Astraea’s Multi-Gendered Work (repost from 2011)

WHERE: USA – New York

I first encountered the work of Astraea in 2007. I was living in Egypt and met some of the sexuality rights movement-builders from the Arab region when they passed through Cairo. One such pioneer, Rauda Marcos, co-founded Aswat, a Palestinian Lesbian Women’s organization. She told me about Aswat’s work, which is made possible both by members’ determination and funding from Astraea. Aswat members held community clean-up days taking care of their neighborhoods and leading by example.  According to Rauda, the first step was to show strength in numbers.  Community clean-up days were a simple tactic to be out, proud and present in the community.

When I first read Astraea’s mission, I remember asking myself for the first time, what does it mean for me, Todd Lester, to be an allied community member? What roles can gay men play in supporting LGBTQI organizations that are committed to the leadership of lesbians, queer women and transgender people? How are our struggles interconnected?

History answers some of these questions for me: When the AIDS crisis hit my community in full force in the 1980s, it was nothing less than devastating. But amid this devastation, the lesbian community showed up for their gay brothers in our living rooms as care-givers and on the streets leading ACT UP demonstrations to demand our meds (see footnote 1). In 1995, the Brothers for Sisters campaign emerged in the Bay Area as a way for men to give back to the women’s community who had been the first to step up when HIV ravaged San Francisco’s gay community. This history of showing up women for gay men and, in turn, men for lesbians resonated with the showing up and being present that Rauda was talking about with Aswat’s community service days.

Why is it important for me to show up? When I was in Cairo, I learned about a support network of lesbians and transgender women from diverse backgrounds who would meet in private homes around Cairo. I became close friends with Kholoud, the network’s coordinator, another brave LGBTQI leader in the Arab region.  She told me she is often mistaken for a gay man and thus harassed relentlessly. On these occasions, she regains her safety by letting people know she is a woman. And yet in other circumstances, she is thought to be a man and receives positive attention until onlookers realize she is a woman and become aggressive and sometimes violent.  There is no way for her to simply be herself without the expectations of others curtailing her freedom to live, work and socialize.

Witnessing the challenges Kholoud faces on a daily basis in her life and work helped me understand the need for allies and highlighted who I am already in community with. Seeing these daily moments of courage by others being who they are and negotiating their identities reminds us all of our complex and shared histories.

I remember growing up in the rural South, in Tennessee, and tactically instinctually learning how to pass as straight in order to stay safe from all the threatening and volatile forces that my young mind sensed around me.  Flash forward to today: I’m living in New York City at a time when I feel comfortable presenting and carrying myself in any way I so choose. When I am sharing spaces with people socially or at work we understand and celebrate our uniqueness casually. Our differences are not the first thing we focus on.

But still, what is my role as a gay white man living in the US conditions that usually mean I can walk down the street and not worry about being harassed or experience the ramifications of standing out? For starters, I can remember, stand with and financially support my allied community members in their work all over the world. By doing so, it means I don’t take my own good circumstances for granted. And an active way for me to do that has been to join this team to create the resources for the next phase of Astraea’s important work.

Around the world, gay, lesbian and transgender communities share a history of movement-building. And were it not for the connections we carved out to support one another and work hand-in-hand in the past, we would not be where we are in the present, making strides in LGBTQI justice. Being part of the diverse, informed and strategic community of donors across the economic spectrum that support Astraea is a tangible way for me to show up. As a global funder, Astraea funds organizations in the Middle East working for LGBTQI rights, as well as those in under-resourced communities in the US, including some in the rural South.

Astraea’s mission is based on an enduring commitment to feminism, progressive social change and an end to all forms of exploitation and discrimination based on race, age, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, physical and mental ability, anti-Semitism, and other such factors. Together, we are transforming the social justice landscape for LGBTQI people around the world.

This is why I say that Astraea is a foundation who knows who she is! It is also why, for me, as a gay man, supporting her is a vehicle for me to show up, across the globe, standing in partnership with my friends and allies.  I am confident that this is the way forward, and I’m asking other men to stand with Astraea in her work for freedom for us all.

by Todd Lester

Footnote 1: For more on this history, be sure to check out We Were There, a film in progress that just received Astraea funding through the U.S. Annual Fund.


Originally published on Dec. 21 2011, here.

considering attach-ability (#2)

hi guys,

So, I’ve had an idea for you both for around 6 months now and have regrettably failed to share it in a robust form. I would like to do so now. 

We may thank Brad Walrond for texting with me overnight (why he was awake, I do not know:).  Jonathan, Brad archives Pony’s work and/or that of his house.

Jonathan, remember when I mentioned I wanted to talk to you on insta the other day. Well, maybe we can do that in person on February 9th. I want to invite you to a performance at the home of Livia Alexander. It is rumored that Brad will perform there/then. Pony, you are most welcome also. 

Pony is the maker/father/legend of the House of Zion. Jonathan I presume you know a bit about the NYC and global ballroom/voguing houses. 

Pony, do you know Battery Dance?  BD is a lot of things. If I may: anchor dance/thought leader in downtown (for how long now, Jonathan?); key role in post 9/11 ‘being’ in downtown; cultural diplomacy/choreography/peacebuilding/dance … Well, they have a site where you can read all this:)

They use a tagline, ‘Dancing to Connect’, and I do feel that is an understatement!

Jonathan, Pony’s is a very special house. In 2015/16 I began researching types of exchange in ballroom thinking about local work I was seeing in São Paulo on HIV, public health access, and other right to the city concerns. Just before this period, I contracted HIV in São Paulo. So that also made the site of (a project on the right to the city) likely to consider HIV as one of its themes. We did this through Cidade Queer, a year-long series of encounters in 2016. I visited a site in Lecce, Italy to see Pony offering a workshop, and shortly after invited him to be a part of Cidade Queer and its culmination in late 2016. After a group production of the first ball (of its size) in São Paulo (called Ataque, September 2016)–something made by many people at once–Pony invited a Brazilian mother and father to take the reins of the new House of Zion-Brasil. 

In 2019, Pony returned to visit the house (along with Brad Walrond), and participated in the Ball: Vera Verão put on by Coletivo Amem and House of Zion-Brasil. I think perhaps Brad will perform the (not same:) 1986 piece on Feb. 9 that he did at this ball. 

In fact, Jonathan, I think I introduced you to the Coletivo Amem / House of Zion-Brasil guys on e-mail once. It was around the time that I first had this idea…the one that is coming. But also Pony was a part of the launch of my project Luv ’til it Hurts on HIV and stigma (back in October 2018), as was Brad. This collaboration led to their visit in January 2019.

I remember this email because I spoke of dancers and choreographers in the ballroom world ‘aging out’ … like that moment when the body won’t give the same as before. Of course this is different for each person, each dancer. 

These encounters–2015, 2016, 2018, 2019–allowed Pony and I the time to get to know each other. And, now I follow him on Insta:) Pony, am I right to say that VogueFitness is taking off? And, dude, you are looking buff!!

I remember what you told me of your idea. I luved it!! I hope I can ask you to share it here with Jonathan (and me again) … as I’m sure it’s changed / developed a bit since we last talked. 

Jonathan, it would not surprise me if you have also thought of concepts and solutions on this broad spectrum of wellness, professional transition support, public health issues, NYC, fitness … wellness. 

So, what I’m proposing is that you two guys might have things to talk about, ideas to make together. That is if you don’t already know each other. Uptown … Downtown.

Recently I was talking to a festival curator about a possible LUV ‘entry’ late this year. I don’t really have anything to offer. I have ideas, but some are limited by living far away in São Paulo. 

You know that place where ideas reside, usually early in the morning. An idea was there, and it recurred some times. If you two came up with a concept, perhaps LUV could present it to the or at the festival. Or vice versa. I don’t know. 

Would you guys have time to speak about this the first couple weeks in February and, please mark Sunday Feb 9 (LUV Iemanjá) on your calendars … if you are around?



remembering my first AIDS work

I cannot remember what was my first AIDS work. It was either flying from Cameroon to South Africa with my wife (at the time) to attend and volunteer at the Durban AIDS Conference in 2000, or walking with Minette and ‘her girls’ on International AIDS Day (1999 or 2000?) on the dirt roads of Batouri in the East Province of Cameroon. 

The AIDS Conference was heady given its location. I remember talks by both Nelson and Winnie Mandela as well as Justice Edwin Cameron. Among other things. Zackie Achmat and the Treatment Action Campaign loom large in my memory. 

Minette befriended my wife and I soon after we arrived in Batouri as Peace Corps Volunteers. She is a madame and had the most prominently placed bar for truckers to meet ‘her girls’ (as she called them). She is also a very good cook. As I was passing straight at the time, and newly speaking French, I guess there was some flirtation that transpired between she and I. HIV/AIDS was not our official work as volunteers, but we ended up doing a lot on it in those years (1999-2002). I would move to Bangui (Central African Republic) for a while at the end of our stay to make a project for Population Services International. The regional director (based in Yaoundé whose wife ran the chimpanzee sanctuary near Batouri, and closer to where the Chad-Cameroon pipeline was ‘coming through’ and spiking HIV rates as large construction projects can) noticed what I was doing in Batouri and Bertoua at the intersection of public health and media. We drank together one night and he almost dared me to go to CAR to make a multimedia campaign (TV, radio, billboard) in both Sango and French for their new ‘socially marketed’ condom. I accepted and then called him the next day excitedly to make sure he wasn’t bluffing … or remembered what he offered. This is of course where I fawned over Eriq Ebouaney at the hotel bar during the making of  Le silence de la forêt

My wife and I (small/medium business vols) banded together with water sanitation, English and health volunteers living nearby to make public health programming, and specifically HIV/AIDS sensitization. She was already quite focused on her public health career. At the end of our term, it was with PSI and UNICEF that we had a province-wide cultural festival in Bertoua on World AIDS Day. Jay and I traveled from Yaoundé by bus and there is the picture of him in a blow-up pool in the group house in the provincial capital, Bertoua… where it could get quite hot. 

On World AIDS Day (in 1999 or 2000) we walked a square (or the square) of the town. We marched even. We had AIDS Day t-shirts. And, maybe Minette had a banner with the name of her ‘association’. The sex workers who worked for Minette liked us too. We shared mutual respect, I remember. They helped new gringos feel welcome in a small, rough logging town. Minette is a good cook. 

Once I went there with our tupperware to get some lunch. Maybe I was getting it for Bethani too, or maybe just me. Minette called me into her bedroom, the room adjacent to kitchen /serving room. She lifted up the mattress on her single bed. It reminded me of a time my father tried to enthuse me by letting me get close to a still-writhing poisonous snake he’d just killed. When it startled me instead. 

I don’t know what Minette was serving that day (usually one domestic and one bush meat with fixings). Under her mattress was a hobbled Pangolin. She wanted me to see what would be for supper. 

hiv / art / establishment (#1)

[*The pink elephant image is borrowed from a Facebook intervention made by Niki Singleton and Todd Lanier Lester several years ago called Coming out of the Web 2.0 Closet.]

There is definitely an HIV art establishment. I have met it in a few forms over the first 3/4 of Luv ’til it Hurts, a two-year project that also aspires to elicit a few forms. In fact, I guess this broad ‘establishment’ may have factored into the form of LUV in the first place. I am an artist who works in organizational or immaterial form now for almost twenty-years. This can also be other things at the same time, like ‘site specific’ as was or a field-invading ‘sea change’ as I hoped freeDimensional would become. For the purposes of this field note, I would say that content or theme or issue inform the form(s) that are aimed for. LUV aspires to forge a philanthropic device (or mechanism) that can be taken and used freely at the end of the two-year process, which will be around July 2020 and when it is fully explained. I also think that style, affect and notions of gesture inform ‘forms’. In my own practice I understand that these styles, affects and attempts at gesture can be rehearsed over years and in different contexts. 

This explanation should pick up pace around February 14 2020. And, hopefully LUV will keep going in unimagined ways after its official ‘end date’ in July 2020. Here I want to talk about the philanthropic device (of things); however if you would like to see how LUV is also research, take a peek here in How LUV is research, in part (Part 1).

I was working for the blackberry foundation. It uses a clever name to suggest artist support, and indeed it does do things with artists. In Portuguese blackberries are a part of the broader group of ‘frutas vermelhas’ (or red fruits). So, yeah it’s a bit confusing to work for a social art, money-giving outfit that turns out to have a charred, atrophied heart. I read this great quote which I’ll cite when I find it again (it’s on a piece of paper I picked up at Bard a few years ago at T’s graduation) that goes something like, ‘it is the institutions of our life that hurt us.’ 

This idea of pain provision fits a de Certeau-esque mode of seeing organizations and institutions (from The Practices of Everyday Life). And for sure my response of making a ‘philanthropic device’ for two years while also mourning this particular ‘blackberry’ engagement does constitute form for me and (if I understand correctly) a ‘tactic’ in de Certeau-esque terms. The foundation ‘strategized’ upon me, and talking about it (writing about it) is my humble ‘tactic’ in response. I liken this tactic to a meeting in NYC in January this year when I broke down crying amidst a mild argument amongst colleagues from two different organizations. There were a few reasons to cry. It was for all of them, including the uncomfortable position I was being put in by my colleagues. One allowing the other to chide me while knowing that there were more details involved, and some of which were not on me. To call out these details would only make the argument more ‘hot’ and so I just let myself have a good cry. It resulted in a sorta prayer circle with my two colleagues, which, hey, worked for me.

However, the smaller actions (in fields of production, publishing, editing, grant-raising and re-distributing, curating, administrating, criticizing and so forth) that comprise the Luv ’til it Hurts project’s two-year calendar of milestones, well those are more related to the topic or theme of HIV and stigma and are meant to be performed for quality and mutual value. 

In fact in many ways what I knew how to do for the blackberry crew is what I know how to do for the LUV project. The Cidade Queer project is an example of a ‘episode’ and multiply-curated (as was the curatorial ‘bringing of’ Publication Studio to São Paulo) during the period of my foundation engagement. During this multi-year, contractual engagement, I was called a few things, such as Director of Partnerships. I have an immersive practice, which I term durational. This is most nuanced perhaps for, the five-year project on the right to the city from a lunch counter in São Paulo. So while immersed in (um) São Paulo and as a ‘container’ of produced ideas questioning the right to the city (in different ways through a collective approach) I was also in business with this blackberry foundation, and therefore sharing my immersive tendencies between two big projects that were choreographed to intersect at times. I also did things outside of yet in Brasil and many more things for the project internationally. I was helping them start an online publication thats about arts, everywhere (in the world). Having over 20 years experience making art, and producing that of others all over the world made me qualified to help such an artist-centered online publication, which would be the signature new project of the foundation. Its branding and brand awareness would grow to merge with that of the cleverly-named foundation. In true immersive fashion, I opened up channels of info and knowledge and connections to the already well-equipped foundation. I mean I doubt I was essential for this project, but in that I was invited to help as an internationally-networked artist to build such a concept. Well, things grew to be indelibly bound (up) quite quickly. While I do not claim that I was the lifeblood of the project, I do claim to have helped breath life–vital life–into the idea for publishing arts, everywhere. I recognize my signature on and inside the project to promote arts, everywhere.

The lawyer on the board of the outfit, the one who visited our multiply-curated projects in São Paulo and who has long worked on AIDS-related art she informed me. She did let me know to be careful in using the name of the foundation after I was let go. I do know that lawyers yield a certain power, so I will heed her warning. When I think of the blackberry foundation, I see red. So, you can imagine how the Portuguese translation imbibes me just a little. Frutas. Vermelhas. The LUV site is red, but I have failed to find a direct reference to anything except familiarity with organizational and institutional ‘seeing red’.

The other staffer allowed me to show him around Dakar, a city I’ve grown to know rather well since I went there the first time for Dak’Art 2006 with my ex-wife. I was performing some official duties for Res Artis on whose board I served. On the 2017 site visit to Dakar, the other staffer bemoaned the challenge of getting another $20 million transferred over from the donors to the foundation. He feared that the son would be a factor. I didn’t need much more context to understand his trials and tribulations. We were laying by the pool in a fairly plush hotel spread. Maybe I helped him buy gifts in the market. I enjoy bartering with the merchants and love to see the crafts and art work and old flea market finds out in the African capital street. I once bought someone’s stamp collection in the weekend market of Bangui out in front of the church, not so far from where the students burned tires on the day I flew back to Yaoundé. I had finished the condom commercial in both French and Sango in various media (TV spot, radio spot, photography potential for billboard usage). I had swooned over Lumumba (oops, I mean Eriq Ebouaney) in the hotel lobby. Bassek ba Kobhio let me tag along in similar ways as Eric Kabera and Imruh Bakari would later. I had a thing for African and Third Cinema and I suppose my curiosity was operational. Like picture white geek wanting to know something from black intellectual. My intentions were genuine and oft worked. Since there is really no other way to tell you that I once shared a taxi with Nicolas Cazalé in Ougadougou when Le Grand Voyage was premiering at FESPACO, I will do so here. My coming out was a long and arduous journey of star crushes. However, I only started starfucking in earnest when watching Hugh Dancy dance with a Tutsi woman at a backyard evening party during the filming of ‘Shooting Dogs’, and again more recently with LUV

My wife and I were living with Jay in the capital of Cameroon in this period, and I would travel for work in the region. Sometimes we would travel together as we did to East Legon (Accra) to help set up the Academy of Screen Arts. We worked at the first AIDS conference in Durban as volunteers and would later present a poster on our AIDS/HIV related work (in Cameroon) at the Barcelona AIDS conference a few years later. Sometimes she would travel first for work and I would tag along. This was the case in both Rwanda and Sudan. My hometown newspaper, the Cannon Courier said we were missionaries in an article after we first went to Cameroon for the Peace Corps. I can assure you we were not!

Cameroon is rather accessible in the center of São Paulo by way of a few African eateries that cater to frequent new waves of African / Diaspora arrivals to the city. The Burkinabe experience (and perhaps Abdoulaye’s) is a bit different than that of Nigerians, Senegalese, Haitians and Cameroonians. The rougher Cameroonian bar near Arouche, that’s where Edgar and I went the other night. Manu told me he was kicked out for kissing a guy there, which perversely excited me. However, Edgar and I would not be kissing. We sat with some female patrons. We chatted with others and along the way Edgar became a bit startled. As we walked away, we stopped at the next bar to discuss the mise-en-scène we’d just passed thru.

My wife and I were already back in NYC (and me at the New School) when Christopher called from Rwanda to tell us that Jay drowned off the coast of South Africa. I had caught Jay once at a house party when I saw his eyes roll back, signaling the onset of an epileptic fit. Once Thom’s boyfriend Ben got his finger caught in Jay’s mouth thinking that there was a risk of him swallowing his tongue. Jay told him after that this is physically impossible. Jay suffered a head injury once in Morocco when falling down a few steps in his apartment. I have a volcanic rock from Goma somewhere (I know I kept it) that Jay gave me when CRS sent him from Yaoundé to the DRC for volcano aid atop other years of humanitarian disaster. Our long-time friend, Brad who had met Jay in Cameroon heard from him when he was in S. Africa. Maybe I can share what he said in that final email here:

>> > Subject: long time…from Jason
>> > …..
>> > So now I_m in South Africa.  I_m going to finish
>> up
>> > some final reports this week and then head around
>> the
>> > country visiting some friends that I haven_t seen
>> for
>> > a while.  I_ll head to Mozambique from here.  All
>> in
>> > all, I_ve got about 6 weeks to play with, and
>> would
>> > like to spend a chunk of it on the beach.  I
>> figured
>> > that Malawi would be a bit sad to visit these days
>> > with the famine going on.  I_ll just have to make
>> it
>> > there next time.  In any case, I can learn to
>> Scuba
>> > dive in Mozambique the same as I can in Malawi, so
>> I
>> > am looking forward to it.  My sister also has a
>> couple
>> > of friends that I know living there.  So I_ll stop
>> by
>> > and visit them.  There is some hiking that I_ve
>> been
>> > meaning to do as well.  I_m starting to get really
>> > excited about this.  It_s been a while since I_ve
>> been
>> > backpacking or hiking.  I had hoped to start on
>> this a
>> > bit sooner, but even now I_m finishing up the
>> work, so
>> > there wasn_t too much chance of getting done
>> sooner.
>> > But 6 weeks will be better than 5, which certainly
>> is
>> > better than 4.

But back to the blackberry foundation and the HIV establishment. I helped conceive large program ideas that focused on different facets of HIV, such as but not limited to Cidade Queer in partnership with the blackberry foundation. I forgot my meds on a trip, one of eight I made with or for the foundation in 2017. When my ‘life breathing’ services contract was nearing its end (aligned w/ the 2017 year-end), I asked for an incidental raise to account for the growing workload and to cover travel insurance. In so doing I disclosed my HIV status to the organization. I was dismissed from the outfit (and my various titles such as Partnership Director) rather quickly after this point, sometime in September 2017. I had flown to Canada to attend the Creative Time Summit where Queer City had a book and film launch; something in the Maritimes; and Primary Colors, an indigenous artist and first nation leaders summit out in BC. I was invited to things like the Maritimes big art convening on my own artistic credentials and merit (I assert), but all such trips would want to have one of the various foundation titles co-branded alongside my name, and naturally so. I allowed this. This was a symbiosis that at times worked out well for me over the ten years of knowing the outfit. And in turn I gave my ‘all’ to the making of this new face or new phase of the outfit’s existence. I counted the other staffer as someone who would lay by the pool with me in Dakar (where I ran into this other Todd I know); someone who would host my husband when he passed through the guy’s city to meet me on a work trip; someone who wouldn’t get weird on me whenever I decided to disclose my HIV status. And, yet things got really weird for me. 

Somewhere along that rocky patch of understanding the foundation no longer needed me, and within close enough chronology to my disclosure that (and given no other justification) it stands to reason HIV was somehow involved. I make projects that I really care about. I mix things for different results. I would not have wanted so easily to be severed from the HIV-related projects I was helping or had come up with for the foundation. No, that would have hurt very bad. That these projects continue in some ways is not a bad thing. No, as I said some did not bear my ideation. For some I was to incorporate them into exchange and site-specific work from São Paulo. I wasn’t forced though, no it was collegial work that I was paid for, as an artist… from here, there and ‘everywhere’. Ok, I’ll give an example. An art space in Brasil is going to do a pedagogic /school year in Athens during a big art event. A series of writing is commissioned from its international cast of ‘participants’. It is arranged by me with the head of the art space, and implemented by another Brasilian friend who happens to be a participant of the intervention. I am glad those pieces exist.

I thought I was building a year or two more-future with the outfit. It was even discussed. But instead I was pushed out rather quickly. Let’s say it had nothing to do with HIV, or like the foundation just wanted to work on HIV but not have a poz staffer. Seems like the other staffer would have waited a bit to let me go. Seems like he wouldn’t have wanted to keep the other staffers I trained for him. I mean if something was wrong, all major decisions I made for the outfit would be called into question, right? Like what if they were infected by my style or what I consider to be signature. Signature style? Gosh, that’s high-concept, and–ya know–art is different, everywhere. 

So, like, maybe the establishment was right there .. in that morass. When I first opened the LUV project, a young artist told me that a curator wanted to know if I was poz. Since I assumed the young artist had told him I am, I just considered what a ‘pink elephant’ disclosure and the ‘hot stuff’ around it would become throughout the LUV project. I have more to say on this, so maybe I’ll write a book about the pink elephants of participatory art, in methodological terms (that would be pretty cool), or maybe I’ll pursue my new stickering career and fahgettaboudit. I’ll let you know.

How LUV is research, in part (part 1)

[* For the LUV site, this is part one of a set. Let’s call it the Elpenor Set. See part two, here.]

The purpose of this ‘entry’ is to introduce Ismar Tirelli Neto. I’m writing a book right now. It’s called Variations in Worldmaking. I can’t wait until it’s finished because it might be driving me crazy. It’s like birthing a set of gremlins … or so it presently seems. The book covers the span of my three durational, multi-stakeholder, rights-focused works. freeDimensional was a ten-year focus on free expression, artist safety and shelter. was a site-specific (São Paulo) five-year focus on the right to the city. And, Luv ’til it Hurts is a two-year focus on HIV and stigma. I chose to begin the book in the same time period as the two years of LUV, July 2018-2020. I thought that one process might help the other. At least in my head. They are both (art) works. I am applying a methodology for durational, multi-stakeholder, rights-focused projects that has been developed over the course of freeDimensional, and in giving support to other projects, in the making of Luv ’til it Hurts. I think the same can be said for the making of drawing on lessons learned from freeDimensional, but I was not concurrently writing criticism in that instance. Ishmar is working with me on the book, and also features in the book. We started conjuring these relations during a poetry workshop he offered at São João Farm Residency in Rio State (Brasil), and now we meet weekly for a writing class. Below is Ishmar’s ‘opener’ from an excerpt of the book in which I describe its 20 characters. 

After reading his LUV intro, I hope you’ll check out Some tenets of Elpenor thought , a text I refer to in my research. When we met in July 2019 I was already thinking about the role of ‘hero’ as it pertains to the art world. And, after we set on working together, I noticed it coming up again in a Whatsapp discussion with egosumfrank (Part 1 and Part IV) and MetaMorphineFuriosaXXX, one of our esteemed ‘coalition’ members. Therefore I mention Ismar’s work in these as well as a previous LUV piece, Character Development à la Proust


I met Ismar Tirelli Neto at São João Farm Residency in Rio State. He offered a poetry / writing workshop on his ideas around Elpenor, the youngest of Odysseus’ co-patriots. He is building up a body of thought and writing around Elpenor and other anti-heroes. We spoke of a quest for methodological understanding, and too about levels of protectiveness of text. I am not protecting the text right now. I am letting it flow rather unbounded. The numbered characters are a parameter as are the set of ‘devices’ I’ll share next. The characters and devices intersect in a matrix. I am coming up with this approach and language while also asking Ismar about his approach and the literary form it takes. We are both attracted to the Elpenor character and able to discuss it in terms of contemporary politics and a natural tendency of the art market to both crave and manufacture heroes. We ask ourselves together how does one share observations, texts, gestures, forms and/or criticism under today’s societal and market-enforced conditions on expression. In making a durational project, the idea cannot be immediately revealed. The idea is becoming, but already imagined. There is no need to rush it. The timespan is tailored for it to have enough time to fructify. This holding back as conscious effort brings ones awareness to territorialisms, competition, ranking, showboating, acceleration, pedigree-toting tendencies that can result in hero-making by default. The market needs the heroes because they are brand names, and that sells in primary and secondary art markets as well as through affiliation. Power and money are traded along these lines. It is not often that these resources can be convened and deployed for a social urgency. The market cannot both destabilize and stabilize in perfect ways. If art wants to make a radical work or gesture, it must first pass muster with the relative patrons who hold the purse strings to the semio-capital that BIFO speaks of. The same resources may be enough to resolve social ills or convene urgent conversations. It would first need to be configured or sequenced in a way that these social priorities held priority over sales and relation to market. Let’s face it: such a set-up is very rare. So, what of the ‘art hero’ role, and can it be bypassed while still offering up big ideas for the future. And to a public.

1001+ Japanese fighter pilots

I vomited tonight … earlier today.

I had taken an ecstasy pill. I may have used a couple other things as well. I’m a Taurus ‘control freak’, I’m told. So, while the idea of drugging up for going out may seem a bit careless, I also monitor my anti-depression medication, and not so long ago decided with my doctor to change my HIV meds. 

As I said in ‘we use drugs‘, or was it ‘drugs‘ .. but that yes, we do use drugs. Or so it seems. 

I once read that X was made for Japanese fighter pilots, maybe those who bombed Pearl Harbor. And, indeed tonight at Dando there were 1001+ Japanese fighter pilots. George and I were there. He’d been out before with a friend F at Zig Duplex. It was so nice to see them. I’d stayed home to rest and write. It was rather productive so I decided at about 4am to go meet the guys. I like F. but he is not so sure if I like how much he likes George. It’s ok. I’m fine with it. I actually think you are a great influence on him. So there. 

[*Dando is where we distributed the cloth hearts with our pup, W.]

There were a lot of people at the last Dando of the year, and my luv affair with Teatro Mars only grows each time I dance there. So, I found George and we drank lots of water. But I was still feeling a bit queasy even after sitting together outside in the smoking area. 

We went back in and the moment I entered the heat of the dance floor / main floor (the ‘dark room’ is/are the balconies in this old Brutalist gem) I knew I would vomit. I don’t enjoy vomiting and am not one to ‘try’ to vomit. But on occasion this is the best thing one can do with a drug is not working right. Or perhaps working (as my X did and currently at the time of writing is), but still making ya queasy. 

I ran back out and downstairs. They wanted to take my wristband as I exited, but I didn’t allow it. I knew where I wanted to vomit, but there was someone sitting there, a couple. Nope, will go further toward the gas station where the nice trans man attendant lets me wash my face afterwards (he’s helped before:). I was already feeling better when I returned to the party. I found George with G. a friend with whom we have sex and generally care about. We are all quite sweet on each other. He’s been through a rough break-up lately. We’ve been over to his house and witnessed rather careless behavior. Not just the crystal meth rationalization; garotos de programa (sex workers); the full break-down of his ex-boyfriend in his apartment all the way up to slitting of wrists and a wildly articulated ‘pain’ wall left behind by R., his ex; attracting a stalker; recent testicular injury from keeping your cock ring on too long; and the noticeable reduction of your entertainment center (selling household appliances is a pretty strong sign, dear) and cooking of Ketamine as if it’s breakfast. 

He told George when asking if we were going to the party that he’d been on a sex binge for 20 days. Given how handsome he is, this is not so hard to imagine. But then again, I would not have sex with him given some of his company and habits anymore. He would have to ‘clean it up’ a bit for me. George has different standards, and well we sometimes do and sometimes don’t agree. 

Right when I arrived to the party, I saw G. paying entrance a few people ahead of me. We gave each other a big hug. I pulled him close and whispered in his ear, George says you’ve been having a ‘marathon’ … I pulled back and asked him ‘G, is this a cry for help.’ No, no no … Im I’m .. my my… 

G, babe, I hope its like that. I do. You deserve a road trip with your mom. You deserve to recharge after a heavy year. And, babe, if you would ever like to talk outside of ‘all this’ … please come over. We miss you. 

George walked all the way back home looking for me when I must have been in the service station bathroom. He’s a really sweet guy, that one. 

Oh yeah, short shorts (blue) and a matte gray sequin top with red trim and vent back. I bought it from a designer who makes tv productions in South Africa, so it’s one of a kind. But rather hot on the dance floor. I took it off. Who am I?

Oh yeah, I remember:) I am being particularly cunty tonight .. this morning:))



We take drugs. 

A colleague of mine, Carué Contreiras gives away spices and herbs in his HIV med bottles. Artist Kairon Liu ( 劉仁凱 ) makes portraits in which he asks pill bottles to be among other memorabilia (signs of life). I luv mine. 

But actually I’m talking about party drugs and entrée to harder ones. 

George and I were packing our things as the bottle of liquid Ketamine arrived to the party. I had been coerced into chipping in on it, but didn’t plan to use the powder Gabriel would cook down from the liquid. 

Ketamine (or Key) mixed with (or used around same time of) cocaine is called CalvinKlein.

I had noticed a couple of the new guys with crystal meth pipes near the kitchen. As we prepared to leave, George asked me if I’d taken a hit. I told him no, and asked if he had. No, he said. We left. 

I am worried about meth in general. Like for people. Gay people. Country people without jobs who cook in the woods where moonshine steels used to be. Lonely people. Depressed people. 

I am renting out my apartment in NYC and I jokingly told a recent query (a gay guy I know) that he could feel right at home … except that if I got a ‘whiff’ of him smoking crystal in my place, then I’d fly up and … It was a fun/threat way to explain my limit. When we met I explained that on two occasions in NYC recently a guy had come over and not let me know he was ‘packing’ (a meth pipe) … one wanted to smoke there and the other was way far gone. On this latter occasion, he was much bigger than me and it took me a long while to get him out of the apartment. I’m not a small guy, but this scared me. It ended ok. But I doubt I’m the only one to whom that’s happened. No, for sure I’m not. Gabe just told me a similar story from here in São Paulo. 

So, let’s be clear, there ain’t no etiquette with crystal use. Like, just try to reason, and see where that get’s ya … guuuuuurrrlll!!!

Leo sent me that picture of crystal up top, also from here in São Paulo.

When I was in Mexico DF for the UNESCO talk I noticed on Grindr that the diamond emoticon was used a lot, suggesting crystal usage. T or ‘tina’ are used a lot in NYC, but this diamond is more universal. However, I think in São Paulo the diamond means other things too. Lighting Bolt is for cocaine also called ‘padê’ and ‘tk’ … like people be getting tekando, yo.  

I’ve been thinking and stacking words around on meth since that night I felt scared. Some of them are here on the black site

Both of the São Paulo guys I mention in the ‘black site’ poem told me they picked up the habit in the US. 

I saw the Sertão show at MAM here in São Paulo and a piece by Raphael Escobar that maps out the drugs used in the Center and broader São Paulo, and where to buy them (or where they were bought). This piece inspired me more than his crack pipe piece at Sesc 24 de Maio. 

Drugs. We use them. 

The ideas for Partner Tiles

The original idea for an iconic tile came from Saouf in Port Said. He imagined what it would be like to walk into a Cairo cafe and see an iconic tile on the back of a laptop. A tile that let him know (if he so desired) he could talk to this person about HIV. Later as the game took shape, Adham created a signature tile in the shape of an ‘all lines’ stylized heart. This heart carried the LUV logo at first and then became the template to share partner logos.

The LUV game is a part of Luv ’til it Hurts. The idea is based on a game played around the world called Exquisite Corpse. It’s a non-competitive game that can be played with only two people as well as a large group. The game is super easy. A new design or ‘visual work’ is made each time people play the game together. The LUV game simply offers an excuse to talk about HIV and stigma in a range of settings from museum to public space or even on the street. The game idea came up when I asked a young design time in Port Said (Egypt) to help me communicate the values and goals of Luv ’til it Hurts. The LUV game launched officially in Bogotá and Grenoble in late October; again during São Paulo’s December 1st AIDS Walk; and will soon be available online in the general period of World AIDS Day 2019.

On each occasion the LUV game was played–in Grenoble (French/Arabic), Bogotá (Spanish) and São Paulo (Portuguese)–LUV offered a specially-designed heart tile with the initiative’s logo inside. This could be placed in the center of the floor to get the game started. Other tiles would be placed around it. As I was making all the tiles at the same time, I also offered each location the partner tiles from other locations. From the beginning the LUV project has developed a motley crew of affiliations. We call this a coalition and it is open for joining … if you like who we are, that is. We also offer all these folks a partner tile. Having a logo is a part of doing something. Usually it is the first hologram of an idea. A serious idea can be formed in the chambers of design, we know well. An idea without a form can be helpless. So if LUV can help boost new ideas–being one itself–then that is what it wants to do. Helping a good idea to go faster is a worthwhile endeavor in and of itself. 

The Think Twice Collective based at the University of Leiden (Netherlands) got involved by bringing on 5 more languages of instructions for the LUV Game. And we’ve discussed how the LUV project might be a part of their work local to the Leiden campus in the future. In our brainstorm, there are many ways to have a campus-focused conversation on HIV and stigma. The idea of interactions that use the LUV game using all partner tiles (to date) rather than only the Luv ’til it Hurts one represents the ethos of the project and has the value of sharing initiatives from other parts of the world. While It’s not quite Abbie Hoffman (à la Steal this Book), we do wish for each and every visible, verifiable piece of the project to be used as soon as possible. So if the general brand of LUV can help another new initiative that’s great. We will soon change our (brand) look a bit, so please take it while it’s there. 

In the best of circumstances, sharing partner tiles from other locations and being able to learn more about the initiatives on our site (linking to their sites) will help to share information about and conditions experienced by other positive people. We hope there is some solidarity in this design function. It is a gesture and maybe more. 

The partner tiles are all here in this booklet:

Please use and re-use the Luv game in the most generous, unconstrained ways you can imagine. And, well, tell us about it if you have time. 

Using one ‘project’ to see another

This article is a field [luv] note to Luciérnagas and friends in Bogotá. I was there for a project by Daniel Santiago Salguero and his HIV+ peers. Fireflies, this is the word in Spanish for fireflies. 
Speaking of fireflies, I met some luminary folk while in Bogotá Like Jackie … as far as I know she is the only woman in Luciérnagas, well, except your costuming friend (Daniel). I would love to publish a text or reflections on process by her for the 2020 Love Positive Women holiday (Feb 1-14).  We will be putting up 14 days of woman-authored content on those days early next year. Can you ask (or work with) Jackie to make a text? Let’s do in Spanish, but also we can translate on our side. If you will agree to interview her for the site, then you can also be a bit instructive w/ your questions. Just make it about the lab process. In that way you both support Love Positive Women. 
When I got back from Bogotá, a group of us (somos) began meeting for drinks on Tuesday nights. The first meeting in late October or early November yielded an idea for a collective group which would first make a Sarau Transante on November 30, Saturday evening before World AIDS Day, the following Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. I have been very excited about the game ever since it came up on my trip to Egypt in March 2019. 
I had thought it would be in Taiwan for a show in this period. The process took longer than expected. As long-time friends, Adham and I had a lot to discuss before getting on with the next ‘work’ project. He also has a project of the BIG variety–a museum of sorts–that I want to be involved in, a project also taking its own pace over a multi-year timeline. 
When I came back from Bogotá, I was planning to pretend to be LUV and invite other very active artist friends who are positive to meet for drinks and then perhaps LUV would help to amplify the outcome. LUV is a small project led by an independent artist, but it does already have some trappings (on its road toward / becoming a philanthropic device). I have been rather tired since the end of, and also having made AIDS Day / period programming in 2015 (beg. of Cidade Queer); 2016 (ending of Cidade QueerEXPLODE! and ATAQUE); 2017 (Neighborhood Museum with Amber Art & Design); 2018 (@Esponja w/ Coletivo Coletores + Colectivo Amem); and now 2019 with Somos and also a partnership with the Municipal Secretary of Human Rights for the AIDS Walk and the performance /public space where the walk ended. It changed a 1000 times, yet I’d say it all went very well. It was also possible to see what other artists were doing for AIDS Day. 
Daniel, I remember when I was in Bogotá in October. You already had interest from a municipal authority to do another performance or intervention on /around World AIDS Day, December 1. We haven’t been able to talk directly since then, so I don’t know if this panned out in the end. Can you share with us what happened next?
You probably saw the interview LUV did with Juan De La Mar last week? This is a field note to you, but also it has questions for you to answer in a follow-up piece. So, see it as advice (at times) and feel free to answer the questions indicated in orange
My strongest advice is to help the group become what it will be next. It takes a lot of energy to do what you did. I bet you are tired. Exhausted even. So, save your energy. Help to hold the idea together but hand it off. Now that I’ve interviewed Juan and given the aforementioned idea for Love Positive Women (and Jackie) … as well as my next idea for El Santo, I can also offer to help you take this next step. What I’m saying is that it’s obvious that some of the Laboratory group will make their own works as artists, and other Positive artists and allies will come around and want to be involved. There are members of your group who could grow to need the affiliation of the laboratory. It may even seem like a support group at times. These are not certainties, but they are the ‘good likelihoods’ if you can help make the space for it.
When I came back from Bogotá, I did not plan to create or co-create yet another thing. I was willing to catch some new ideas with the LUV apparatus. As we got up to the Sarau with Somos (and when I specifically didn’t want to assume or seem to assume leadership/sole ownership) it became obvious that my closest allies felt it was my ‘show’ … there were a range of signals (including direct conversation) that revealed this to me. Given that my intention was the opposite, I have asked my colleagues to share with me how they see it. I’ve asked them to help me with my general research on how people get together and do things, in a social sense. Artists and others. Activists among them. 
There was tension in this process. I have also experienced tension (and outright conflict) in previous AIDS Day / Periods. In some ways, I think it is bound to happen. In other ways, I want to consider how for it not to happen. It is not enjoyable. 
I have a lot of faults, but one thing I try to do is to apply some community organizing and publicity logic to social causes. These are useful tools for urgent situations. But I fear that the so-called ‘art world’ that we (at least, partially) act in, is not so good at identifying urgency. And by not doing so it cannot offer appropriate care. It is not a complete ‘world’ in this sense. It does not take such good care of its workers. I talk about art world concerns in Relatory Bogotá and other pieces
Daniel you may get an opportunity from this art world that is useful to the Luciérnagas Laboratory group. You may not decide to use it yourself, but it may still have value to your peers. You may find other ways to nurture or help with the work of Juan, Jackie et al. There will also be new people who come around inspired by your first pass on Oct 25 at the Botanical Gardens. Making space for them will be up to you as a leader of the project, because first you have to admit (or say) if the project goes on and under what conditions. 
So for example, let’s say that El Santo didn’t make a pin for World AIDS Day as discussed. But I saw his ‘resist’ plates on Instagram. Maybe that is the item we attempt to merchandise with the future LUV platform and shows. It can work. If El Santo agrees to something like this, we’ll need to move fast. If it’s the plates (El Santo) I would need high resolution photos very quickly. I luv the plates by the way. 
Just as I attempted to do when in the midst of your context, city and project, Daniel, I will meet you where you are. Let’s say you did nothing for World AIDS Day. Cool. Let’s go?
I must admit the idea that came up from you guys (Daniel + El Santo) was powerful: the idea that we need new representation beyond (or next) to the red flag. This could be more specific to Bogotá, or World AIDS Day, but it would seem to come from those of us newly making or having voice on HIV and stigma. So, newness is perhaps just good. So when I got back and got my hands in all these pots, one of the most ‘new’ and nice experiences was coming up with the cloth heart that mimics the heart tile in the LUV game
What if you took on the challenge of doing this re-branding of the red flag just because I ask you to?  What if we use the HIV2020 meeting, AIDS Day 2020, AIDS conference in San Francisco, Love Positive Women, and the ending of Luv ’til it Hurts, including the intended Schwules Museum prototype show in 2021 … all to popularize this new symbol. And what if it made money for other folks working on and thinking deeply about HIV and stigma? 
It could, guys:)