LUV, a timeline

Image by Sebastien Sanz de Santamaria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If I had a bit more time…

Image by Todd Lanier Lester 

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

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

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

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

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

Biography – Leaves

Eric Rhein
Frank the Visionkeeper (Frank Moore 1956-2002)
(from Leaves, an AIDS Memorial)
2013, wire and paper, 16”x13”x2”

1. There are more than 300 individuals represented in Leaves. I say more than 300 because I know that there are more than 300, but it’s  challenging for me to keep track. 
When I started the project in 1996 I set out to keep making tribute for everyone I knew to die from complications from AIDS going forward. That is how it’s grown to represent so many. I’ve held on to this concept, though I haven’t been able to keep up. So – I have a backlog of people to make leaves for. Some of this is in my head – some on scraps of paper. . . Over time I hope to be able to back track and fill in those I’ve yet to do. This is yet to be seen. There are corresponding aspects that I am behind in – Like writing biographies for those represented, and other texts. I could use some grant money and assistance / interns to help with these things. 

2. I use all kinds of leaves – not just Maples. If you look at the images of Leaves I’ve sent you, or on my website, you’ll see all species of leaves representing individuals. I don’t think of the species of tree representing the individuals, as much of some nuance of the leaf. On some occasions, though, a species may come into play – like with Frank Moore (Frank the Visionary), he is represented by a Oak Leaf – as he was a strong formative figure. The imperfections (holes) in Frank’s leaf suggest to me some vulnerability, and physical challenges he went through. 

3. There is a “Public List” of names (if incomplete) on my website, and in a few publications. Whenever any works from Leaves are exhibited, or published, I have the names of the piece included in the titling. As the project itself is evolving and incomplete. so is the list of names. You can see a list on my website. https://ericrhein.com/leaf_tributes.htm

Biography – Hummingbirds

Eric Rhein
Hummingbirds – Installation of Six
2016, wire and paper, (each one is 16”x13”x2”)

For Eric Rhein there is a metaphysical aspect to creating his wire drawings of hummingbirds and having them go out into the world. “The Aztecs believed that hummingbirds were the reincarnation of warriors, and that their presence had the ability to transform conflict—both internal and external.” 

“My mother keeps a hummingbird feeder outside of her sliding glass doors and takes great pleasure nurturing these seemingly delicate, yet powerful creatures, as she’s done with me through my years of living with HIV.”

What matters to me is the interconnectedness, sympathetic relationships, and the commonalities we can feel for all things in the natural world. Images of nature are used as a metaphor for the cycles of human experience: birth, life, death, and regeneration.”

One luv ends and another begins; HIV2020; etc.

Originally HIV2020 was to be held in Mexico City as an alternate meeting to AIDS2020 that was to be held in San Francisco. The biennial AIDS conference is a big show, and cities compete to host it for its business. There’s a tenet of the meeting that it alternates between ‘north’ and ‘south’ countries. AIDS2018 was in Amsterdam, but for some reason the decision that it be in San Francisco was made, which in turn gave rise to HIV2020. Luv ’til it Hurts was launched at AIDS2018 with a postcard series by the artist Kairon Liu and his project, Humans as Hosts. And, since it’s a two-year project (at first), we have a major milestone now two years later as both AIDS2020 and HIV2020 go totally online due to COVID19.

The ANKH Association and Luv-affiliated artist, Alberto Pereira Jr. proposed a physical exhibition and live performance respectively for HIV2020 under the title ‘Luv ‘til It Hurts: Experiences from Egypt & Brazil’ (and before COVID19 struck). These are now both online in the virtual art exhibit convened by HIV2020. See:  https://www.hiv2020.org/hiv2020-ope-005

Back when HIV2020 was to be a physical event in Mexico City, we were considering how to pay for travel, registration and lodging. For lodging, the project Human Hotel by Danish duo Wooloo offered to help find housing using their local network in Mexico DF. A big THANKS to Wooloo for offering this, and a big CONGRATS to Ankh Association and Alberto Pereira Jr. for their entries to HIV2020 Online!!!

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

[*We invite you to check out the new website (www.luvtilithurts.co) that sprang up around the two-year mark. Right now Alberto’s video performance is holding space there, but by the end of July the whole site will be in plain view. And, you will see what we’re thinking about for the future of luv.]

Codename: Exquisite Corpse

[*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.

Voila!

Jakub Szczesny
SZCZ: www.szcz.com.pl 

Game of Swarms descends upon LUV

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.

paulanishijima.com

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More instructions for afterlife (next-LUV) designer

[*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.


Next week when?

A preamble for shifting gears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A pre-Covid 19 estimation of LUV

Brainstorming in New York at the Goethe Institut

[*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.

                                                 —bw

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