[*When the project began, I wrote a piece entitled Why Make an Open Work? where I used some borrowed ‘game storming’ graphics to show the chaos needed within a project before it comes to a point. This logic showed up again when Adham Bakry made LUV’s first design elements (see image).While I don’t imagine that an art exhibition is the only ‘point’ of LUV’s two-year period of understanding, it does seem very compelling as we near the end of its initial two-year period. Codename: Exquisite Corpse! xo Todd]
Subject: Curatorial concept structure
1. cover: sexy image with title/names 2. LUV concept description with names (who does who) 3. curatorial concept as extension/natural consequence of LUV with list of artists treated as a pool to expand or choose from 4. exhibition concept: principles/overall technicalities 5. 2-3 pages of my sketches of the exhibition, can contain one page with references from my previously designed exhibitions 6. catalogue/Free mashup of most representative works 7. possibly a last page with a list of references (organizations/www), should be in the end to limit the amount of written words and content, so if someone is bored, doesnt have to read these or reads in another occasion!
Important: to include strong messages/shortlisting of important motives, eye-catching visual references, synergy motives (coming out from the status of artists, experiences of people involved, etc), telling about expandable/evolutive concept of the exhibition both in the choice of art. works/artists and in the set-up.
Game of Swarms will be thus a communication device as well as a register of the artistic research upon how dynamics of networks in nature can be used as a tool to understand new ways of relationality among humans and non-humans—based on the distribution of agency, rather than the centralisation of powers.
Collaboration is often considered a value, but not a standard behaviour in Western societies, as much of their thinking is rooted in the individualistic view of the subject—based on autonomy and self-determination. Game of Swarms is an artistic investigation and communication device that offers an alternative to that exceptional framework of the human, emphasising the collaborative behaviour of systems in nature.
GOS explores how living organisms work together without central control to adapt to changing conditions. Drawing on theories about self-organisation and swarm intelligence, the project materialises into a cooperative game, whose objective is to co-create its rules, the algorithms that will lead to the construction of a resilient network—and new methodologies to work together.
Through the collaboration with a team of ethologists, the project focuses on the collective behaviour of ants, bees and a slime mould, Physarum Polycephalum, which is a rhizomatic-form protist without brain but with great capacity of learning and complex problem-solving. These organisms exhibit efficient systems that survive through cooperation rather than competition, questioning the old saw of ‘survival of the fittest’.
The research then unfolds in three parts: a 3D audiovisual piece that elaborates on the aesthetics of life-forms based on connections, rather than individuals; performative work: a series of workshops with collaborators to reflect on the biological network model of swarms and play with a prototype of the game to create and experiment the rules; and the online version of the game (under construction) that will be incorporated into the website of Mutant Institute of Environmental Narratives.
Game of Swarms contributes to the discussion about how the world is tackling global problems, such as the environmental crisis, and how the actors involved will have agency and response-ability to adapt together to these transformations.
[*In February and back before Covid19 suspended travel (and life as we knew it) a group of LUV peeps met in NYC to work on the ‘next-LUV’ or an afterlife for Luv ’til it Hurts, a project that I originally charted for only two years. Those two years are almost up. We received some instruction/planning questions from teammate Jakub Szczęsny at that time, and again now as a new group plan takes shape. xo Todd]
1. which artists in the beginning? 2. how many of their works in the beginning? 3. what space? How does it look? Need plans/ etc 4. two motives to put together: social level of the reaction to the “plague” (magical thinking, morality, religiousness, alienation, etc) with individual level (spiritualization, development of everyday survival strategies, self-distancing, development of individual linguistics, etc) 5. I’m thinking about a set of cases that can be easily configured in various positions, cases that include artworks with illumination included, so they are very independent from spatial context of galleries and in fact invade the interiors like strange, dominating furniture. This way most objects: sculptures, photographs, videos, drawings, etc can be integrated into cases that are both aesthetic objects and transportation devices. The rest is happening on the walls, especially words : shorter and longer texts.
Why cases/boxes? 1.They refer to contained secrets, something interiorized 2. when open, cases suggest that the viewer [has permission] to look inside 3. they serve as mere transportation devices 4. they become modules of para-architectural strength and suggest overtaking the space 5. we will always have a good argument when guardians of morality start criticizing the institution because we will show a penis or something: after lengthy negotiations with confused directors we will close just one box, not the entire exhibition, or we can make a movable cover or curtain (as Italians and Arabs do when exhibiting “confusing” Greek and Roman mosaics, I love this reference!) behind which “dirty” things will hide, permitting only adult viewers, I’m already shivering here! 6. we will need cases anyway to transport things!
Everything that happens on the walls could have both the elegance of good typography and something dodgy/punk/dirty in the way graphics, typography and choice of 2d images is done, it could also be somehow playful and coquettish.
[*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.
[*From February 9-11, 2020, Luv ’til it Hurts was busy in NYC. LUV participated in Love Positive Women (a project by Jessica Lynn Whitbread) with a poetry and food-inspired event ‘LUV YEMANJÁ’. Food and a series of handmade porcelain candles were offered by artist Thiago Gonçalves and poet Brad Walrond offered a version of his work ‘1986’ paired with other poems to suit the occasion. On the following two days, a group including Jakub Szczęsny, Eric Rhein, Todd Lester, Brad Walrond, Paula Nishijima, Paula Querido Van Erven worked on the hopeful next phase of the LUV project. Within this process were statements describing the project from individual viewpoints, such as this one by Brad. xo Todd]
Luv ‘til it Hurts reminds us how proximal and interwoven our histories [are] regardless the presumed, apparent distances between the bodies, identities, and castes our worlds have suited for us. Perhaps in each [of] the futures we all must inevitably occupy, HIV/AIDS will have always been more metaphor than acronym; the Universe—even the portion that belongs to Us—is the occupant of an accident recovering it’s purpose. A virus expresses as much as it destroys; binds, deconstructs, creates, recreates its own kinds of becoming.
That pleural vacuum into which it catapults us, it’s undertow of grief, stigma, loss, shame pulls us each closer towards a corporal remuneration of our otherwise carefully tilled, fiercely guarded boundaries. Perhaps we discover, by the sheer performance of survival, that the threads now begging us together, have been there all along. Survival here becomes the enactment of hope against hope—a remaking, a re-fashioning, a reconfiguring, a re-imagining of our lost and future selves.
It is as if our bodies are made to become sites of discovery unto themselves. As if by force of opportunity and accident we infect a kind of prescience replicating inside an utterly human omen—being whomever we were cannot achieve us a habitable future. Perhaps living with and being impacted by some thing so summarily universal that has already changed the future, has already, by its sheer defiance, made its own impression on a species’ ambition and dreams, shows us life itself can be renewed. Shows us there must always be novel, crucial, life-giving ways for a human kind to rub and touch and agree.
Luv ‘til it Hurts as a moving recombinant collaborative show quite literally embodies the terror and the hope of this global pandemic. It represents unique opportunities to document and reveal global and parochial histories of the infected and affected while engaging communities in a viral generative praxis of encounter, transmission, deconstruction, reconstruction, remaking, reimagining and recovery.
Image: ‘Hummingbirds’ (Installation of 6), 2016, by artist Eric Rhein
I wanted to elaborate more on the concept of ’transcendence’, mostly because I have some reservations about it. BUT, the fact that HIV is a disease that you live with took me to the place of transcendence. I departed from Eric’s work and paid especial attention to it. The aesthetics of the drawings helped to describe such transcendence in the LTIH project. (more about it later)
For me, the starting point for a reflection about HIV and stigma is to re-situate us in what it means to be ‘healthy’ and what it means to be ‘ill’. I’d talk in terms of health ’state’ rather than ’status’, meaning that state entails more than the exclusively physical condition of a body. ’Status’ objectifies, quantifies and causally determines the body—thus, allowing the commodification of it—, creating a sort of ‘snapshot’ of an organism. A body is certainly an organism and, as such, it is its dynamic properties that make our (changing) existence possible. I want to consider existence as ‘being-in-the-world’ in a joint project, so ‘being-in-the-world-with-others’.
I turned to a book called Existential Medicine (2018), which interrogates the current/dominant view on health and illness within medical thinking. I thought of what Todd told about the meds and how the impersonal and instrumental framework of the health system treats/control bodies reinforcing the stigma of certain diseases like HIV (I’m generalizing, but I do think that medical thinking reinforces stigma 90% of the time, including when it manipulates genes to design enhanced bodies like Lulu and Nana)… In one of the texts, which uses HIV as example (I’ve attached the article), the authors argue that our current model of medicine/health system does not acknowledge the existential character of the human body, ie. the human body as expression of its intersubjectivities and the fact that a body is not only an organism, but also the means of one’s existence, in the sense that a body is the existence of an experiencing subject. This phenomenological approach goes together with the necessity of treating the ‘person’ and not only consider the reductive view of the body as detached from the context of mutual existence in the world. […]
After all of this, I tried to be more objective and start to write a ’statement’ by raising the questions:
What is Luv ‘Til It Hurts? It is when virtual pasts and futures are erased from a lifetime and what remains is a thin stroke of obliterating gestures. This is the trail of a new existence. The thinnest part through which life can be recognized. It is the abbreviation of the normative and the construction of a spatiality dedicated to the encounter of stigma and love.
Why the body? The body is forgotten in a state of health. When a disruption occurs in the body, it rapidly changes our awareness of it.
What is the duration of an epidemic? How does a never-ending-epidemic look like? Epidemics draw on the concept of being ill. Every disease is a disruption in the balance of a body and, more importantly, this ill body disturbs the normative context of the other bodies and their shared functions in public life or in a society.
Despite the fact that HIV evolves from the inside, the narratives of sickness develop from the outside, although an environment comprises of both. LTIH addresses the comprehension of a body beyond its organic, ‘causally determined entity in the physical world’, but as an imbroglio of metabolic exchanges between inside phenomena and outside circumstances.
Proposition of a framework for transcendence
What is transcendence?
Transcending is the impossibility of living in one of the poles of dichotomies like life and death, health and illness.
Much of the stigma on HIV still resonates the death sentence that comes with the diagnosis—even if today we can speak about preventive methods and treatment and an undetectable viral load… living with HIV expresses more than being alive or dead.
Is transcending an escape? No, transcending is to open a breach in the stiff portion of soil underneath our feet. The middle is not something in between, but it is produced by the impossibility of living in one pole of a dichotomy. It is not to be an actual object or subject of something, but the very process of subjectification.
It is to transform memory into future-making and what comes next into one more thread to bind. It is to stay with the contour of things, instead of reinforcing the contrast of positive and negative sides (Eric’s work).
Am I proposing a sort of immanent transcendence? Maybe…
[*A few years back, I created a meeting concept called Artist Roundtable (or A.RT) … I want to resuscitate this particular discussion on health and wellness in order to share a unique policy paper that came thereafter as byproduct. This article was originally published by the World Policy Journal on June 9th, 2015. xo Todd]
What would a policy that incorporates our ideas of medicine look like?
On Friday, May 1, Artist Roundtable (A.RT) sought to answer this question during its third event, hosted by the World Policy Institute’s Arts-Policy Nexus. Developed by Todd Lester, director of Arts-Policy Nexus, A.RT is an approach to bridging different disciplines in creative work and policy-making as well as addressing crucial issues from varied directions.
Since A.RT’s foundation in 2014, four roundtables have taken place in Guelph, Canada, Sao Paulo, Brazil, New York, U.S., and Vancouver, Canada. The topics of discussion range from climate change, to water, health, and new economies—with more on the way. The May 1 event, convened by Lester along with colleagues Nicolle Bennett, Program Director for Feel the Music!, and Patrick (Pato) Hebert, Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Public Policy at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, brought together 11 like-minded artists for a conversation focused on the relationship between creativity, health, and wellness. The discussion further sought to explore how the relationship between artists and policymakers can help resolve localized health issues, how artists can better engage in this process, and the concrete benefits they can offer to the health field.
As the work of many invited to the conversation can attest to, art is a form of policy in and of itself. The arts are a representation of culture and society voiced through words, paintings, actions, and performance that can often shape the direction of policies long before they develop. In many cases, the connections and channels of communication that the arts provide may be more effective than traditional means of communication at conveying messages. In seeking to answer the question “what would a policy that incorporates our ideas of medicine look like?” the artists at the May 1 event offered not only an expanded view of wellness, but also a wider definition of policy and those ultimately responsible for its creation.
As the discussion opened, the group spoke of the necessity of art in reshaping our understanding of health and well-being. More often than not, health is an intervention rather than an intravention; it is fundamentally reactionary. Throughout the afternoon, one phrase mentioned by those in the roundtable in particular stayed in the minds of those participating: “Nothing about us without us”—the latter ‘without us’ clause symbolizing the engaging and connective capacity of art and its application to health policy.
“Art needs language, but also gives language,” said Grace Aneiza Ali, founder of OF NOTE, a magazine on how creativity affects policy, “speaking in an ordinary way by extraordinary means is more effective in outreach.” Art gives language an avenue to maneuver with ‘us,’ whoever ‘us’ may be.
Ali went on to explain the divorce of spirituality from life, and how the separation affects our ideas of health and wellness. Spirituality, she said, is not the same as religion. Spirituality is defined as a general connection with those around you that is not necessarily initiated through a ritual. Because art can be practiced and enjoyed across social groups, it allows people to convey a message to a wider audience without having to be validated by an authority.
In its utilitarian and universal nature, art also serves as a platform for advocacy and activism, often grabbing the attention of those otherwise uninterested or unaware. One participant, Richard Hofrichter, Senior Director at Health Equity NACCHC, defined cultural activism as “representing a way of giving voice to people in their own language and images, derived from historical memory and current experiences, that enable grassroots groups to serve as a face of change.”
There are also more direct ways to promote health and well-being through creativity. Nelson Santos, Executive Director of Visual AIDS, leads a collective that uses art to fight the spread of AIDS by provoking social interaction. One such project (“Self-Enforced Disclosure” by Greg Mitchell, 2007) features a man displaying a tattoo on his arm resembling a branded cattle, identifying himself in a somewhat contradictory playful font as being HIV-positive. The rough edges of the insignia symbolize the necessity of revealing such intimate information, yet the arcade game lettering and placement on a human body suggest a personal ownership of the HIV condition.
This more direct form of activism expressed in visually provocative images fosters a dialogue both with and among its audience. Using visual art to stir discussion brings those disconnected from important issues into a conversation that fosters better-informed points of view.
Members of the community can find therapeutic benefits from engaging themselves in creative activity. For instance, taking a simple “time out” from a busy day to draw and color can bring about a sense of youthful serenity in adults. Lacy Mucklow, the author of Color Me Happy and Color Me Calm aims to alter the energy and mood of adults with her new coloring books. Coloring, which has a proven calming effect on children, renders the same results with individuals of almost any age. “Relief and healing come from this time out,” Mucklow says. Some simple “you” time with a coloring book can help calm and re-center your thinking and attitude.
Carlos Rodriguez Perez, the Director of Wellness and Recovery Division at Kings County Hospital Center, also recognizes the necessity of art and interaction in promoting wellness, as well as the inherent link between therapeutic activity and social change and justice.
In partnership with the Beautiful Distress Foundation, Kings County hosts artists in its progressive arts therapy programs. With the help of resident artists such as Aldo van den Broek, this partnership is expanding the traditional definition of artist residencies and, in the process, the perceptions of mental health institutions and patients within the surrounding community. In a follow-up site visit to the program, A.RT participants were able to learn about the varied roles of artists within this space: as therapy providers, co-creators, and community engagers, all with the goal of reducing the effects and stigma of mental illness.
Even outside the context of experimental institutional partnerships, artists play a myriad of roles. Creative connectors, bridge-builders, providers of language, and stimulators of imagination—artists can speak to that which makes us uniquely human and connects us to others. In this regard, not only is art a tool to promote wellness for the individual, as in the case of coloring books, but also a way to promote advocacy and cultural dialogue to confront larger societal issues—as works like “Self-Enforced Disclosure” seek to achieve.
As the roundtable came to an end, the participants agreed on one thing: that the collaborative process can and will continue to explore ways that art and its creators can contribute, advocate, and co-create with both communities and policymakers surrounding issues of wellness and health. As the saying goes, “Nothing about us without us.”
Jordan Clifford is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.
‘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 longer EN language interview is available below for download; Todd Lanier Lester interviews Adriana Bertini for LUV.]
TLL: We met first in Barcelona at the 14th International AIDS Conference in 2002. I don’t remember too much about the trip, except that I was presenting a poster with a colleague on community sensitization work on HIV/AIDS we’d done together in the East Province of Cameroon as US Peace Corps volunteers. Again, a very long time ago.
I recently wrote about my first HIV work on the LUV site, and I guess it had to do with being ‘plopped’ down in a location for which it was an urgency. I reacted to my surroundings, not so different than how I have reacted to urban issues here in São Paulo. For me it is about responding to what is around me, and relates to my personal notion of what you do when you live in a place. The only difference I can think of is that I now call myself an artist. I began this HIV-related work 20 years ago, and before I myself contracted HIV.
Since you’ve been doing this work for just as long, I wanted to first say thank you for your dedication, and ask you to explain how you started and what moved you to action in what you term ‘artHIVism’ (I noticed in your e-mail signature:)
AB: O Trabalho com arte aliado à Aids nasce de uma intervenção artística em Porto Alegre em 1994, um convite do ator Fabiano Menna para uma performance, fui literalmente fisgada pela causa. Em 1995 entro para a ONG GAPA em Florianópolis como voluntária. Ali eu cuidava de crianças vivendo com HIV, a maioria de transmissão vertical. E um dia por acaso eu ganho do secretário da saúde uma caixa com 144 preservativos vencidos e ali começa o meu processo de investigação artística sobre a matéria prima e como fazer arte com este objeto para chamar a atenção para a prevenção, falar de sexualidade e os perigos do prazer sem advogar a abstinência.
Com o passar dos anos, estudando e fazendo experimentos artísticos, o trabalho de arte passa por uma evolução natural, onde eu busco através da manifestação artística integrar ativismo a arte, saúde e educação.
Inquieta com a questão da adesão à TARV, principalmente com jovens dou início à pesquisa de outros materiais para promover a adesão, como medicamentos, embalagem e objetos que remetem à saúde sexual, e há dois anos criei esta palavra artHivismo como um novo conceito, não sou ativista sou uma artHivista porque relaciono minha arte diretamente com o HIV.
TLL: I’ve read your Creative Workshop manual (see download below), and a bit of the background of condom art. Do you make other works outside the theme of HIV? Do you see yourself more as a public health activist, an artist or both?
AB: Eu trabalho paralelamente com outras questões sociais na arte. Trabalhei por alguns anos na Anistia Internacional em Bruxelas como Strong Voice e Artivista para o Fim da Mutilação Genital Feminina e em outras causas sociais como câncer de mama, tráfico de órgãos, etc… Meu projeto futuro é trabalhar a Fome e escolhi para a representação artística o Pão como alimento-referência em todas as culturas globais. Eu me vejo como uma artista social.
TLL: Adriana, you recently visited Los Angeles and UCLA I believe. You were there doing HIV-related art education, or this is what I remember from our brief discussion. Let’s use your trip to LA as a way to discuss your work. What did you do while you were there? Are there specific organizations you’d like for us to know about? Would you say that this trip is typical for you?
AB: Eu fui convidada como Artist in Residence por três setores da UCLA:
Trabalhamos em parceria desde 2006. E este convite foi para várias ações artísticas que envolveu:
Public Speaker, Workshop Público no dia comunitário do Fowler Museum e um workshop intensivo chamado de Fiat Lux Class (Creative Workshop).
No Condom Art Workshop (Creative Workshop) intensivo trabalhamos a teoria do artivismo, a construção do diálogo crítico e debates sobre saúde sexual, métodos contraceptivos e como banir o estigma.
Foram diversas dinâmicas usando poesia, desenho, fotografia, vídeo, performance para a construção do trabalho final, uma apresentação.
O conceito do workshop foi como banir estigma e pudemos criar coletivamente um novo diálogo sempre trabalhando técnicas de arte com camisinha, recorte, colagem, pigmentação, costura, modelagem.
É uma oficina muito rica porque além dos temas propostos e das técnicas artísticas aprendidas, levamos para as questões mais pessoais que são as experiências vividas na sua sexualidade, e colocar isso à tona dentro da classe fortalece os jovens e os empodera para suas escolhas mais conscientes.
TLL: And, lastly, what’s next? Importantly, I’d luv to know your vision for HIV-related work in São Paulo where we both live.
AB: Eu acredito muito na educação sexual de forma transversal nas escolas e na universidade, e volto de Los Angeles fortalecida a procurar mais espaços de diálogo em São Paulo, por mais difícil que seja e percebo que tanto os jovens americanos, brasileiros, europeus e asiáticos têm a mesma demanda, precisam de informação de forma criativa, contemporânea, rápida e atual como resposta à epidemia, o diálogo lúdico, moderno e a arte tem este poder de tocar mentes e corações para uma possível transformação.
LUV: Thanks so much for taking time to share your work!
Image taken at Oct 25 (2019) Luciérnagas performance
Before the presentation we did some in situ rehearsals, although they were never enough, we did them. The Botanical Garden is a very bureaucratic institution and it was difficult to manage the space for more preparations. For these last sessions we got together Eudes Toncel, a Guajiro Colombian artist, writer, and anthropologist, with special interest in the themes of gender and afro cultures. Almost all of us arrived in time for the presentation. Laura Figueroan, a very good friend of mine, came over to help us with the details, and brought us ski masks, which were intervened upon with fancy black stones, which went really well with the costumes. We had been cooking up the LED lights in the last weeks, with the help of Duvan Puerto, who arrived in the project thanks to Juan Sebastián Jaramillo and the creativity and technology agency that they worked at. Megan Cross Star, a member of the laboratory, was one of the people who had the most interest in the process, and especially in her costume for this night. She brought jewelry, make up, and was truly very elegant. As it was the night at the Botanical Garden that is open and free, many people came. More than we expected. After 6 months of planning and speculation , the day had arrived. It rained a lot that week, but luckily this day was clear, and both the members of the lab, as well as the visitors, were all able to calmly visit the Botanical Garden.
The time for the performance arrived, and we were ready. Each one went to their specific spot, where they would do their work in the dark jungle. They started to do their movements, in slow, subtle dances, while the the little LED lights were like fireflies. My instruction to them was: you are the containers of the fireflies, roaming through the jungle. In anyway, we had never been there at night, so there were places that I had expected to be especially dark, but weren’t. This made it so that each one had to run to find his/her place of work, and to assure me that they were placed in the darkest possible point, as it was only there that we could notice the magic of the tiny lights floating in space. I also went over the speed of the movements for each one, and the way in which they produced the sounds. Camilo arrived at the garden late, although I had warned him about it. So I had to leave to take him to the dressing room at the entrance, and give him the immediate instructions so that he could join in with the rest. When we returned from the jungle we saw the center, where we had planned to end the action, where all of the bodies from the performance met each other. In pairs, we did a reflection exercise that we had learned in the session that was dedicated to the exploration of the body, conducted by Juan Manuel Mosquera, at this same location, some months ago. Now that we returned there, it turned out that the space was full of people, and the action was difficult to appreciate. I did not have another option but to ask the people to please open up some space, which I was later told interrupted a bit the mystique of the moment, but I had to do it. This third part of the action, that we call the partitura (score) – the apareamento (pairing up) – consisted of doing this subtle reflection dance in pairs, while the volume of the whistles intensified up to the point in which the sound would be cut, after my signal. Friends, family members, and partners came to see us.
The weeks before the presentation, we had many gatherings, generally dedicated to the designing of the wardrobe, to sewing, and to connecting the LED lights though the conducting wires on the black hoodies. It was a complex process, we had to learn the positives and the negatives, LilyPad, LED, batteries with different durations and strengths. For me it was a great challenge, as technology has not been my forte. To get closer to these notions was a useful thing to learn. We met at my house almost always during the weekends, all of us cooking and talking until the late hours of the night.
Todd Lester came from São Paulo, and I hosted him at my house. Two days before we were printing publications with the information on his project Luv ’til It Hurts, about art and HIV. Todd’s enthusiasm has been defining in all of the project’s development, with the help of Paula Querido Van Erven, Brazilian, who translated the previous reports about the lab, and they published it on Luv ’til It Hurts’ online platform on art and HIV. Todd, during the days of the performance, organized an event at El Parche Artist Residency, where he presented his personal project as an artist, a table game that invites people to talk about, discuss, and express themselves openly on matters related to HIV/AIDS.
The sound element appeared in a magic way. We had already talked a lot about what could be the sound that accompanied the action, in the session dedicated to sound art, delivered by Mauricio Rivera. We had decided that the best would perhaps be to find forms of sounds emitted from the body, that are natural, or chants, simple instruments, something like that. But up until this point we had not succeeded in solidifying what it could be. Some weeks before the presentation, there was a tutoring session with the Mexican artist Tania Cadiani, following up from my 10-month residency in Flora ARS NATURA. Tania told me: “But have you listened to the chant of the fireflies when mating?” I told her that I hadn’t. I had consulted the literature on fireflies, seen videos and photos, illustrations, poems. But none of them had mentioned, that I recall, specifically the sound of the fireflies, perhaps because what was more evident was to think of the lights that they emit. At last, I was rewatching videos of fireflies while mating, and listening attentively to their chants, and it fit like a glove. The sound element, now under this guiding pole, would come to be an essential part of the performance. Some days afterwards, I went to buy artisanal whistles at the ‘Pasaje Rivas’ and I found one made out of clay in the shape of little chickens, that, when played in unison and in the dark, could sound just like the melodious screeches that the fireflies emit during nocturnal courting.
After the presentation, Mario Andrés González, a member of the lab and part of the board of the Kuir cinema festival in Bogotá, invited us over to his house, where we ordered some pizza and beers. We were almost all members of the lab, plus some friends and family. We were talking until extremely late, asking ourselves how we felt throughout the night. Some members of the lab had gone that night to shoot videos at the very dark parts of the forest in the Botanical Garden, and brought very interesting results and good ideas. We thought of how it would be to appear as a group with our LED light costumes in another space, for example.
Immediately after the presentation, I had in my head a question about the nature of the aesthetic and the action as a conclusion of the lab. Because, the lab, whether the performance succeeded or not, let’s say, was effective, worked, the ten sessions took place, all of the invitees came over, ties of affection were created between the members and participants, extremely important questions and ideas on the relationship that each one had with HIV came up, as well as of its relation with the current Venezuelan migration crisis. The question that kept surrounding me every once in a while, in an accelerated way, because it is possible that the performance may have been, aesthetically, a bit chaotic (it is also possible that it wasn’t, but let’s just say that some precisions escaped us, over which I would have liked to have had control), for example, there were a lot more people than we expected, the lights could not be seen as much as I would have liked because it was not dark enough for these to accurately have the imagined effect. But besides this, the action worked, the bodies spread out throughout the jungle, the LED lights were turned on, we emitted the sounds that alluded to the fireflies’ chants while mating. I have ended it by concluding that the important thing, as far as my interest as an artist, with regards to aesthetics, perhaps speaking specifically about this work, is more about the content, and that the aesthetic that prevails above the beauty or lack thereof in the performance, is the aesthetic of collaboration. It is an aesthetic that is beyond the visible, that can perhaps even be evidenced through reports, pictures, and videos of the process, but that it is only possible to prove by speaking to one of the members of the lab. What is even more difficult of proving, being myself a member of the lab, is that it is possible that the aesthetic only lives in ourselves, because it was our bodies that the lab transformed. Indeed, there were changes in our attitude and thinking after this process, and this is, in my opinion, the aesthetic dimension that matters in appreciating this project as an artistic work.
Previo a la presentación hicimos algunos ensayos in situ, nunca suficientes pero los hicimos. El Jardín Botánico es una institución muy burocrática y era difícil gestionar las preparaciones. Para estas últimas sesiones se sumó Eudes Toncel, artista, escritor y antropólogo con interés especial en temas de género y culturas afro. A la presentación llegamos casi todos a tiempo. Laura Figueroan vino a ayudarnos con detalles, nos trajo los pasamontañas intervenidos con piedras negras de fantasía. Las luces LED las habíamos estado cociendo en las últimas semanas con la ayuda de Duván Puerto que llegó al proyecto gracias a Juan S. Jaramillo y a la agencia de creatividad y tecnología donde trabajaban. Megan Cross Star, miembra del laboratorio fue una de quienes más le puso interés al proceso y especialmente a su traje para esa noche, trajo joyas y maquillaje.Cómo era noche abierta y gratuita en el Jardín Botánico vino más gente de las que esperábamos. Después de 6 meses de planeamiento y especulación el día había llegado. Llovió mucho esa semana, pero afortunados, ese día y noche estuvo despejado y eso ayudó a que tanto los miembros del laboratorio como los visitantes pudieran venir tranquilamente.
Llegó la hora del performance y estábamos listes. Cada une se fue al lugar específico donde trabajaría en la selva nocturna. Empezaron a hacer sus movimientos, lentos, danzas sutiles, mientras los bombillitos LED hacían de luciérnagas. Mi recomendación era: son contenedores de luciérnagas deambulando por la selva. De todas formas nunca habíamos estado allí de noche así que había lugares que yo esperaba que estuvieran más oscuros. Eso hizo que debiera correr a buscar a cada uno a su sitio de trabajo y asegurarme de que se ubicaran en el punto más oscuro posible, pues solo ahí se podía percibir la magia de las lucecitas flotando en el espacio. También con cada une repasé su velocidad de movimiento y la forma en que estaba produciendo el sonido. Camilo llegó tarde aunque lo había advertido, debí ausentarme para llevarle el vestuario a la entrada y darle las instrucciones inmediatas para que incorporarse. Cuando regresamos a la selva vimos que en el centro, donde habíamos planeado el final de la acción, donde todos los cuerpos del performance se encontraban en parejas y hacían un ejercicio de reflejo que aprendimos en la sesión dedicada a explorar el cuerpo dirigida por Juan Mosquera allí mismo hacía un par de meses. Cuando regresamos el espacio estaba lleno de gente y la acción era difícil de apreciar. No tuve de otra que pedir a las personas el favor de abrir espacio y moverse un poco, lo cual después me dijeron, interrumpió la mística del momento, pero tenía que hacerlo. Esta tercera parte de la acción, que llamábamos en la partitura -apareamiento- consistía en hacer una danza ‘reflejo’ en parejas, mientras el volumen de los silbatos se intensificaba hasta el punto que había un pico y el sonido se cortaba al momento en que daba la señal. Entre el público estaban amigues y familiares.
Las semanas anteriores a la presentación tuvimos varios encuentros, en general dedicados al diseño del vestuario y a cocer y hacer la conexión de los LEDS a través de hilos conductores sobre las sudaderas negras. Era un proceso complejo, tuvimos que aprender de positivos y negativos, lilypaths, LEDS, baterías con tiempos de vida y diferentes tipos de potencias. Para mi fue un reto grande pues la tecnología no ha sido mi fuerte. Acercarnos a las nociones fue un útil aprendizaje. Nos vimos en mi casa casi siempre en fines de semana, todes cociendo y charlando inclusive hasta altas horas de la noche.
Vino Todd Lester desde São Paulo, se alojó en casa. Dos días antes estuvimos imprimiendo publicaciones con la información de su fundación Luv ‘Til It Hurts sobre arte y VIH. El entusiasmo y apoyo de Todd ha sido definitivo en todo el desarrollo del proyecto, con la ayuda de Paula Querido Van Erven, brasilera, quien tradujo todas las anteriores relatorías del laboratorio y las publicaron en su plataforma WEB sobre arte y VIH. Todd, por los días del performance organizó un evento en El Parche Artist Residency donde se presentó su proyecto personal como artista, un juego de mesa donde se invita a hablar, discutir y expresarse abiertamente sobre cuestiones relacionadas al VIH/ SIDA.
El elemento sonoro surgió de una manera mágica. Ya habíamos estado hablando mucho sobre cuál podía ser el sonido que acompañara la acción, esto en la sesión dedicada a arte sonora dictado por Mauricio Rivera. Habíamos concluido que lo mejor quizás era encontrar formas de sonidos emitidos desde el cuerpo, naturales, cantos, instrumentos simples, algo así, pero hasta ese momento no habíamos logrado concretar que podría ser. Unas semanas antes de la presentación tuve una tutoría con la artista mexicana Tania Candiani a raíz de mi residencia de diez meses en Flora ARS NATURA. Tania me dijo –pero y ¿has escuchado el canto de las luciérnagas al aparearse? No, le dije. Había consultado literatura sobre luciérnagas, había visto videos y fotografías, ilustraciones, poemas, pero no se nombraba, que yo recuerde, específicamente el sonido de las luciérnagas, quizás porque lo evidente es pensar en las luces que emiten y no en su sonido. Ahora estuve revisando videos de luciérnagas al aparearse y escuché con atención su canto al aparearse. Ese hecho me vino como anillo al dedo, pues el elemento sonoro ahora bajo esta batuta, vendría a ser parte esencial de la acción. Unas días después fui a buscar silbatos artesanales al pasaje Rivas y encontré unos de barro en forma de gallinitas, que sonando al unísono y en la oscuridad, bien podrían ser los chillidos melodiosos que emiten las luciérnagas en su cortejo.
Después de la presentación Mario A Gonzalez, miembro del laboratorio nos invitó a su casa, donde pedimos pizzas y cervezas. Fuimos casi todos los miembros del laboratorio más algunos amigues y familiares. Estuvimos charlando hasta tardísimo, nos preguntamos cómo nos habíamos sentido durante la noche. Algunos miembros del laboratorio se habían ido a hacer videos en un bosque muy oscuro en el Jardín Botánico y trajeron más tarde unes resultados muy interesantes y buenas ideas. Pensamos cómo sería aparecer en grupo con nuestros trajes de LEDS en otros espacio, por ejemplo.
Inmediatamente después de la presentación en mi cabeza rondaba una pregunta sobre la naturaleza de lo estético. Porque el laboratorio, más allá del un éxito o no de la performance, digamos, fue efectivo, funcionó, se dieron las diez sesiones, vinieron les invitades, se crearon lazos de afectividad y trabajo entre les miembres y participantes, surgieron preguntas e ideas importantes sobre la relación de cada uno frente al VIH y este en relación a la actual crisis de migración Venezolana. La pregunta sobre lo estético me seguía rondando de manera acelerada, porque es posible que el performance hubiera sido un poco caótico (es posible que no, pero digamos que se escaparon algunas precisiones sobre las que yo hubiera preferido tener el control) por ejemplo vino mucha más gente de la que esperábamos, los LEDS no se veían tanto como yo hubiera querido pues no había la oscuridad necesaria para que estás surgieran fielmente el efecto imaginado. Pero más allá de eso, la acción funcionó, los cuerpos nos repartimos por la selva y nos encontramos para el momento del cortejo, los LEDS prendieron, emitimos los sonidos que hacían alusión al canto de las luciérnagas al aparearse. He terminado por ir concluyendo que lo importante en cuanto a mi interés como artista frente a lo estético quizás específicamente hablando de este trabajo, es más sobre el contenido. Y la estética que prevalece, por encima más allá de lo bello o no de la performance, es la estética de la colaboración. Es una estética que está más allá de lo visible, que quizás pueda llegar a evidenciarse en relatos, fotos y videos del proceso, pero que solo es posible comprobar al hablar con alguno de los miembros del laboratorio, o y más difícil aún de comprobar, siendo uno de los miembros del laboratorio. Es posible que la estética solo viva en nosotros, porque fue a nosotros a los cuerpos que el laboratorio transformó. Efectivamente hubo cambios de actitud y pensamiento después de este proceso, y ahí esta, según yo, la dimensión estética que importa para apreciar este proyecto como obra o trabajo artístico.