Homage to a Work Group

Luv ’til it Hurts was at first a two-year project, and is now something much more. I admit that I don’t want to limit its future potential by saying what it is/isn’t or what it’s become. However, there are three ways to clearly ‘see it’. In a recent grant application, I described our group of three coordinators (Brad Walrond, Paula Nishijima & myself) as a ‘working group’. Brad suggested ‘The Work Group’ instead, and the name has stuck. A traveling group show called EXQUISITE CORPSE has been conceived by The Work Group. And, I continue to develop the LUV Fund, an apparatus to deliver faster resources to HIV-related cultural activism, as well as to acknowledge the role of the artist in public health & social movements pertaining to HIV/AIDS. With such a lofty title as The Work Group, it is incumbent on us to say what we do. Our new website is forthcoming, and that explains us rather well. In the meantime, I’ve taken ‘a stab’ at explaining who we are and what we do:

A WORK GROUP

Luv ‘til it Hurts is a work group composed of Brad Walrond, Paula Nishijima & Todd Lanier Lester. Its outputs are collectively authored. 

LUV ‘til it Hurts is action research, insomuch as a methodological discussion transpires amongst artists pertaining to curating, institutional critique, mutual aid and general peership. 

It’s a constituency inviting others working on HIV and health to join their issues in a new configuration. We use this mothership as omnibus for visiting other hurts and stigmas such as those newly afoot with COVID-19. However, ‘pandemics’ is not a theme we wish to be limited by in the future.

It is a gesture to art institutions desiring their socially-engaged exhibits to come from deep dialogues with frontline activists … and in this way, it is also a feedback loop.  

WORK GROUP GOALS

  • Understanding artist-led activism by examining its process (e.g. interviews, site visits, collaborative productions) in order that such intimacy is reflected in both the exhibition and archiving of works; 
  • Making EXQUISITE CORPSE, an exhibition of approximately 20 international artists working on HIV & Stigma. Envisioned as a traveling show for which each new encounter stimulates a ‘swarm-like’ evolution of the show and expansion of the archive, EXQUISITE CORPSE invites local artists and activists to help tailor the show’s public programme for their ‘home turf’;
  • Considering the financial and political economies of art exhibition, EXQUISITE CORPSE proposes a ‘venue network’ through which both expography costs and lessons learned may be shared; 
  • Applying techniques and tools from their individual practices, the WORK GROUP encourages rhizomatic offshoots from the overall EXQUISITE CORPSE process (e.g. R&D, online extension, archiving, co-authored texts, venue network, community engagement, public progarmme- & exhibition-making) whereby one set of interactions generates the next. Game of Swarms, Every Where Alien’s Poetics + Pandemics open mic series and The LUV Fund are all examples;
  • Using technology to sidestep / undo / backmask algorithms that mimic market desires and further entrench dominant cultural precepts.

ITEMS INCLUDED IN HANDOVER FROM INDIVIDUAL PROJECT TO GROUP PROCESS

  • A draft proposal that explains our work and can be tailored to host institutions (for EXQUISITE CORPSE) and/or foundations, which can support our ‘work’;
  • A suite of administrative documents to include, but not limited to a venue list, foundation list, and budget samples;
  • An online dashboard and filing system; this includes calendar, artist portfolios, collectively-authored texts, and design tools (such as LUV letterhead).

###

LUV Fund$

Image: PogoLand

As early as the 1st ‘About’ page: A discussion to be accountable to, the creation of a ‘philanthropic device’ was mentioned, and again in an interview with the Think Twice Collective. Most often over the course of LUV’s first two years, this idea of raising funds for artists and activists working on HIV related stigmas referred to an idea that (after its R&D phase) could be offered to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. And, while this is still the case (or can be), LUV has also been star-fucking around with a couple other artists who have do-good organizations in which a prefab philanthropic device might be nestled. Either way, the apparatus I speak of is conceived for ‘give away’. Recently I’ve begun referring to this ‘philanthropic device’ as the LUV Fund in order to differentiate it from other LUV byproducts, such as the LUV Game and/or EXQUISITE CORPSE, a traveling group show. These items, can of course, work in tandem. There’s a Work Group (composed of Brad Walrond, Paula Nishijima & Todd Lanier Lester) that meets weekly to plan future LUV work, and on several occasions I’ve explained that while energy was given early on to exhibiting the works of artists working on HIV (e.g. Luv Till It Hurts by Kairon Liu), I did not anticipate a traveling group show as what would come next. I luv it, but I didn’t see it coming! And, as for the ‘philanthropic device’, whatever LUV does, it has to do that too!!

Presently I have an idea for integration of the LUV Fund into the EXQUISITE CORPSE show … but not only. The ‘rad purple poster’ (above) is a first draft of the LUV Fund gameplan that I’m working on with Brasilian artist, PogoLand. I’m sure there will be ‘tweaks and tugs’ that change its course over the next few weeks, but wanted to share its tenets as I understand them (like how would it make money?), and also offer it to the LUV show as an artist-made broadsheet, which can carry other info on the traveling / evolving show by printing and using its backside. Here goes in no particular order:

(1) Expography for the traveling group show, EXQUISITE CORPSE has been designed by installation author, Jakub Szczęsny for scalability and cost-sharing across venues. Given potential savings by its ‘economy of scale’, each host institution may be asked to contribute to the LUV Fund;

(2) I’ve asked Jakub to design a special ‘LUV Fund$’ donation box along with the other containers that comprise the show’s expography;

(3) Some of the artists in the group show have works that can be merchandised broadly (online & gift shop);

(4) Other artists have works that can be packaged / offered as limited editions;

(5) Beside presenting works and processes of art in galleries and museums, LUV has a performer and speaker’s bureau, which brokers fair-pay fees for those involved (and modes of participation for artists and non-artists alike;

(6) After 20 years of asking foundations / philanthropy for money to make art projects, I realize that there are several ‘back doors’ that can be accessed IF an idea shifts ‘the paradigm’ … amongst grantmakers, power-brokering is rife, but this usually excludes potential grantees who sometimes sign or agree to ‘non-solicitation’ clauses when attending funder meetings, and for whom the experience is often hierarchical & upward-looking at that;

(7) Some of the ‘back doors to philanthropic power’ I mention above are on the small side, like asking a foundation executive to use his/her/their discretionary or expense fund to support an idea, but I prefer a bigger framework that includes ‘estate planning for the extremely wealthy’ … for example when Warren Buffet’s wife passed away and he decided to forego the eponymous foundation they’d been planning, he gifted and pre-bequeathed enormous sums of money to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation;

(8) Some of the artist-activists that LUV has met in the past two years have large online followings (here I’m speaking mostly of Instagram for which having 10,000 followers opens up avenues of marketing and income generation) … LUV is learning from these folks so that one day its own brand may have these opportunities to ‘influence’ and reap $ benefit in so doing;

(9) When a gallery sells an artist’s work, the gallery takes 50% and the artist gets 50%. It is conceivable that either a blue chip artist (who cares about HIV) or her/his/their gallery would forego this amount on (say) one work a year for a predetermined number of years. While the artist may not be able to do this, they/she/he may influence the gallery to do so;

(10) There is also a ‘nuclear option’ … I’m just not gonna tell ya what it is yet!

Remember, all these ‘cogs’ and ‘spokes’ don’t need to work at the same time for the LUV Fund to flourish. And, all artists involved would be paid first and/or be ‘first in line’ recipients of the LUV Fund. Well, let’s see …

###

[*My first project, freeDimensional created the Creative Resistance Fund, and my second project Lanchonete.org helped start Fundo Imobiliário Comunitário para Aluguel (FICA), with participating artists offering performances and services to raise the fund’s first 10,000 Reais.]

LUV, a timeline

Image by Sebastien Sanz de Santamaria

In January 2018 and speaking on freeDimensional, I was invited to give a co-keynote address on day two of the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Centre for Applied Human Rights @ York University. And while I now realize the ‘second day’ programme (of thinkers from the art camp vs. the human rights camp) is not included in the ‘one day’ online history of this two-day event, this was the first time I mentioned being HIV+ from any type of stage, podium, pulpit, soapbox and/or dais. This is indeed where I first met Professor Maggie O’Neill

On the same trip, I went to Berlin and stayed with friends Julia and Bakri. I told them about the first idea for Luv ’til it Hurts, an uncharted project that did not yet even have a name. And, boasted that if I knew someone who could get me to Sir Elton John, I would know what to do next. As the words came out of my mouth, I realized that I knew this person already, a philanthropy figure in NYC. I drafted an email to him on the flight home. It was meant as a ‘soft approach’ and so I didn’t ask for an intro to Elton (not yet). The philanthropy figure’s response included $50k USD for beginning my experiment. This is when I decided to ‘include’ Luv ’til it Hurts as the third project in a ‘series’ of multistakeholder, rights-focused, durational works that began with freeDimensional and Lanchonete.org

With these resources, Luv ’til it Hurts took shape, and in July launched ‘officially’ at the 2018 International AIDS Conference in partnership with Taiwanese artist Kairon Liu and his project Humans as Hosts. This date set the opening ‘bookend’ in mid-2018, and I personally decided to make the project for two years (at first), thereby ‘bookending’ the project’s uncharted phase at the end June 2020. COVID-19 offered a major ‘bump in the road’, and yet here we are rolling-to-a-stop–refueling–and not so far off the forecasted mark. 

Before its official launch, the nascent LUV project was invited as special guests to a community gathering on HIV in Philadelphia by the Amber Art & Design collective. The May 24th programme was originally slated for the Hatfield House in the Strawberry Mansion area in which the collective works. When we arrived in Philadelphia we were told that the venue had changed to Amber’s studio (which was great), and that we would take a tour/ hang out on the porch of Hatfield House later at the end of the day. We learned that the theme of HIV had been enough to get our original programme bumped from the historic venue by some cautious board members. One of the most memorable details from the May 24th event, is the ‘fish banquet’ that Leticia (a friend of Sidd Joag visiting from NYC) prepared for our lunchtime discussion (See featured photo).
 
In August 2018, LUV created a second annual exchange between Ballroom leaders from São Paulo and NYC, with House of Zion-Brasil and Coletivo Amem members attending NYC’s Black Pride and the HouseLivesMatter convening. Residency Unlimited, which was our fiscal sponsor for the Ford Foundation grant provided to us by Darren Walker, hosted a meeting of Brad Walrond, Flip Couto, Felix Pimenta, Kairon Liu, Malaya Mañacop, Sebastien Sanz de Santamaria and others on August 20. Both the May 24th and August 20th meetings were introductions. At this point I had only given the project a theme (HIV + stigma), duration (approximately 2 years), and name (Luv ’til it Hurts). I wanted to ask peers: Is it necessary? What can it do? & Does a whimsical specificity for its timeframe and particular ‘end goal’ (of engaging the Elton John AIDS Foundation with a unique idea) detract from its potential to attract co-makers?

From this August 2018 meeting, a January 2019 visit to São Paulo by Brad Walrond and Pony Zion co-hosted by LUV, Coletivo Amem, House of Zion-Brasil, Esponja and HouseLivesMatter when both Brad and Pony participated in the 3rd annual Vera Verão ball.

In the meantime LUV collaborated with Coletivo Amem, VisualAIDS, Esponja and Coletivos Coletores on a December 1 2018 World AIDS Day event. And right after the visit of Iconic Legend Pony Zion (Father of the House of Zion-international) to São Paulo (Jan. 2019), LUV hosted Legend Monster LaBeija during Carnival (Feb. 2019), a residency we co-made with Esponja, Casa1, Casa do Povo, Casa Florescer, Coletivo Arouchianos, etc.

In February 2019, LUV partnered with Love Positive Women, a 14 day annual holiday made by artist Jessica Lynn Whitbread for poz women … and partnered again for a second time with Love Positive Women in February 2020. See online content from both years HERE. The February 9th Bobó for Yemanjá event in NYC with Thiago Correia Gonçalves (another ‘fish banquet’) is another favorite LUV memory!

A lot of things happened over the first couple years of LUV, and these are some details that haven’t yet been highlighted on the RED site

If I had a bit more time…

Image by Todd Lanier Lester 

In Why Make an ‘Open Work’? I begin to discuss DURATION, and why a project like LUV would have an initial, formal (albeit arbitrary) two-year timeframe. 

Lately, I’ve been sifting through scraps of paper, contacts and ideas for articles. Luv ’til it Hurts is in the process of transforming itself into a new (and perhaps more concrete) form that will be fully explained by its forthcoming new site. Before I tie a bow on the ‘red’ (or archive) site, I wanted to reference a few of the ideas and contacts that come to mind as I look back on the past two years concentrated on HIV & stigma. For example, I remembered two pieces by Gian Spina, On Pedagogical Turns and the Use of Time (with Nikos Doulas) and Waiting for the After-Effects of Documenta 14 in Athens (with Jota Mombaça) I wanted to include. Some others are:

The image featured here is one I took at the São Paulo AIDS Day Walk (December 1 2019) of a project by Leandro Tupan that represents HIV+ bodies in cloth works and banners.

During the Somos process, I met members of COLETIVO GLEBA DO PÊSSEGO and saw their awesome short film Bonde about “three young black friends from the Heliópolis slum set out to seek refuge among the LGBT+ nightlife of downtown São Paulo.” In fact, I went up to one of the stars at a dance party (in the ‘downtown’) to tell them how much I liked their work!

Similar to COLETIVO GLEBA DO PÊSSEGO, I had hoped to interview Mexican artist Manuel Solano and Brazilian artist Mavi Veloso for the ‘red’ site as well. I hope to get to talk to them soon, and there are some great texts with them both in Ted Kerr’s WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT AIDS COULD FILL A MUSEUM Curatorial ethics and the ongoing epidemic in the 21st Century, Issue #42 of ON CURATING.
 
The HIV Justice Network is a global information and advocacy hub for individuals and organisations working to end the inappropriate use of the criminal law to regulate and punish people living with HIV. Their site is great, and the best idea I have to honor them is to make them an honorary member of the LUV coalition. If they want it, THEY GOT IT! Thanks for your work HIV Justice Network!!

LUV is messy

LUV is messy, a can ‘o worms


… NO, rather a diorama encasing the heart, leaf, spaceship, firefly, hummingbird & ankh, symbols that advance its plot.

  1. The HEART symbol came first. It was carved into a tree at the same time as the words, Luv ‘til it Hurts. The spelling of luv was changed forever, and the buxom HEART became a megaphone–pumping loudly and emitting reverberations. Desirous of speed, its incumbent pangs, swarm-like, fragment into projectiles before taking flight.
  1. Some are docile like a LEAF, swaying not so far from the tree as it plummets and alights akimbo atop the galaxy. 
  1. Confused for magic carpets, an armada of over 300 leaves is best seen from one spectacular SPACESHIP with a glass-bottom viewing deck (license no. 00-1986).
  1. Small hovercraft break off the mothership, attached only by bloody umbilica … offal burns off at light-speed to reveal dart-shaped poetics with bright, anti-venom tips and soft names in each language: luciérnaga, vagalume, FIREFLY.
  1. Unlike asteroids these do not burn out, but intensify permanently as constellations, dayglo beacons–seen first by the scout, a lone warrior two-steps ahead, oft fell by one pandemic in order to forewarn of the next–the function of phoenix, yet shape of the HUMMINGBIRD.
  1. Pre-word symbol and sound of ‘life’, ANKH cannot be seen until a supernovae eclipses all other stars and the black-hot, negative space of its shadow augurs one single [+] lifeforce. 

*The symbols are an interface where the framework of one artist ends and that of another begins. The symbology is constructed from limited viewpoints and experiences–a mosaic of opposing accuracies–that segue between individual and collective.

luv rules

When I first put out tent pegs for Luv ’til it Hurts (LUV), I framed it as a two-year period of R&D. The duration of the R&D is the (art) work. This is because I could guarantee to perform ‘research and development’ for a period that I determine duration. I aimed the process at a concept loosely termed ‘philanthropic device’, and then somewhere on this axis where process (asking questions / meeting people while focused on a theme) ‘meets’ identifiable / achievable structure or agglomeration of activities (culmination), I’ve been watching and nudging, teasing out and archiving the ensuing form. And, of course the ending can be the beginning of something else. If something substantive and/or timely comes out of this two-year marathon, I’ll see it. The period is up at end of June, and I’m on a keen outlook for what emerges. It might need new words to describe it, as it shouldn’t be run-of-the-mill. It will be clear soon. Of that, I’m sure. 

In the mean time, I offer some ‘tenets of transition’ … here goes:

* This red site (www.luvhurts.co) will serve as archive of the two-year process;
* A new site (www.luvtilithurts.co) will be erected sometime in July, and will explain itself (in terms of form);
* Notes on organization, like these ‘rules’ (or suggestions) will ‘live’ in the archive and cede space to new works and the discussions they bring up on the new site;
* The project’s brand identity will be tweaked during the transition, and some bits will be woven into /foregrounded in its new look

+ The LUV logo was designed by Adham Bakry, as was the project’s signature geometric heart and our letterhead. 
Thiago Correia Gonçalves pulled another logo from these spare parts with geometric ‘heart-LUV-heart’
+ Over the course of the project-to-date, the LUV logo has been used to show partnership with an artist’s independent film in closing credits and on the placard for a Bogotá public performance, and our letterhead used for artist reference letters on conference scholarships and residency opportunities 

Check out the two different letterheads below. If any of these visual tools are needed by LUV peeps (people who are in LUV) then, just ask us. And, we’ll send the version you need. 

Luv ‘til it Hurts began as a two-year, uncharted project about HIV and Stigma. An odyssey, of sorts. Yet, a limited set of questions. A discussion that grew into a team. Its next-life is aligned with our urgency to keep talking…talking in different directions and including others. The experience of many, once a minefield of individual fears, instigates the rumbling of collective production power. We’re gathering our ideas on a common table, and planning for a future whose hope is in the disruption of our present. We are convinced that to strategize our next steps we need more than single linear energies, but a group, a multitude of voices prepared to sing (and shout), to harmonize and also disarrange. Luv ‘til it Hurts is a platform for real bodies to come onboard and co-pilot its playful unfolding, one set of interaction generating the next. Brad Walrond, Eric Rhein, Jakub Szczęsny, Paula Nishijima, Todd Lanier Lester, Alberto Pereira Jr., Adham Bakry, Juan de la Mar/”De Gris a PositHIVo” (Colombia), HIV2020, Every Where Alien (US), ANKH Association (Egypt), Humans as Hosts (Taiwan), Love Positive Women, Nhimbe Trust (Zimbabwe), Luciérnagas (Colombia), House of Zion, El Santo Taller de Cerámica (Colombia), Think Twice Collective (Netherlands)… and morphing. Embark immediately @LuvTilitHurts

*The final block of text is by Paula Nishijima & Todd Lanier Lester. 

A preamble for shifting gears

[*After some meetings in NYC in February (2020), the LUV team set about a visioning process that should yield the project’s next phase–with a new level of clarity–by the middle of the year. We asked Brad Walrond to help us come up with a new introductory text (something like an artist statement), and we are gonna hold this back until we launch the next LUV. However, in our recent consensus-building process, Brad Walrond, Paula Nishijima and I all wrote (from where we were stood at that moment) about LUV. Here’s mine. xo Todd]

‘The institutions of our life are what hurt us’ says __ (still looking for reference:). This aligns with Michel de Certeau’s dichotomy of tactics and strategies, in which organizations of all sizes create broad sweeping strategies that individual people must create tactics in order to deal with at the single human level. 

I’d known the lefty, 30-50 million dollar-endowed foundation for ten years as a grantee and consultant, and was at the time of disclosing my HIV status working long hours for them as a staff director, but with a weak contract. I had forgotten my medication on a trip I took for the institution, and as my contract was up for renewal I asked for a cost of living allowance (COLA) type pay increase to pay for international / travel health insurance. As a permanent resident of Brasil and US citizen, my contract with the Canadian organization rendered me no more secure than others working in the gig economy, and categorically a freelancer despite being called the Director of Partnerships. This is actually illegal, but happens quite a lot; and which of the three countries’ laws might apply should I want to challenge the abrupt dismissal my disclosure was met with. 

I would say that the few months between dismissal and deciding to make another durational, rights-focused and multi-stakeholder artwork on HIV and related stigmas were my descent towards ‘rock bottom’. I’m in my mid 40s and so the notion of a mid-life crisis seemed to be a somewhat useful template. I hoped I would emerge from the darkness I felt, but I was perplexed as to how on paper the institution’s actions and its ‘social justice’ profile were at odds. Afterall I had developed HIV-related programming for the foundation. My boss, a gay man denied that this was the rationale, but before letting me go, he first cut my salary in half in response to the request for an incremental pay raise. Besides, the program I was managing was flourishing. While it would be hard to explain to my peers (and so I didn’t try to very much), I understood that somehow an HIV-related stigma had crept in and ravaged our decade-long relationship. I intuited that he was acting out of some sort of fear, but one that was layered, obfuscated and very hard to put a finger on. I saw close friends who I had brought on board during my leadership of the new flagship project side with the institution out of financial necessity (for they now had jobs that could be lost), and to this day I miss aspects of the friendship and peer-sharing that we (the boss and I) had built up over working together. As I started to come out of my shell and share with friends what I thought had happened, one of the first people I told, a medical doctor in São Paulo, responded with concern but also a chin-up retort that he had lost his job after mentioning his HIV status on a panel that I had convened/ produced for the the Queer City project I made with the foundation. I needed this reminder that yes indeed HIV still evokes quite strong and coded responses. And, that while medical technology has evolved HIV to a chronic disease, the obscured stigmas that still surround it date back to HIV as a death sentence, and a sexually-related one at that. Of course HIV is not always sexually related, but therein is proof of the inaccuracies stigma can foment. I thought of Sarah Schulman’s book Gentrification of the Mind in which she shows how HIV- gay men speculated on the apartments of dying HIV+ men in NYC’s East Village back during the emergence of the epidemic, and how this was compounded by the lack of gay marriage rights, which meant that leases were not transferrable to co-habitating partners. That the desirability of the chic real estate somehow trumped solidarity among gay men. 

I was quite certain that making an artwork on HIV would not be easy. However making work is my lifeblood and at least allowed for the juggling of my soul when it might otherwise atrophy over this incident. One day I felt my career was ‘on a role’ and the next (or less than a month later) I couldn’t even point to a ‘career path’. At this point I’d made a ten-year project on free expression and artist safety, and a five-year artwork on the right to the city but I’d never said or written much on what I perceived to be ‘my’ methodology. It was around that time that I chose to compile the words ‘durational’ and ‘multi-stakeholder’ and ‘rights-focused’ to describe /suggest this methodology and also introduce Luv ‘til it Hurts as the last in a three-part series. It would be the shortest (at two years), which since I knew it would ‘hurt’ (or rather be the most personal examination of any of the three) was a defense mechanism to make sure that I could endure the immersiveness of a durational project, and too I would need to conjure a blind faith in this methodology I had always just kept to myself. I would need to rely on its success rate in the previous two projects in order to imagine a third one. I would do something that hurt, but I would do it to survive and move on. 

I did not train to become an artist. I trained in other fields such as political science, public administration, community organizing and humanitarian assistance. At the point at which I began making art, I had already worked in present- and post-genocide contexts (Sudan and Rwanda), civil war environments and even HIV/AIDS public health settings mostly in Africa. I backed out of one thing and into art over a general disdain for the international development industrial complex that seemed infected with capitalist and nationalist interests. I would not call myself a militant artist, but would say that I always have one eye on the political economy of what I’m doing and that over time an ethical theory of justice came up in me. If what I’m doing runs counter to these values, I typically change course. I am a history buff by nature, and so art histories do not feel so different to me than political or religious ones. All that to say, that even if I didn’t ‘train’ to be an artist, I did do my homework before self-identifying as such.  The concept of a ‘social turn’ in visual arts has been playing out for about as long as I’d been calling myself an artist. For sure Luv ‘til it Hurts is about HIV and related stigmas, but it would also pick up on the institutional critique that had threaded my past projects, writing and consultancy work together for almost twenty-years since departing the field of international development. So while it is fair to say that I was angry about a recent event, I had also been accruing some constructive criticism for the ‘art world’ over a slightly longer period. 

My durational, multi-stakeholder, rights-focused projects are always imagined to continue after the ‘end date’ but not by my sole leadership, and they are rather open-ended. They do not say exactly where they are going. The timed-period of Luv ‘til it Hurts (what I now playfully term R&D) is almost over. I still maintain that the endgame for LUV will show ways of practically getting urgently-needed resources to artists/activists (grassroots) pursuits addressing HIV, but in the meantime, it takes the form of a curatorial intervention. 

Steal This Game

‘Stealing’ the LUV Game is a bit easier than Hoffman’s book. It is free to begin with. I tell the story of how the LUV Game came about first as an idea from a young Egyptian designer in a description of ACT I, considering how one might discuss (or signal a safe discussion on) HIV in a place like Cairo … starting with a sticker of a game tile he envisioned on the back of a laptop…something that would ‘call out’ to someone entering a busy cafe. Something iconic (a brand of sorts) but coded…like something one learns about on social media but that isn’t explicit in form or words. From the original idea had in Port Said along the edge of the Suez Canal, the game spilled out and its pieces (or tiles) and simple instructions in 10 different languages are available online for download and printing in B/W or color. The game has been test-played in São Paulo during the December 1st (2019) AIDS Walk in Portuguese; in Grenoble with Ankh Association in French and Arabic; and in Bogotá at the culmination of the Luciérnagas Laboratory in Spanish.  

While the LUV Game is not the end game of the LUV project, we do hope that it is used far and wide as an icebreaker for discussing HIV and related stigmas. One idea is that we offer it to an institution to help us scale up (like a research outfit, university, NGO or UN agency), and another is that we work with global techies to make an open source online version, something like the Robyn game / app. We’d LUV for you to ‘steal it’ first and tell us about your particular heist. Let us know how we can ‘distract the guards’ and we’ll lend a hand:)

A series for LovePositiveWomen2020; #LPW2020, pre-C

Image: $oropositiva, by Micaela Cyrino for LovePositiveWomen2019
Collage on greaseproof paper and serigraphy
30 x 40cm

In some ways the whole LUV experience has geared us up for Love Positive Women 2020. In March 2019 I visited Egypt and afterwards, Paris where I met the Ankh (Arab Network for Knowledge on Human Rights) Association. The Ankh guys moved to Paris after a long period of activism on access to HIV meds in Cairo. From Paris they made the Points of Life exhibit that featured artists and activists from Egypt and the Middle East living with HIV. ‘Behind the Curtain’ is an image and text by Iman, an artist living in Egypt. Daniel Santiago Salguero’s project, Luciérnagas began with the idea to consider the changing situation–HIV info, support and medication access–in Bogotá with new arrivals of Venezuelans in the wake of that country’s financial crisis. It ended as an experimental performance in Bogotá’s Botanical Gardens. I met Jackie during the project’s conclusion in October 2019. Daniel interviews her for LovePositiveWomen2020 and further reflects on the Luciérnagas process. 

On a previous project I met the Nhimbe Trust based in Bulawayo (Zimbabwe), and its founder, Joshua Nyapimbi. Originally there was meant to be an event there at their offices during LPW2020, but due to a roof collapse this is not possible. A women’s HIV support group, CHOOSE LIFE meets at Nhimbe Trust and developed a play, MAIDEI to highlight local issues pertaining to HIV care and treatment. CHOOSE LIFE recognizes that there are resources already available in Gokwe South (District where  Bulawayo is located), but positive women do not have full access to these yet. The Nhimbe Trust and CHOOSE LIFE offered the script of MAIDEI to be serialized throughout LPW2020 in six installments. I interviewed Joshua on the history of the piece, and he explained that “the play has been used extensively, initially created with a rural-based support group for HIV positive women who acted in the play. Now it is done by professional actors [trained to] create links with support groups for positive women wherever we tour.” Old African connections yielded a good bit of activity on LPW2020. I met Oma Elzubair when we both worked for the ‘mother of forced migration studies’, Barbara Harrell-Bond in Cairo; Oma is now back in Khartoum (Sudan). She will blog about a range of local activities in Khartoum she’s conducting for LPW2020. And graphic designer, Adham Bakry (Cairo/Port Said, Egypt) made two Arabic versions of the LPW logo in conversation with Oma in Sudan.

Our goal for the next 14 days is to feature mostly articles by women, but also work by others in honor and support of women. On February 2nd, the day Yemanjá (goddess saint for fishers) is celebrated in his home region of Bahia, artist Thiago Correia Gonçalves shares three specially-designed posters (EN, PT, ES) for LPW2020. 

Making an HIV-related project brought me back in touch with an old friend, Emanuel Brauna-Lechat who is making a film on access to healthcare for people of color in Brazil entitled, Dora Não Cansou de Viver… In his second piece for LUV he interviews its lead actress, Momô de Oliveira. We start the series with ‘Feasting with Panthers (and Palestine): Edmund White’s Jean Genet’ by Sarah Schulman. Sarah wrote this piece on the occasion of Edmund White’s 80th birthday. This is her third piece on LUV, including What Does a Queer Urban Future Look Like? and more recently, ‘People in Trouble’ at Thirty: On Realism, Trump, and the AIDS Cataclysm. In the same direction, we invited Cadu Oliveira to comment on LGBTI / HIV activism in the present political climate of Bolsonaro’s Brasil. Our LPW2020 series ends with a Field Note from Paula Nishijima for the Think Twice Collective based in Leiden (Netherlands). 

Here’s a table of contents. We invite you to follow along and join us in celebrating LovePosivitveWomen2020!

*Pre-teaser: New versions of LPW logo in Arabic, Portuguese & Spanish by Adham Bakry & Gustavo Marcasse (Jan 31)

(1) ‘Feasting with Panthers (and Palestine): Edmund White’s Jean Genet’ by Sarah Schulman
(2) ‘Bobó for Yemanjá’ by Thiago Correia Gonçalves
(3) ‘Maidei’, Synopsis + Scene 1: Choose Life Women’s Group (Bulawayo)
(4) Emanuel Brauna-Lechat interviews Momô de Oliveira
(5) ‘Maidei’, Scene 2: Choose Life Women’s Group (Bulawayo)
(6) Interview with Cadu Oliveira on LGBTQIA+ organizing in São Paulo
(7) ‘Maidei’, Scene 3: Choose Life Women’s Group (Bulawayo)
(8) ‘Behind the Curtain’ by Iman (with Ankh Association)
(9) ‘Maidei’, Scenes 4 & 5: Choose Life Women’s Group (Bulawayo)
(10) Blog from Khartoum by Oma Elzubair
(11) ‘Maidei’, Scenes 6, 7, 8: Choose Life Women’s Group (Bulawayo)(12) Daniel Santiago Salguero interviews Jacqueline Sanchez for Luciérnagas
(13) ‘Maidei’, Scenes 9, 10: Choose Life Women’s Group (Bulawayo)
(14) Field Note from Paula Nishijima

*Post-teaser: A special surprise from one of my favorite graphic novelists, Power Paola at the end of LPW2020 

What I’m learning about participatory art; #LPW2020, pre-B & Elpenor method, #2

This year Love Positive Women is so big for us it constitutes an ACT … Act 1.5 to be exact. The acts are dramaturgically useful for steering Luv ’til it Hurts toward its endpoint in mid-2020, and in that way reveal various ‘assemblages’ (or intense clusters) along the two-year course. While the ‘business plan’ of ACT II is about to be revealed (around Feb 14) with a graphic poster by Brasilian illustrator, chef, Umbandista and cat lover, PogoLand (who says artists don’t make worlds?), the co-making of activities in São Paulo, Khartoum and NYC for Love Positive Women 2020 and sequencing 14 days of women-authored and -focused online content took on a life (or ‘act’ as it were) of its own. Working with Canadian artist, Jessica Whitbread and using her ‘open source’ model for the Love Positive Women fourteen-day holiday has been a labor of LUV. And as such, we’ve learned some things. When we first started talking about her work in 2018, Jessica sent me the 2018 Love Positive Women holiday implementation guide (please download and use). I have written before on the LUV site about making (or why making) an ‘open work’, which is a reference to Umberto Eco’s writing at length on the prospect. Whether duration is called out by name or not, an open or open source work must consider duration and endurance. And, I think, whether it is growing in the intended direction over time. I’ve made three durational, rights-themed, multi-stakeholder projects for 10, 5 and 2 years respectively. So, I am familiar with the vernacular and semantics–and a new phrase, ‘articulation curve’–involved in the creation of a long-term project, and in this case a new 14-day holiday to celebrate positive women. 

There has been a ‘turn’ within participatory art toward generosity. I imagine that generosity in terms of activism predates the art terms, so I won’t attempt to historicize the nuances of gesture, participation and generosity–e.g. giving away something at the museum and/or the less tangible offering of hospitality–at this point. Even if I find it extremely interesting. The other day at MASP, George and I picked up blank white posters with black trim from a Felix Gonzalez-Torres piece and we found ourselves talking about gestures and offerings. I was already working on LPW2020 at the time and I considered Gonzalez-Torres’ offerings to the public: a poster, candy, etc. The audience or public go away with something, and it’s supposed to create a reaction. It doesn’t quite tell one what to do though, or instruct (require) a return (reciprocal) gesture.

Love Positive Women is a more direct question or prompt: Will you consider poz women in these fourteen days running up to the North American Valentine’s Day (Feb 14). As a North American (gringo) living in Brasil, I realize that this big place doesn’t use the same date for romance; Dia dos Namorados is celebrated on June 12 because of its proximity to  Saint Anthony’s Day on June 13. It basically uses another catholic marker than North America and Europe, but thankfully the days, 1-14 February fall just before carnival, and there is nice warm weather and a festive atmosphere. 

Over the course of making Luv ’til it Hurts, I’ve been able to witness the works of other artists in different parts of the world. In Bogotá I got to be a part of the final act or performance for Luciérnagas, a project led by Daniel Santiago Salguero that includes a majority of poz folks who are not artists. In this and other contexts the introduction of art concepts can be lost. Like getting together in solidarity to raise awareness on HIV is central, and that it is an art project for one person takes a backseat. Art becomes a minor subject within a bigger deal. While through an art lens, Luciérnagas contains elements of visual/conceptual art, performance and theatre, it stands as a transferrable, flexible mode of community organizing that was created using art terms and art funding. Because I make interpretable (enter-able) projects, I understand the intentions of Love Positive Women (or rather actively synthesize what I learn from Jessica’s work into broader considerations on participatory art). Given that LUV works with poets and others for whom visual/conceptual art terms can be foreign, we ran into some confusion. For example it was not entirely clear to an HIV+ poet how one conceptual ‘group’ project (Luv ’til it Hurts) could participate in another conceptual ‘group’ project. In this instance (and as a man), it would have been more beneficial to put the two HIV+ women artists in direct contact. However, that was not something I had time to do before the implementation of LUV’s workplan for LPW2020. In this instance, I felt that part of the confusion was my gender (somehow). Like why would a male artist with another project be pushing a female’s art project that focuses on women? I felt that perhaps my own intention of generosity was not understood. In the end, a planned event with the poet was scrapped, but the conversations gave way to a new idea, which was a focus on spaces that anyone can use. We decided to ‘outfit’ (or style) a couple cultural spaces in São Paulo’s Center with language-appropriate materials and design on the Love Positive Women (Amem Mulheres Positivas) movement. This plan reaches the publics of the spaces during multiple events (in each) from February 1-14, 2020, and encourages women to use the spaces year-round for support groups and cultural activities. 

There were a few other ‘slow downs’ in our LPW2020 planning as well. For example, a trans woman asked me if I felt that she and I (poz folks) could make an event for poz women. Her question is great because it points to some issues (like vertical transmission) that had not affected either of us. But my answer is yes, I do. Still. In that conversation as well as another one just yesterday, the issue of payment came up. On one hand, I have a quick reaction that ‘no one is paying me’ but on the other–and in relation to how scarce cultural funding is today in Brasil–I understand. Funding is an issue that pervades HIV culture work. It is one that the LUV project is concentrated on. LUV plans for Amem Mulheres Positivas 2020 is all in place and with this moment to reflect, I think of a few other participatory projects I’ve had the chance to be a part of over the years–Human HotelHomeBase Project and Publication Studio–and how they might have clued me in to Jessica Whitbread’s work on Love Positive Women. 


Facebook
Instagram