the Textão exhibit at São Paulo’s Museum of Sexual Diversity as well as an eponymous book and film. We were looking for relations between the themes of queerness and the right to the city; and at the same time, I was already experimenting deeply creating spaces in which discussions about HIV could flourish. Because Queer City–like Lanchonete.org–was owned by a lot of people, I must credit some for helping me to experiment with the emerging ideas I was having on HIV-related programming. 


Making three projects back-to-back and with the same tenets may get wrapped up in a nice package after the fact. I am presently writing a text on methodology for example. In a methodological sense, I see how learning from the first project allowed me to shorten the timespan for the second, and again for the third. And, in this sense, I think it is feasible to make a game plan from an idea and implement it over a two-year period. Full stop. But the two-year timespan is also for me. You see, I knew before I started that this would be the most personal of the three works, and that focusing on the theme of HIV would unleash an emotional ‘heat’ in me and other stakeholders, and indeed by our interactions. The first year of LUV has taught me a lot. I invited some cross-over stakeholders into the project, and some of those interactions resulted in tension, which I attribute to this emotional heat. I experienced tensions with new stakeholders as well, but single out crossover stakeholders for another observation, which is: each project assumes a different organizational form–freeDimensional (network/sea change), Lanchonete.org (collective/platform), and LUV (business plan/philanthropic device)–and for crossover stakeholders there is a necessary shift of pace directly related to the hierarchical proposition of the next conjured form. And, compounded by the speed (duration) of the project created/used to test it out.


While there is not a coded answer in these fault lines, I think it is important to bring up authorship, credit, fundraising and hiring practices between artists in order that LUV’s work can be considered alongside its political economy. 


To date, Luv ’til it Hurts has received a $50,000 from the Ford Foundation, which was spent in the first year of R&D on administration, participant travel, honorariums, graphic and web design, printing, web hosting costs and commissioning content. The second year will require additional fundraising. 


Why Make an ‘Open Work’?

I launched Luv ’til it Hurts, a long-considered project on HIV and stigma in July 2018. The project goes through the middle of 2020 officially, and yet I’m also quite interested in the afterlife of projects. DURATION is important to me for reasons I’ll explain later, and based on specific methods drawn from the community organizing field. Luv ’til it Hurts follows a five-year project on the right to the city, site-specific to the center of São Paulo called Lanchonete.org and a ten-year project, freeDimensional on free expression and artist safety (and shelter) in pre-existing artist residencies around the world. Given that an afterlife is expected and having experimented with different forms of archiving (or the project reporting on itself) with both freeDimensional and Lanchonete.org, Luv ’til it Hurts attempts to externalize a ‘record’ of the two-year process in various ways, such as the project’s website as ‘scrapbook’… and even an annual report

From ‘Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers’ (2010)

In my work, there are often elements of institutional critique woven into the project design. I don’t care to always point to them, but too this series of three multi-stakeholder, durational, rights-focused projects are intended as a form of action research and therefore patently ‘open’ to independent investigation and interrogation. I myself ‘ask’ the projects as questions. They now span almost 20 years, a period in which I’ve also been in dialogue with other artists and observed various forms of practice in both the art and human rights ‘worlds’. At this point I find that I am considering methodology. As a method, I ‘network’ my projects in particular ways, through personal artist connections and through thematic or ‘field’ institutional approaches. It comes as second nature to me and perhaps is therefore easier to do than it is to explain. I decided to wait until after the 3rd and final project (in the series), Luv ’til it Hurts is finished before doing a ‘deep dive’ on methodological issues in this same twenty year period. That work (or book) already has a name, which is Variations on Worldmaking.

At the same time, the 3rd project (for which this site is eponymous) is the most personal of the three. I am HIV+. So while freeDimensional and Lanchonete.org may give me an edge on framing such durational, multi-stakeholder, rights-focused projects as Luv ’til it Hurts, the subject matter of HIV and stigma affects (infects) me wholly. 

Each process has had a phase of inviting stakeholders. Given that this is typically the most intense period within the overall ‘durational’ process, I can now say that a longer break between the second and third project was deserved. Lanchonete.org did not ‘stop on a dime’ and so the beginning of Luv ’til it Hurts overlaps the second project, just as it has overlapped the first project, freeDimensional.  While a project can gain stakeholders throughout (and I might argue even after the end of its designated timeframe), the first participants to join are needed for contiguous growth and the most time is spent with these stakeholders (and usually in discussion over project design). They then repeat this process with new stakeholders if they so choose. I typically open and ‘hold’ the process. It can sometimes feel like the role of artistic director and is quite lonely at first. But, after a few more principal stakeholders are on board it is possible to co-lead while also doing other individual and group ‘actions’.

From ‘Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers’ (2010)

Regarding Luv ’til it Hurts—and en brev—I will hold the process (ultimately an open design method that includes finding money to make the project); write for the website in a couple of ‘threads’—about the process of making the project and some creative texts; co-curate public programs (conferences, exhibitions, residencies, etc); introduce an independent work (or action) within the ‘container’ as would be the prerogative of any serious stakeholder; and ultimately archive the project through its end-date and a short period thereafter. One needs to want to ‘use’ the device to participate … it is not a theoretical project in that ‘sideline’ sense, even if I may consider it a form of research (something I’ll explain later). I am told that I can be a toughie during the recruitment phase, encouraging people off the sideline in smooth and not-so-smooth ways. It is critical no matter how you ‘crack it’ this particularly tedious and essential part of the process. 

Once the container is secure (and explainable) in act two, a larger range of actions are possible. Luv ’til it Hurts is completing its first act I do believe. I will say so here when the process is clear of each of its milestones. 

Such a project can be tiring at times for sure. I make open works because they excite me. And, nourish me at times as well. 

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[*The phrase ‘open work’ is a reference to Umberto Eco’s criticism on such works throughout history, The Open Work, Harvard University Press (April 1989), shared nicely online by Monoskop.]


Embroidery and curating non-artists

photo: Cadu Oliveira

My upstairs neighbor, Carué is a medical doctor and AIDS activist. While he doesn’t front as artist, he has a cool project (that occurs to me as artistic) by which he asks for a piece of clothing. He takes it to a local shopping mall, Galeria do Rock where a lot of young people hang out in the center of São Paulo and a specific embroidery shop in the busy arcade. He pays for ‘HIV+’ to be embroidered somewhere prominently on the piece. He then tells you where to pick it up. One need not be HIV+ to receive this gift. Recently I asked him if I could include a photograph of his embroidered work in a museum show that I’m co-curating. For a range of reasons, the curatorial group first used a cropped image of his suit coat without his face, and agreed that I would ask him if he preferred a different image. Carué insisted that we show his face, and so we replaced the ‘suit coat’ with a new image he provided. It was an easy decision to come to, perhaps because we have already acknowledged both the need to personalize (or put a face to HIV) against the subtext of using the face of a white man for this particular theme (and in the Museum of Sexual Diversity’s location in a busy metro station). Since these topics were already ‘on the table’, the curatorial group was able to easily balance the topic of HIV/AIDS with other themes; reconsider the prominence and placement of non-white faces and voices in the small space; and adjust the ratio of women, men, trans (men and women), and non-binary folks participating in the show. As a curator, artist and HIV+ downstairs neighbor, I found it a unique learning experience. And, I also understood why Carué required me to pick up my gift, when the lady at the embroidery shop asked me to repeat more loudly what was embroidered on the piece as she shuffled through past orders in the back of the shop. ‘HIV+’ I said, and tipped my head to the guy behind me in line who was waiting on us to finish the transaction. She found it, holding up a green linen button-up with fluorescent orange embroidery.

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