I wanted to elaborate more on the concept of ‘transcendence’

Image: ‘Hummingbirds’ (Installation of 6), 2016, by artist Eric Rhein

I wanted to elaborate more on the concept of ’transcendence’, mostly because I have some reservations about it. BUT, the fact that HIV is a disease that you live with took me to the place of transcendence. I departed from Eric’s work and paid especial attention to it. The aesthetics of the drawings helped to describe such transcendence in the LTIH project. (more about it later)

[…]

For me, the starting point for a reflection about HIV and stigma is to re-situate us in what it means to be ‘healthy’ and what it means to be ‘ill’. I’d talk in terms of health ’state’ rather than ’status’, meaning that state entails more than the exclusively physical condition of a body. ’Status’ objectifies, quantifies and causally determines the body—thus, allowing the commodification of it—, creating a sort of ‘snapshot’ of an organism. A body is certainly an organism and, as such, it is its dynamic properties that make our (changing) existence possible. I want to consider existence as ‘being-in-the-world’ in a joint project, so ‘being-in-the-world-with-others’.

I turned to a book called Existential Medicine (2018), which interrogates the current/dominant view on health and illness within medical thinking. I thought of what Todd told about the meds and how the impersonal and instrumental framework of the health system treats/control bodies reinforcing the stigma of certain diseases like HIV (I’m generalizing, but I do think that medical thinking reinforces stigma 90% of the time, including when it manipulates genes to design enhanced bodies like Lulu and Nana)…
In one of the texts, which uses HIV as example (I’ve attached the article), the authors argue that our current model of medicine/health system does not acknowledge the existential character of the human body, ie. the human body as expression of its intersubjectivities and the fact that a body is not only an organism, but also the means of one’s existence, in the sense that a body is the existence of an experiencing subject. This phenomenological approach goes together with the necessity of treating the ‘person’ and not only consider the reductive view of the body as detached from the context of mutual existence in the world.
[…]

After all of this, I tried to be more objective and start to write a ’statement’ by raising the questions:

What is Luv ‘Til It Hurts?
It is when virtual pasts and futures are erased from a lifetime and what remains is a thin stroke of obliterating gestures. This is the trail of a new existence. The thinnest part through which life can be recognized. It is the abbreviation of the normative and the construction of a spatiality dedicated to the encounter of stigma and love.

Why the body?
The body is forgotten in a state of health. When a disruption occurs in the body, it rapidly changes our awareness of it.  

What is the duration of an epidemic? How does a never-ending-epidemic look like?
Epidemics draw on the concept of being ill. Every disease is a disruption in the balance of a body and, more importantly, this ill body disturbs the normative context of the other bodies and their shared functions in public life or in a society.

Despite the fact that HIV evolves from the inside, the narratives of sickness develop from the outside, although an environment comprises of both. LTIH addresses the comprehension of a body beyond its organic, ‘causally determined entity in the physical world’, but as an imbroglio of metabolic exchanges between inside phenomena and outside circumstances.

Proposition of a framework for transcendence

What is transcendence?

Transcending is the impossibility of living in one of the poles of dichotomies like life and death, health and illness.

Much of the stigma on HIV still resonates the death sentence that comes with the diagnosis—even if today we can speak about preventive methods and treatment and an undetectable viral load… living with HIV expresses more than being alive or dead.

Is transcending an escape? No, transcending is to open a breach in the stiff portion of soil underneath our feet. The middle is not something in between, but it is produced by the impossibility of living in one pole of a dichotomy. It is not to be an actual object or subject of something, but the very process of subjectification.

It is to transform memory into future-making and what comes next into one more thread to bind. It is to stay with the contour of things, instead of reinforcing the contrast of positive and negative sides (Eric’s work).

Am I proposing a sort of immanent transcendence? Maybe…

Conversa com Vinicius Couto (PT/EN)

[*Early this year I got the chance to talk to Vinicius Couto in São Paulo about three strands of his work. The article contains images from a performance he made in São Paulo, Rio and Cairo. I was particularly interested in his idea of getting HIV+ people together, as well as what he says on ‘aesthetics’. His initial interview took place before COVID19, and I asked for clarification on his idea for getting people together a few days ago. xo Todd]

PT

TLL: Você disse que o seu trabalho tem três áreas. Eu lembro de duas: Visitar países que não permitem pessoas positivas de entrar, como o Egito; E criar ou participar de uma rede de pessoas positivas? (Esqueci: eram pessoas ou artistas?) … Você poderia explicar as três e talvez falar sobre as conexões que existem entre elas?

VC: Sim, hoje, pra além da [I=I] – trabalho que me introduziu no meio da performance, tenho mais 2 projetos: 

O primeiro é que nos próximos 10 anos, pretendo hackear os outros 47 países que restringem de alguma forma a minha entrada/permanência enquanto corpo positivo, independente de estado sorológico. A abertura se deu no Egito.

Ainda não sabemos exatamente como vai ser a minha atuação, mas a princípio sabemos que será uma visita com entrevistas e o meu estigma (o figurino de cabelos) ocupando a cidade. Como se ficasse explícito que por mais que exista restrições de entrada, a Aids existe em todos os lugares. 

O segundo é um projeto de 3 meses, ainda não encabeçado, que vai promover encontros a partir de um convite feito por lambe-lambes distribuídos pelas ruas da cidade. Nos encontros eu pretendo propor conteúdos que abordem questões positivas, entre filmes, informativos, performances e o que mais acontecer, com foco em conteúdos brasileiros e ao término  eu proponho uma roda de conversa junto com um questionário que levantará dados pra uma performance de reprodução de corpos.

E o trabalho que já existe é a I=I que é anual e gradativa, a cada ano são adicionados mais 365- frascos condizentes aos meus dias de tratamento desde que iniciei.

Além desses tenho um outro projeto ainda em especulação que é uma “cura dor ria posithiva”, onde convidarei artistas positivos a proporem novos olhares e possibilidades de visões desafogadas de tristeza e morte. Acredito que vem chegando o momento de pensarmos a luta positiva com menos dor e mais força.

TLL: Na verdade eu queria entender a sua prática artística. Não sei se você tem um ‘artist statement’ ou algum texto sobre essa sua ‘viagem’ artística. Por favor, poderia nos falar abertamente sobre o que você faz na vida .. e com a arte?

VC: Definitavamente, não tenho nenhuma estratégia nem pontos de partida. A minha vida sempre foi definida pelo acaso. Nunca consegui programar muitas coisas, talvez pela falta de grana ou até mesmo pela minha personalidade. 

No trabalho, escolhi investigar na arte, na moda e no cinema, corpos não normativos. Iniciei essa investigação em 2010, quando abri mão muitas vezes de trabalhar no meio branco/rico para me voltar a projetos que realmente fariam diferenças pra mim e pra outres.

Não acho que devemos protocolar o trabalho como “ganha pão”. O prazer deve se dar nas articulações profissionais. É uma pena pensar que, talvez no Brasil, ainda que exista, essa investigação ainda é pouco valorizada. Em teoria, talvez, eu tenha escolhido o prazer ao invés da riqueza. Tive oportunidades de trabalhar com as mais poderosas mas abri mão por não me ver presente em nenhum daqueles espaços. E quando veio o HIV, eu tinha duas escolhas, o silêncio e a possibilidade de desestruturar esse mesmo. Escolhi abrir e nada mais óbvio do que colocar meu próprio corpo em questão. Daí se deu na performance. Não sou um corpo acadêmico e nem defendo a academia. Acho que vivemos um declínio acadêmico que não possibilita a vivência das ruas, por exemplo. Defendo a minha investigação e interesse pelo olhar, pela vivência e principalmente pelo trânsito. A academia nos coloca em lugares muito teóricos mas a vivência é o que nos faz ter conclusões plausíveis sobre qualquer assunto. A verdade é que uma precisa da outra e eu escolhi a outra.

Bienal de Cairo (I=I Cairo)
Fotos: otimokarater

TLL: Eu me lembro de uma resposta sua sobre estética durante a nossa visita, e tenho interesse especificamente nessa linha de pensamento. Você pode falar um pouco mais sobre isso?

VC: Legal que isso te marcou.

Defendo a estética como forma de informação, mas ainda assim ela fica sublime e aberta para conclusões diversas. Quando penso em arte/HIV, penso em trabalho com profundidade de informação, ainda que já vivemos há muito tempo com a questão do HIV/AIDS, o que se dá numa crescente epidemia é a falta de informação. É uma loucura vermos que ainda não temos políticas públicas efetivas no brasil e acho que a potencialidade vai se dar em novas ferramentas. É aí que entra a arte. Porém, por mais sublime que se apresente, a gente nunca vai conseguir se desvencilhar da informação, ela é o que vai fazer, talvez, um dia, a gente dar conta de introduzir a não conclusão em um trabalho de arte posithiva. Antes disso, defendo que todas as abordagens devam ser baseadas e introdutivas de informação. Esse ao menos é o meu formato de trabalho. Quando também defendo o “discurso popular” como o jeito mais abrangente e efetivo de transformação, eu penso nos meus, na minha tia que mora lá longe, naqueles que não aprenderam a buscar a informação. Somos um país com indução de informação e com altos índices de audiência nos grandes canais de TV, aqui as pessoas tem as TVs de última geração pra assistir a TV Globo, por exemplo. Ainda que já tenhamos acessos globais, estamos longe do domínio da tecnologia e da consciência de buscar fontes que realmente tragam  dados concretos.

TLL: Por favor, você poderia falar mais sobre a sua visita ao Cairo (Egito)? Sobre como foi morar lá por um tempo e se envolver com a cause do HIV por lá. Tenho curiosidade sobre qual foi a reação do público durante a Bienal de Cairo.

VC: Ah, o Egito! 

A Bienal do Cairo foi o espaço que me escolheu pra abrir a minha condição de posithivo. Antes disso eu estive 2 anos formulando a minha abertura. Ensaiei uma performance que se chama “libertar-ser” com curadoria da Susana Guardado pra um projeto que se chama Prazer é Poder, no Rio, lugar onde contrai o HIV. Nessa performance o meu corpo era apenas um estigma. Os cabelos eram o que viria a definir esse estigma futuramente. Lembro de um amigo e artista maravilhoso que me provoca muito, Tiago Rivado, me falando que era maravilhoso ver em Libertar-ser o quanto eu não sabia o que eu estava fazendo. E era exatamente sobre isso… Eu não sabia qual era o meu sentimento, eu só sabia que era algo que vinha de fora pra dentro e que ele tinha embates diversos. Depois do Egito que eu fui entender que existia narrativa entre libertar-ser e I=I.

Esse convite se deu por intermédio da Monica Hirano (hoje minha produtora) que estava produzindo a bienal e pediu pra mandar meu projeto. Ele foi aceito, consegui por meio de um financiamento coletivo afetivo produzido pelo Gilberto Vieira. conseguimos 10k pra essa viagem.

Cheguei no Cairo no dia do segundo turno que elegeu Bolsonaro, aos prantos e me sentindo culpado por não ter votado nesse dia, mas sabendo que estava me propondo a algo importante. Fiquei mais de 2 horas no aeroporto tendo a minha mala investigada,  sem saber nem falar inglês direito. Só falava “I’m an artist” com a carta da bienal na mão e meu único medo era o momento deles pegarem o meu remédio que levei nos frascos originais. A performance já começava ali, se eu fosse interrompido, ela também teria acontecido…

No fim eles ficaram tão entretidos com o figurino que só pegaram o remédio, abriram, viram que estava lacrado e me deixaram ir embora.

Consegui uma assistente lá do Cairo pra me auxiliar na produção, todos os frascos e rótulos foram produção local. Os frascos foram até que fáceis de achar, já os rótulos tivemos que andar por pelo menos 4 gráficas que não queriam imprimir por conter as palavras “gay” “HIV” e “AIDS” no conteúdo. Todas palavras proibidas até de mencionar naquele país. A assistente teve que falar que era pra um trabalho de faculdade. O corte dos rótulos vieram cheios de risadas e reprovações dos caras que cortavam e a performance foi um sucesso. Mesmo que ainda sem muito formato por ser a primeira, ela foi censurada, não pude ficar sem camiseta e tinham policiais filmando todos os movimentos da abertura da bienal. Ela estava toda em inglês então acho que as chances de ser mais censurada diminuíram. Nunca antes tinha me visto sendo observado por tanta gente, lembro até de uma criança me oferecendo coisas pra beber e me ajudando a tirar os rótulos, foi forte! Durou 3 horas, quase que a abertura toda e eu sentia que quem entendia tinha uma mistura de dó com compaixão. No fim, alguns homens vieram me abraçar e agradecer por aquele movimento. Suponho que eles eram positivos. Eu não me envolvi com as causas do país, não deu tempo, tentamos um contato com a UNAIDS de lá mas não teve sucesso. Mas pra mim, enquanto proponente, estar ali levando aquelas palavras que não podem nem ser faladas impressas em 740 frascos de remédios, já me fez ter sentido.

Naquele ano de 2018 o Egito tinha dobrado a quantidade de infecções durante toda a história da epidemia lá. Foram 11k novas infecções. Fiquei exatamente 1 mês lá, dei uma circulada, achei uma loucura, nunca antes tinha vivido uma cultura tão diferente da minha. Fiz uma pegação, os gays em grande maioria não moram lá por conta da proibição e são todos bem fechados. O aplicativo Grindr ja vem com uma notificação dizendo para tomar cuidado com “policiais disfarçados”. Fiquei com medo e preferi não me envolver. Imagina se fosse pego sendo gay e ainda por cima posithivo. Risos.

TLL: Você teve uma exposição no Rio, no Centro Cultural Hélio Oiticica. Você poderia falar mais sobre isso? Eu conheço um pouco (muito pouco:) sobre ele … E na minha cabeça ele e a prática dele têm umas similaridades com a sua. É imaginação minha? Outras pessoas também dizem isso? E para você, existe uma relação?

VC: A performance no HO, foi a última atividade deles e minha de 2019. Eles me cederam o espaço e eu consegui que a produção fosse financiada por uma amiga, Silvana Bahia. Por ser uma instituição pública e pelo Rio/Brasil estar passando por momentos de sucateamento e dificuldades de estímulos à cultura, tudo estava bem precário. Estavam quase sem profissionais, nem dinheiro pra faxina eles tinham. Muito triste ver um lugar que sedia e dá abertura, principalmente para artistas periféricos, se encontrar naquele estado. Mas ainda que com dificuldades, a falta de estrutura deu força e gerou um novo caminho pro meu trabalho. Tivemos que imprimir os rótulos em papel adesivo normal, isso impossibilitou a retirada fácil dos rótulos e promoveu uma necessidade coletiva dos expectadores. Quando me vi propondo a todos que eles tirassem as informações contidas nos rótulos, pensei: ‘uau, estou inserindo informações neles e junto comigo estão des-rotulando.’ Tenho dito que essa foi a ação coletiva mais potente que eu me vi proponente. Tanto que agora teremos as 2 formas de rótulos, em papel vinílico, que facilita tirar e o adesivo de papel normal. No MAM-SP, por exemplo, eu retirei todos os rótulos e a interação se dava no meu movimento de colar nos expectadores. Ainda consegui reforçar a conclusão de que “As sequelas, os resquícios e a proliferação do vírus do HIV/AIDS sempre vai se mostrar fixado e mais presente nos territórios onde se tem precariedade, falta de acesso e de políticas públicas efetivas.

Estamos falando de (falta de) estrutura!” 

Esse texto foi legenda de uma foto que tirei minutos antes de eu começar a limpar os resquícios da minha performance na segunda-feira depois de ter sido advertido pela instituição por ter deixado e não ter limpado sabendo das condições deles.

Já as similaridades com os trabalhos do Hélio, eu agradeço. Nunca antes tinha parado pra pensar sobre isso, me identifico  no seu modo subversivo anarquista e vanguardista. Mas acho que enquanto artista, minimamente politizado, todos aqui levamos um pouco do Helio. Ele é pro Brasil uma das maiores referências que temos. Eu queria mesmo é ter vivido com ele em vários momentos. Risos!

Tenho uma certa dificuldade em colocar minhas referências em questão. Quando falo sobre meu corpo e sobre arte/HIV é uma coisa que está tão ligada e se torna tão genuína que óbvio que não existe corpo sem referência, mas minha construção se baseia na necessidade e na observação de outros corpos como o meu, basicamente.

Esclarecimento sobre ‘juntar pessoas,’ após o surgimento do COVID19:

“Oi Todd. É mais ou menos a mesma coisa sim. Eu só tô ainda pensando em como eu vou agir com esse projeto. A ideia é que a gente consiga articular pessoas e artistas positivos a propor novos olhares, um olhar mais positivo mesmo, sabe. Mas eu acho que isso também, agora pensando, pode ser uma interrupção de formatos, de outros corpos. Então eu acho que a liberdade nessa proposição, ela tem que ser livre mesmo, não da pra gente induzir outros corpos a fazer outras coisas. Ela tem que ser livre. Mas eu acho que pensar nessa nova linguagem de trazer menos dor e trazer informação com um pouco mais de… Não sei explicar pra você. Mas sim, tudo parte do mesmo. Eu tô agora aqui escrevendo parte desse projeto inclusive. Mas é meio isso, é a mesma coisa, mas é pensar em novos formatos sabe, que não seja com dor, que não seja das pessoas ficarem tocadas. Eu acho que a gente precisa focar agora em outros lugares.”

***
EN

TLL: Hi Vinicius. When we first met you told me you have three projects or perhaps work in three overlapping areas. Can you say something about each and maybe how they are all connected?

VC: Yes, today, asides from [I=I] – a work that introduced me to the milieu of performance, I have 2 projects: 

The first is that in the next 10 years, I intend to hack the other 47 countries that somehow restrict my entrance/permanence as a positive body, regardless of serological state. This opening to this took place in Egypt.

We still don’t know exactly how my action will be, but for now we know that it will be a visit with interviews and that my stigma (the hair pieces) will be occupying the city. As if it was explicit that although there are entry restrictions, Aids exists everywhere. The second is a 3-month long project, with still no lead, which will promote meetings from invitations displayed on street posters and distributed throughout the city. In the meetings I intend to propose content that addresses positive matters, such as films, newsletters, performances, and whatever else happens, with a focus on Brazilian content, and in the end I propose a roundtable along with a questionnaire that will create data for a performance on the reproduction of bodies.

The work that already exists is the I=I, which is annual and gradual, and each year more than 365 flasks are added, pertaining to my days of treatment ever since I began it.

Besides these two, I have another project that is still under speculation which is a “posithive cure pain laugh”, for which I invited positive artists to propose new perspectives and possibilities of visions not laden with sadness and death. I believe the time is arriving for us to think about the positive fight with less pain and more strength. 

TLL: Actually I’d luv to understand better your artistic practice in general (pertaining to HIV and otherwise). Do you happen to have an artist statement or reflections on your ‘artistic journey’ so far? Please feel free to change the questions to suit the way you want to respond. I’m always interested to know how artists differentiate between their work (or practice) and life in general.

VC: Definitively, I have no strategy or departing point. My life was always defined by chance. I was never able to plan too many things, maybe for the lack of money or even due to my personality.

At work, I chose to research non-normative bodies in art, fashion and cinema. I began this research in 2010, when I gave up on several occasions the opportunity to work in the white/rich milieu in order to focus on projects that would really make a difference for me and others. 

I don’t think that we should protocol work as being a “bread winner.” Pleasure has to arise in professional articulations. It is a pity to think that, maybe in Brazil, although it exists, this research is still little valued. In theory, maybe, I chose pleasure instead of wealth. I’ve had the opportunity to work with powerful people but gave it all up because I was not seeing myself present in any of those spaces. And when HIV came up, I had two choices, silence or the possibility of dismantling silence itself. I chose to open up, and nothing was more obvious than to put my own body in question. That is where performance came from. I am not an academic body nor do I even defend academia. I think we are living an academic decline that does not allow as a possibility street experience, for example. I defend my research and my interest in the gaze, the experience, and mostly in the transit. Academia puts us in places that are too theoretical, but experience is what makes us have plausible conclusions about any subject. The truth is that one needs one another, and I have chosen the other.

TLL: I remember something you said when we met about aesthetics in relation to HIV. I’m particularly interested in this line of thought. Please expound:

VC: It’s cool that that left a mark on you.

I defend aesthetic as a form of information, but even in this way, it is kept sublime and open to various conclusions. When I think of art/HIV, I think of work that has a depth of information. Although we have lived for a long time with the matter of HIV/AIDS, what brings us to a growing epidemic is the lack of information. It is crazy to see that we still do not have effective public policy in Brazil, and I think that the potentiality will happen through new information tools. That’s where art comes in. Yet, however sublime it may present itself, we are never going to be able to free ourselves from information, it is what will make us, one day, think of introducing a non-conclusion to a positive work of art. Before this happens, I defend that all approaches must be based on, as well as introduce, information. At least this is my work format. While I also defend the “popular discourse” as a more comprehensive and effective means of transformation, I think of my people, of my aunt who lives far away, of those who did not learn to search for information. We are a country with the induction of information and with high audience rates in big tv channels, here people have the latest TV models to watch Globo, for example. Although there is global access, we are far from technological expertise and from having the awareness to search for sources that really bring us concrete information. 

TLL: Can you tell me more about your trip to Egypt for the Cairo Biennial? Did you stay long and would you say that your performance piece was seen outside of the frame of the government-sponsored art event?  Was your performance billed explicitly as pertaining to HIV? I’m curious about the public’s reaction to your work.

VC: Oh, Egypt!

The Cairo Biennial was a space that chose me to open up by condition as posithive. Before this I spent 2 years formulating my opening up. I rehearsed a performance that is called “Libertar-ser,” under the curation of Susana Guardado for a project that is called Prazer é Poder, in Rio, where I contracted HIV. In this performance my body was only a stigma. The hair pieces were what would come to define this stigma in the future. I remember a friend and wonderful artist who provokes me a lot, Tiago Rivaldo, telling me that it was amazing to see in Libertar-ser how much I had no idea what I was doing. And it was exactly about that… I did not know what I was feeling, I just knew that it was something that came from the outside in and that it underwent several clashes. After Egypt I learned that there was a narrative between Libertar-ser and I=I.

This invitation happened through the Monica Hirano (my producer today) as an intermediary, who was producing the Biennial and asked me to send the project. It was accepted, I was able to do it through a collective affective financing by Gilberto Vieira. We were able to raise 10k for this trip. I arrived in Cairo in the day of the second round of elections that elected Bolsonaro, I was in tears and feeling guilty for not having voted on this day, but I knew that I was proposing myself to something important. I spent more than 2 hours in the airport with my suitcase being investigated, with me not knowing how to speak English well. All I could say was “I’m an artist,” with the Biennial letter in my hand. My only fear was of them grabbing my medicines that I took in their original flasks. The performance was already starting there, if I had been interrupted, it would already have happened…

In the end they were so entertained by my costume that they only took the medicine, opened it, saw that it was sealed, and let me go.

I was able to get an assistant in Cairo to help me with the production, all of the flasks and labels were locally produced. The flasks were even easy to find, but for the labels we had to go through at least 4 print shops that did not want to print them out because they contained the words “gay”, “HIV”, and “Aids.” These are all words that are prohibited from even being mentioned in that country. My assistant had to say that it was a work for college. The guys cut up the labels while laughing a lot and being disapproving of it. The performance was a success. Although it still did not have a lot of format, for being the first, it was censored, I was not allowed to be shirtless, and there were cops filming every movement at the Biennial opening. It was all in English, so I think that the chances of it being censored diminished. I had never before found myself being watched by so many people, I even remember a child that offered my things to drink and helped me remove the labels, it was strong! It lasted 3 hours, almost the entire opening, and I felt that those who understood it felt a mixture of pity and compassion. In the end, some men came to hug and thank me for that move. I suppose that they were positive. I did not get involved with the country’s causes, I did not have time, we tried to get in contact with the UNAIDS there, but without success. But for me, as a proponent, to be there and to be taking those words that can’t even be said out loud, printed onto 740 medicine flasks, already gave it meaning to me.

In that year, of 2018, Egypt had doubled the amount of infections during the entire history of the epidemics there. There were 11k new infections. I was there for one exact month, walked around, thought it was all crazy, I had never experienced a culture that was so different from mine. I had a hook up there, most of the gays don’t live there due to the prohibition and they are all very closed off. The Grindr app already comes with a notice to be careful with “undercover cops.” I was scared and preferred to not get involved. Imagine if I was caught being gay, and even more, being posithive? [Laughs]

Centro Cultural Hélio Oiticica (I=I Rio de Janeiro)
Fotos: Daniel Toledo

TLL: You recently had an exhibition in Rio de Janeiro at the Hélio Oiticica Cultural Center. Can you say more about that? Was it the same piece you performed in Cairo? I know a little bit about the work (and style) of Hélio Oiticica, and in my head I can imagine similarities between his work and yours. Is this just my imagination? Have others made this comparison? And, well, do you make a connection yourself?

VC: The performance at HO was their and my last activity in 2019. They conceded me the space and I was able to have the production financed by a friend, Silvana Bahia. For being a public institution, and because Rio/Brazil is going through moments of scrapping and difficulty in the promotion of culture, everything was very precarious. They were almost without professionals, they didn’t even have money for the cleaning. It is very sad to see a place that hosts and gives exposure, especially for artists from the periphery, to find it in that state. Even with difficulties, the lack of structure gave strength and generated a new path for my work. We had to print out the labels on normal adhesive paper, which made it impossible to easily remove the labels, and promoted a collective necessity by the spectators. When I saw myself proposing to everyone that they remove the information contained on the labels, I thought: “wow, I am inserting information onto them, and they are un-labeling together with me.” I have said that that was the most potent collective action that I have found myself being a proponent of. So much so that we will now have the 2 types of labels on vinyl, which facilitates the removal of the normal adhesive paper. At MAM-SP, for example, I removed all of the labels and the interaction took place in my movement of gluing it onto the spectators. I can still stress the conclusion that “The aftermath, the remnants, and the proliferation of the HIV/AIDS virus will always reveal itself as fixed to, and more present in precarious territories, where there is a lack of access and effective public policies. 

We are talking about a (lack of) structure!”

This text was the caption of a photo that I took minutes after arriving to clean up the remnants from my performance on Monday, after being adverted by the institution for having left and not cleaned up, knowing their condition.

Now, regarding similarities with Hélio’s work, I thank you. I had never stoped before to think about this, I identify with his subversive anarchist and vanguardist ways. But I think that like any minimally politicized artist, we all take a little bit from Hélio. He is, for Brazil, one of the biggest references we have. What I really wanted was to have lived with him on many occasions. [Laughs]

I have a certain difficulty putting my references in question. When I talk about my body and art/HIV, it is something that is so interlinked, and it becomes so genuine, that obviously there is no body that has no reference, but, basically, my construction is based on the necessity and observation of other bodies like my own.

Post-COVID19 outbreak clarification on ‘getting people together’:

“Hi Todd. Yes, it is sort of the same thing. I am still thinking about how I’m gonna act in this new project. The idea is that we articulate positive people and artists, for them to propose new outlooks, a more positive one. You know, now that I was thinking, this can also be an interruption of formats, of other bodies’. So I think that liberty in this position really needs to be free, we can’t induct other bodies into doing things. It has to be free. But I think that we need to think about this new language that brings less pain and brings more information with a little bit of… I don’t know how to explain it to you. But yes, it is all part of the same thing. I am even now over here writing up this project. But that’s kind of it, it is the same thing, but it is to ask for new formats, one that isn’t all about pain, or all about moving people. I think that we need to focus on new areas.”

Museu de Arte Moderna (I=I São Paulo)
Fotos: Carol Araujo

Coming Out of the Web 2.0 Closet

[*Five or so years ago Canadian artist Niki Singleton and I made a Facebook project called Coming Out of the Web 2.0 Closet. We both had a story whereby ‘friends’ or family members had used social media to shun us or tell us we were going to hell or something similar for being gay, and out. A couple more friends from NYC and Beirut gave us their stories to render in five-frame comic strips. I hear HIV being referred to in a variety of coded ways (like having a House In Virginia), and for sure we talk about it as a second closet to come out of … so I decided to reboot this project here in the LUV scrapbook (of things). I’m also really fond of another work we made called Host-an-Occupier along with Danish collective Wooloo and Mexican-American artist Alicia Marvan. xo Todd]

Our Story

Cameron’s Story

Niki’s Story

Todd’s Story

artHIVism, Condom Art & a lifetime of caring

[*A longer EN language interview is available below for download; Todd Lanier Lester interviews Adriana Bertini for LUV.]

TLL: We met first in Barcelona at the 14th International AIDS Conference in 2002. I don’t remember too much about the trip, except that I was presenting a poster with a colleague on community sensitization work on HIV/AIDS we’d done together in the East Province of Cameroon as US Peace Corps volunteers. Again, a very long time ago.

I recently wrote about my first HIV work on the LUV site, and I guess it had to do with being ‘plopped’ down in a location for which it was an urgency. I reacted to my surroundings, not so different than how I have reacted to urban issues here in São Paulo. For me it is about responding to what is around me, and relates to my personal notion of what you do when you live in a place. The only difference I can think of is that I now call myself an artist. I began this HIV-related work 20 years ago, and before I myself contracted HIV. 

Since you’ve been doing this work for just as long, I wanted to first say thank you for your dedication, and ask you to explain how you started and what moved you to action in what you term ‘artHIVism’ (I noticed in your e-mail signature:)

AB: O Trabalho com arte aliado à Aids nasce de uma intervenção artística em Porto Alegre em 1994, um convite do ator Fabiano Menna para uma performance, fui literalmente fisgada pela causa. Em 1995 entro para a ONG GAPA em Florianópolis como voluntária. Ali eu cuidava de crianças vivendo com HIV, a maioria de transmissão vertical. E um dia por acaso eu ganho do secretário da saúde uma caixa com 144 preservativos vencidos e ali começa o meu processo de investigação artística sobre a matéria prima e como fazer arte com este objeto para chamar a atenção para a prevenção, falar de sexualidade e os perigos do prazer sem advogar a abstinência.

Com o passar dos anos, estudando e fazendo experimentos artísticos, o trabalho de arte passa por uma evolução natural, onde eu busco através da manifestação artística integrar ativismo a arte, saúde e educação.

Inquieta com a questão da adesão à TARV, principalmente com jovens dou início à pesquisa de outros materiais para promover a adesão, como medicamentos, embalagem e objetos que remetem à saúde sexual, e há dois anos criei esta palavra artHivismo como um novo conceito, não sou ativista sou uma artHivista porque relaciono minha arte diretamente com o HIV.

TLL: I’ve read your Creative Workshop manual (see download below), and a bit of the background of condom art. Do you make other works outside the theme of HIV?  Do you see yourself more as a public health activist, an artist or both?

AB: Eu trabalho paralelamente com outras questões sociais na arte. Trabalhei por alguns anos na Anistia Internacional em Bruxelas como Strong Voice e Artivista para o Fim da Mutilação Genital Feminina e em outras causas sociais como câncer de mama, tráfico de órgãos, etc… Meu projeto futuro é trabalhar a Fome e escolhi para a representação artística o Pão como alimento-referência em todas as culturas globais. Eu me vejo como uma artista social.

TLL: Adriana, you recently visited Los Angeles and UCLA I believe. You were there doing HIV-related art education, or this is what I remember from our brief discussion. Let’s use your trip to LA as a way to discuss your work.  What did you do while you were there? Are there specific organizations you’d like for us to know about? Would you say that this trip is typical for you? 

AB: Eu fui convidada como Artist in Residence por três setores da UCLA:

Fowler Museum at UCLA

UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance

UCLA Art & Global Health Center

Trabalhamos em parceria desde 2006. E este convite foi para várias ações artísticas que envolveu:

Public Speaker, Workshop Público no dia comunitário do Fowler Museum e um workshop intensivo chamado de Fiat Lux Class (Creative Workshop).

No Condom Art Workshop (Creative Workshop) intensivo trabalhamos a teoria do artivismo, a construção do diálogo crítico e debates sobre saúde sexual, métodos contraceptivos e como banir o estigma.

Foram diversas dinâmicas usando poesia, desenho, fotografia, vídeo, performance para a construção do trabalho final, uma apresentação.

O conceito do workshop foi como banir estigma e pudemos criar coletivamente um novo diálogo sempre trabalhando técnicas de arte com camisinha, recorte, colagem, pigmentação, costura, modelagem.

É uma oficina muito rica porque além dos temas propostos e das técnicas artísticas aprendidas, levamos para as questões mais pessoais que são as experiências vividas na sua sexualidade, e colocar isso à tona dentro da classe fortalece os jovens e os empodera para suas escolhas mais conscientes.

TLL: And, lastly, what’s next?  Importantly, I’d luv to know your vision for HIV-related work in São Paulo where we both live. 

AB: Eu acredito muito na educação sexual de forma transversal nas escolas e na universidade, e volto de Los Angeles fortalecida a procurar mais espaços de diálogo em São Paulo, por mais difícil que seja e percebo que tanto os jovens americanos, brasileiros, europeus e asiáticos têm a mesma demanda, precisam de informação de forma criativa, contemporânea, rápida e atual como resposta à epidemia, o diálogo lúdico, moderno e a arte tem este poder de tocar mentes e corações para uma possível transformação.

LUV: Thanks so much for taking time to share your work!


Candles & Hearts #LPW2020

[*Working together with the City of São Paulo office of Human Rights, George Ferraz prepared (styled) two downtown cultural spaces for Love Positive Women 2020 with the theme of Yemanjá and using the posters designed by Thiago. A message from the Office of Human Rights was distributed along with Valentines Day cards. The Human Rights flier encourages HIV+ women to use the city’s three citizenship centers for meetings any time of the year, and provides a QR Code to find more info easily. Both Tapera Taperá bar and esponja spaces in São Paulo hosted Love Positive Women-related info / set-ups. Thiago made the candles for an event in NYC held on February 9th. George helped with the event too, making some more cloth hearts, like the ones distributed in São Paulo and Khartoum. There were extra hearts and we mailed them to Puerto Rico with Valentines cards. Some also went to the cast of I, OF COURSE, WAS LIVID, a Love Positive Women-affiliated event at Housing Works bookstore. And, about 15 leftover candles go on to the VisualAIDS Women’s Empowerment Art Therapy Workshops. Thanks guys! xo, Todd]

Scrapbook, Love Positive Women 2020 (#LPW2020)

[*When I asked NYC-based artist Thiago Correia Gonçalves if he’d like to help make a Love Positive Women event, he proposed making Bobó (shrimp and cassava stew) for Yemanjá, the goddess for fishermen who is celebrated on February 2nd in Brasil. When I asked poet Brad Walrond to participate, I’d already seen a poem ‘Yemaya’ in his forthcoming book Every Where Alien. He offered his 1986, Yemaya and other poems. DIG Ferreira, Jesse Hawkes, Livia Alexander, George Ferraz and others helped out. George made another batch of cloth hearts for attendees to the February 9th, NYC event. In addition to Bobó, Thiago made dendê or palm oil-infused candles that each guest would light upon arrival and then take home as a keepsake from the night.  Thiago let me help a little making the wax and filling the candles the night before … and puréeing the cassava. xo todd] 

Behind the Curtain #LPW2020

Behind the curtain

“أنا مريضة إيدز ونفسى أتعامل كبنى آدمة، معملتش حاجة غلط علشان المجتمع ينبذنى ولما بمرض مش بلاقى دكتور يعاملنى كويس، وبقيت أخاف من الناس فاضطرت لارتداء النقاب خوفا من تعرف الناس على شخصيتى عند اللجوء لتلقى العلاج. “

“فى عام 2006 ظهرت الأعراض الأولية كإسهال وترجيع وسخونية، وفقدت الكثير من وزنى فبعد أن كان 83 كجم أصبح 45 كجم دون أن أعلم السبب، وعلى الرغم من أنى أجريت الكثير من الفحوصات والتحاليل التى حيرت الأطباء وشخصها الكثيرون بأنها مشاكل فى المعدة أو مرض الدفتيريا”.

“استمرت الأعراض وفقدان الوزن المحلوظ، و فى شهر 5 عام 2007، تم حجزى فى مستشفى القصر العينى لمدة 3 أيام فى قسم الباطنة، ونتيجة لاستمرار الإسهال وبعد إجراء الأطباء جميع الفحوصات لم يتعرفوا على السبب، فمكثت بالمستشفى لمدة 21 يوما، ولم يتم التوصل لتشخيص المرض، وبعد حيرة الأطباء فى التشخيص قرروا إجراء تحليل الإيدز وظهرت النتيجة إيجابية ثم بعد ذلك طلبوا من زوجى إجراء التحليل أيضا، وعند ظهور النتيجة لم توجد أى سرية فى المستشفى وتم إخبار جميع الأشخاص المتواجدين بها وإخبار أهلى وأهل زوجى الذين كانوا متواجدين معى”.

“بعد 21 يوما عندما تم التعرف على إصابتى بمرض الإيدز، تم عزلى فى آخر العنبر وإحاطة المكان الذى أتواجد به بالستائر، ثم بعد ذلك قاموا بإفراغ غرفة الغسيل التى يقوم فيها الأطباء بتغيير ملابسهم ووضعونى بها، خوفا منى، كما أن الأطباء كانوا يرون مواعيد حضورهم من بعيد من خلال الإضاءة بالكشاف وتم تركى 4 أيام معزولة فى غرفة الغسيل، وتم تحويلى مرة أخرى إلى حميات العباسية حتى يجرى التحليل بالمعامل المركزية وظهرت أيضا إيجابية.”

___________________

« Je suis atteinte du SIDA, et j’aimerais pouvoir me comporter en être humain. Je n’ai rien fait de mal pour que la société me rejette comme ça, et quand je tombe malade je ne trouve pas un médecin qui me traite convenablement, et j’en arrive à avoir peur des gens. C’est pour ça que je me suis mise à porter le niqab, de peur que les gens n’apprennent ma condition lorsque je vais récupérer mon traitement. »

« En 2006, les premiers symptômes sont apparus: diarrhée, vomissements et fièvre. J’ai perdu beaucoup de poids, je suis passée de 83 à 45 kg, sans en connaître la cause. J’ai fait de nombreux tests et examens, mais les médecins et autres spécialiste étaient toujours dans le flou, pensant que c’était des maux d’estomac ou la diphtérie. »

« Les symptômes et la perte de poids ont continué à se développer, jusqu’en mai 2007, où j’ai été admise à l’hôpital de Asr El-Ayny pour 3 jours au service d’hépato-gastro-entérologie en raison de la diarrhée persistante. Après avoir encore réalisé tous les tests possibles et imaginables, les médecins n’arrivaient toujours pas à en déterminer la cause. Je suis donc restée 21 jours à l’hôpital, et puisque les médecins n’arrivaient à aboutir à un diagnostic, ils ont finir par prescrire un test du Sida, qui s’est avéré positif. Quand le résultat est arrivé, ils ont également demandé à mon mari de faire le test. Lorsque les résultats sont sortis, le secret médical n’a absolument pas été respecté, toutes les personnes présentes à l’hôpital à ce moment-là ont été mises au courant, de même que les membres de ma famille et celle de mon mari qui étaient présents. »

« Au bout de 21 jours, quand nous avons enfin eu le diagnostic de l’infection par le Sida, j’ai été placée à l’isolement dans une chambre, bien cachée derrière des rideaux. Ensuite, ils ont vidée le vestiaire, la salle où les médecins se changent, et m’ont déplacé là-bas. Ils avaient peur de moi. Ils venaient vérifier leurs horaires de loin, et avec une lampe torche. Ils m’ont laissée 4 jours isolée dans la buanderie, avant de me transférer à l’hôpital de Abbasseya, pour que je puisse faire un autre test au laboratoire central, qui s’est également avéré positif. »

___________________

“I am sick with AIDS and I’d like to treat myself like a human being. I didn’t do anything wrong for society to reject me; and when I get sick, I can’t find a doctor who treats me well, and I’ve become afraid of people. This is why I had to wear a niqab for fear that people would get to know my condition when I come to take my treatment. 

In 2006, the initial symptoms appeared as diarrhea, vomiting, and heat. I lost a lot of weight; I went from weighing 83 kg to 45 kg, without knowing the reason. I conducted many tests and analyses that puzzled doctors, many diagnosed stomach problems or diphtheria.

Symptoms and weight loss persisted, until May 2007, when I was admitted into the Al-Kasr Al-Ainy Hospital for 3 days in the Hepato-Gastro-Enterology Department as a result of the continued diarrhea. After the doctors performed all possible tests, they still did not find the reason. So I stayed in the hospital for 21 days, the diagnosis of the disease was not reached and the doctors were confused. They finally decided to perform an AIDS test, and the result appeared positive. Then they asked my husband to perform the test as well. When the result appeared, there was no medical confidentiality whatsoever, the whole hospital was informed, as well as my family and my husband’s family who were there.

After 21 days, when I was finally diagnosed with AIDS, I was isolated in a ward and surrounded by curtains. Then, they emptied the laundry room where the doctors used to change their clothes and they put me there. They were afraid of me. When the doctors needed to check their schedules, they were doing it from afar and with a flashlight. They left me for 4 days isolated in the laundry room, then I was transferred again to the Abbaseya hospital where another test was done in the central laboratories and it also appeared as positive.”

Bobó for Yemanjá #LPW2020

[*When I asked Thiago if he’d like to make a meal in NYC–something we’ve done together a few times in São Paulo and once in Bamako–he said yes and immediately suggested making an offering to Iemanjá. We’ve worked together since 2012 (usu. on Lanchonete.org projects), and I imagined that the idea would be good. When I heard Iemanjá and given the date of our NYC performance (Feb 9), I immediately thought of making it a Love Positive Women 2020 event. It’s gonna be really cool. George saw the NYC design around the time that both esponja and Tapera Taperá (cultural spaces here in São Paulo) agreed to be styled for Amem Mulheres Positivas/Love Positive Women 2020. So then came Portuguese and Spanish versions of the same poster, pared down. If in São Paulo, drop by esponja or Tapera Taperá, and in NYC, let us know if you’re free on the 9th. xo todd et al]

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