A NEW BOOK OF BEAUTY, INTIMACY, LOSS, AND RENEWAL: ERIC RHEIN: LIFELINES

Institute 193, the innovative gallery and publisher, has announced the publication of Eric Rhein: Lifelines 

This is the first book from artist Eric Rhein: a unique monograph-memoir spanning three decades of his life and artwork. It features intimate photographs taken between 1989 and 2012—including self-portraits and images of friends and lovers from the period between Rhein’s HIV diagnosis, his near death, and the returning vitality that new medications would afford him. As a personal response to the AIDS crisis, these compelling portraits highlight tenderness and care as life-saving forces. 

Kinsmen (self-portrait, with Leaves (an AIDS memorial), the MacDowell Colony),
1996

The book also includes watercolors, delicate assemblages, and wire drawings—notably his ongoing project Leaves, an AIDS memorial honoring over 300 individuals whom Rhein knew. 

Eric’s work embodies love, touch, connection to nature, and to familial and regional history. The artist draws from his Kentucky roots and his family relationship with his uncle Lige Clarke—a gay rights pioneer of the 1960s and 70s. They are inspirations for his art and activism. Rhein mines collective and personal narratives, formulating pieces that are both poetic and documentary. 

Kissing Ken (self-portrait with Ken Davis), 1996

“. . . .Eric Rhein’s most recent book, is an emotional journey through intimate scenes where Eric, his friends, and his lovers share time and space during the AIDS crisis of the 90’s—a time of extreme duress and pain. “Feelings” is a word I often associate with Eric’s gentle artworks: longing, love, lust, life—and this page-turner of a book is ripe with outbursts of intimate emotions. In his photographs and sculptures, Eric memorializes lives lost to AIDS, but he also rightfully celebrates his own survival. I am happy Eric is still here with us and able to communicate what it feels like to have survived a past that informs the experience of living in the present.” 

                                           — Carlos Motta, artist, activist, and documentarian 

The book includes essays by National Book Award-winning poet Mark Doty; former Institute 193 Director Paul Michael Brown; and Rhein. Of Eric’s work, Doty writes, “These images affirm the desiring self at a moment when desire had become dangerous…”

Orchids, 2019
Wire and paper, 11 x 14 x 2 inches
Joe (Joe Piazza), 1993
Ted Mats Me (from Hospital Drawings, Saint Vincent’s Hospital), 1994
Marker on paper, 11 x 12 inches

About Eric Rhein:  Eric has exhibited widely in the United States and abroad, and his work has been reviewed in the New York Times, Huffington Post, ARTnews, Vanity Fair, and Art in America. New York Times critic Holland Cotter wrote of Rhein’s work: “…the combination of art and craft, delicacy and resiliency, feminine and masculine, is exquisitely wrought and is, as it should be, seductive but disturbing.” Eric Rhein is included in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art’s Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project

About the publisher:  Institute 193 collaborates with artists, musicians, and writers to produce exhibitions, publications, and projects that document the cultural landscape of the modern South. 

Release date:  October 27, 2020

Distributed by:  ARTBOOK | Distributed Art Publishers

ADVANCE PURCHASE NOW AVAILBLE:

Purchase through the publisher, Institute 193:

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Homage to a Work Group

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

A WORK GROUP

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

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

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

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

WORK GROUP GOALS

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

ITEMS INCLUDED IN HANDOVER FROM INDIVIDUAL PROJECT TO GROUP PROCESS

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

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LUV Fund$

Image: PogoLand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

LUV, a timeline

Image by Sebastien Sanz de Santamaria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If I had a bit more time…

Image by Todd Lanier Lester 

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

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

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

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

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

On Pedagogical Turns and the Use of Time

[*In 2017 whilst participating in Capacete’s mobile school project on the occasion of Documenta 14 ‘Learning from Athens’, Gian Spina edited a series of articles Documenta in Athens, and co-authored a couple of them. And, I got the chance to work with a friend (in a publishing capacity) on the series. I took particular interest in the two he co-authored, 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), which offer institutional critique for the ‘art school’ and ‘art event’ respectively. While these articles predate Luv ’til it Hurts, the project was already in my mind when working with Gian, and with this project I attempt to both make an HIV & stigma-themed work–that evokes themes and issues within ‘art curating’ and ‘art philanthropy’–and offers criticism on the conditions of production encountered along its two-year course. Thanks Gian for the inspiration!!! xo Todd]

I can think. I can wait. I can fast.

Hermann Hesse, Siddartha

In recent years we have seen a strong increase in the construction of schools as art projects or as new propositions of producing knowledge. Curators and artists present themselves as educators, public programs have become a sort of new-hit, and projects on ephemeral schools are marked as important events.

School of Unlearning, Night School, School of Improper Education, School of Everything, School of Death, School of Redistribution, The School of Nature and Principle, The School of Narrative Dance and Other Surprising Things, School of Improper Education.

With a quick search one can easily find such projects done by artist-educators which are normally followed by nomenclatures such as an education, dis-education, unlearning, dis-learning, learning from Athens. A common ground on many of these projects are the idea of listening as a form of construction, the organization of places for a communal gathering, non-hierarchy, and the desire to exchange and compose forms which distanced from the western neoliberal model of knowledge production and circulation.

But what are the consequences and deployments of a non-western-neoliberal proposition inside of a neoliberal western environment such as the art world? Are we really willing to deconstruct hierarchies, accepting and embracing this notorious knowledge outside of this status-quo, or are we just using this in-vogue-commodity in order to gain recognition?

In the nineteenth century, school played a key role in the formation of the nation states in Europe. It was an important weapon in constructing identity and ideologies and in the development of discourses of knowledge and power. A real state apparatus which constructed the foundation of what would latter be used in a much more sinister way.

One of the main questions when it comes to epistemological turns is “how does one liberate itself from the social historical ideas behind education?” The subjective power makes itself present constantly and to be able to analyze and attempt to dismantle those hidden techniques of power may be the biggest task.

“The idea of the ‘secret schools’ is largely considered to be a national myth that was devised to inspire patriotic feelings in difficult times and to idealise the—often ambigious—spiritual leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church in the country’s collective memory… The topic has continued to receive prominent treatment in Greek history schoolbooks at the past and present century.”
Marina Gioti, The Secret School (2009), digital video (11 min), Documenta 14, Kassel.

Documenta 14 attempted to learn from Athens, but the question persists: were they really listening? Were they prepared for the change of paradigms within the structures which sustain such an event?

It is necessary to analyze both the collateral effects of such commodification of the school in real life and in the art world and to examine what these learning/teaching attempts could provoke. One of the departures regarding education could be the analysis of the linguistic implications of the term and the ideologies which are implicit in it. Inside education lies the notions of “bringing forward” and “bringing up,” which points to a positivistic vision of the world while also creating the problematic of: what is this forward or/and what is this up? In other words, this forward (progress) and this up (north) are still part of a specific ideology, a specific way of seeing the world and simultaneously connecting it to something controllable, shaping subjectivity with its contents and truths and therefore producing power and the possibility of organizing societies according to a specific agenda. Perhaps this is why so many projects regarding school and pedagogy tend to avoid or negate the word education, as a form of bringing up the necessity of thinking beyond this ethos, which is attached to the vertical hierarchical axis where one speaks and the alumni (the one without light) would sit, listen, and obey.

So when thinking about un/an/dis educating we are actually talking not only about a new form of seeing, approaching, and discussing the events but also an “end of a world as we know it,” where the necessity of re-addressing the past, re-writing history, and finding ways of re-conducting ourselves becomes an imperative.

In the recent symposium titled School of Everything,[1] held in Kassel and Athens as part of Documenta 14, Jonas Tinius characterized anthropology as potentially a study of everything and posed questions on how we can “avoid the pitfalls of turning the study of everything into an ideological project of ordering and narrow-mindedness” and on “how one can teach a critical discipline that focuses on appreciating and understanding human experience, and yet is fundamentally based not in theoretical abstraction but in interacting, in doing and in living.”[2]

His introductory statement echoed notions of listening, open-endedness and the beautifully unfocused with regards to education:

Anthropology is a discipline that focuses on the study of human beings, in their ways of being, their interactions with one another and the world, which bring into focus even the post- or non-human. It is a discipline that has in focus everything and is therefore to some extent beautifully unfocused in its theories and obviously also in its approaches. Anthropological approaches are about listening, doubting; its methods are open-ended, some describe the basis of its knowledge production as ‘deep hanging out’[3].…[4]

A very similar approach is the one of Nicolas Austin Legros. Perplexed by the restraints and hierarchical methodologies of western pedagogy, he wishes to embark on a two-year cycling expedition from Athens, all through East Asia, ending in China. His project, titled The Draisian School, originates from the Draisian bike—the ancestor of the bicycle invented by Karl Drais in 1818. The name serves as a metaphor for being on and off the road and for learning to balance between epistemologies (ground knowledge) and interpersonal experiences.

A Masters student himself at the School of Fine Arts in Bordeaux (l’Ecole Supérieur d’Art de Bordeaux), he embarks on this expedition as a means to produce a thesis within and beyond the restrains of the Academy, and thus through a new educational ecology.

Legros describes it as “a school within a school” framed under the appropriation of existing Academic tutorial structures enriched by informal encounters and connections with locals as new generators of learning. Geography, history, music, politics, and everyday rituals become the fundament of a sensorial awakening that takes place through a procedural “being with.” This learning condition positions him in a dual function of a student and a distributor of knowledge/mediator among a constellation of “experts” beyond the geographical restrains of the west.

In a sense, one could read Nicolas Legros’s proposition for a school as an anthropological research (in accordance with Tinius’ line of thoughts) and as a tailoring of an education that doesn’t simply object contemporary/western pedagogies but distills from them all essential discursive and reflective particles to its benefit. It is a journey of understanding human experience, a study of everything, and a “deep hanging out,” beautifully unfocused and yet thoroughly assembled.

But surely if we are not all eager to jump on a bike and embrace a nomadic life as a means of learning, we must ask: how can we construct spaces of deep hanging out as new pedagogical temporalities that evade epistemological hierarchies and surpass dated educational models? And maybe more importantly, could these spaces actually exist, given that the politics of learning are an integral part of the neoliberal regime of operation?

Aware that the commodification of the everyday leaves little (if no) space for modes of exchange, imagination, and sensorial awakening beyond the capitalist structures that define productivity through their dogmatic prism, could those zones of learning become places of unlearning, intending non-productivity not as a shut down but rather as an opposition towards entrenched methods of knowledge production and consumption?

Over the last decade, we have witnessed a plethora of thinkers speaking about the fast change of the human experience, from conversations to walking, from looking to sleeping; a time of permanent syntony in an overexposed world. The subversion or better said eradication of simplified forms of inhabiting the world creates a form of insomnia as a state of sensory impoverishment, of permanent illumination.

Schools have been, with rare exceptions, reinforcing this fast-pace agenda. How then can the school be a place for reclaiming spaces of daydreaming and non-productivity?

We are conditioned to live in a world of “permanent illumination”[5] as the dystopian aftermath of western enlightenment where knowledge production is framed under a photology that surveils and controls it for the sake of productivity and the capital benefits. This conditioning serves the appearance of an improvement of our social status, of our economic situation, and our standard of living; it creates lifestyles and mediates them as desirable truths. From that, what many (Jonathan Crary / Christophe Bouton/ André Lepecki / Jorge Larrosa Bondia) have perceived is the arise of an impoverishment of the experience through the increase of information, a dispossession of the self, a form of amnesia in a disenchanted world “in its eradication of shadows and obscurity and of alternative temporalities.”[6]

This is certainly a metaphor, but the regime of information plays an important role when thinking about both our daily experiences and the pedagogical turns which are here the subject. However, if we attempt to incorporate those ideas into a more expanded application of pedagogy there should be a place for the darkness, not just as a metaphor or antonym of the permanent illumination we are living in, but as place of being in another rhythm, as a possible place of resistance that exists within that which is already out there in the world. André Lepecki calls this potentiality of darkness “the dark promise,” which conditions the creation of something away from the fraudulent brightness that the state delivers, “a darkness in the light that operates fugitivity.”[7] We could therefore think of the school as a dark promise, as an environment emerging from the temporal condition of deep hanging out where time can literally make its presence perceived.

One could identify this as a form of escapism, a moment of silence or a pause. But as witnesses of the commodification of those ideas through the commercialisation of leisure, we can no longer speak in those terms. What is truly elaborated here is a form of learning beyond the imposed politics of time and productivity, a constellation of periodic raptures of some sort that encompass a non-western perception of time that supports and shapes productivity as an elusive entity. And though we talk about a prototype for a school, education, or pedagogy, we are in the most profound way confronted with a fundamental question: how do we deal with the very precious tool we have, which is time, and what do we with it? Perhaps this calls for the construction of forms for preventing its complete and total privatization. A condition of being with and feeding from each other and from multiple “others” (human and non-human) through seeing, listening, caring, offering, and thus living; a doing nothing, but doing a lot.

And while this might appear as a paradox, it does legitimise itself through a temporality that evades deadlines, solid outcomes, a quantification of its processes, and the urgency for a mediation of its encounters.

In late March this year, CAPACETE art residency (Brazil) landed in Athens, forming an approximately eight-month residency titled CAPACETE ATHENS. Transposing its modus operandi from South America to the Greece, this “gathering” of ten Latin American and two Greek artists framed itself as an experiment and proposed a first semester of listening, being together, and engaging with Documenta 14 and the local communities without having a necessary goal—actually there are no imperatives in its proposition. That is to say, we are changing and being changed by being, by contemplating and letting things happen, a program without a program. Perhaps this is the common point of some of the ideas which embrace the non-productivist use of time, to concentrate on being-together, on giving the phenomena a chance to happen without pressure or imperatives.

To come under the shade of this mango tree with such deliberateness and to experience the fulfillment of solitude emphasize my need for communion. While I am physically alone proves that I understand the essentiality of to be with.

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Heart


[1] See: http://www.documenta14.de/en/calendar/23511/the-school-of-everything-at-the-parliament-of-bodies and http://www.documenta14.de/en/calendar/22574/the-school-of-everything.

[2] Jonas Tinius, “Anthropology and/as the Study of Everything? Paradoxes, Potentials, and Pitfalls,” School of Everything, Kassel & Athens, July 2017.

[3] See: http://cyborganthropology.com/Deep_Hanging_Out

[4] Jonas Tinius, “Anthropology and/as the Study of Everything? Paradoxes, Potentials, and Pitfalls,” School of Everything, Kassel & Athens, July 2017.

[5] Jonathan Crary, 24/7 – Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, (Verso, 2014), p.14.

[6] Transcription from recording: André Lepecki, “Are You Alive Or Not? Looking at Art Through the Lens of Theatre,” Studium Generale Rietveld Academie Conference-Festival, Amsterdam, March 2015.

[7] Transcription from recording: André Lepecki, “Are You Alive Or Not? Looking at Art Through the Lens of Theatre,” Studium Generale Rietveld Academie Conference-Festival, Amsterdam, March 2015.

Head image: The School of Narrative Dance, Under The Mango Tree, Kassel – source: instagram @aneducation_documenta14


Article originally published on ArtsEverywhere, on August 22nd, 2017.

Waiting for the After-Effects of Documenta 14 in Athens

[*In 2017 whilst participating in Capacete’s mobile school project on the occasion of Documenta 14 ‘Learning from Athens’, Gian Spina edited a series of articles Documenta in Athens, and co-authored a couple of them. And, I got the chance to work with a friend (in a publishing capacity) on the series. I took particular interest in the two he co-authored, 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), which offer institutional critique for the ‘art school’ and ‘art event’ respectively. While these articles predate Luv ’til it Hurts, the project was already in my mind when working with Gian, and with this project I attempt to both make an HIV & stigma-themed work–that evokes themes and issues within ‘art curating’ and ‘art philanthropy’–and offers criticism on the conditions of production encountered along its two-year course. Thanks Gian for the inspiration!!! xo Todd]

This article is part of a series of texts which are being produced throughout 2017 from Athens, Greece — a city which has been going through severe changes and now has the peculiarity of hosting one of the most influential international art festivals: Documenta 14. This series of eight articles will engage a heterogeneous group of writers to address a range of problematics. The core of the project is not to concentrate on specific forms or content, but to allow themes to arise which are outside of the hegemonic narrative, thereby cultivating a space that captures motifs that we otherwise might not grasp.


Waiting for the After-Effects of Documenta 14 in Athens

At the beginning of April a group composed of ten Latin Americans and two Greeks came together to do a nine month residency in Athens. The program, called CAPACETE, has been running in Rio de Janeiro for the past 20 years. This year, as part of the public program of documenta 14, Capacete has extended an arm to Greece, creating the platform that now hosts us. We are here regardless of our commitment to a formal research project. There’s no precise mission or goal, but this doesn’t necessarily means that we are here for no reason.

The group came together through the application process to an open call, which particularly did not require the formal proposition of any concrete goal or duties to be done during this time. It is based on the idea of a group going to a specific place and spending time there, embracing the context, learning from it, and constructing something from the experience of being embedded in the local dynamics. The curatorial perspective of the residency is informed by questions such as: What kind of processes will arise from the encounters of these cultural inventors with the people who inhabit this place? What does it mean to be in a nine month residency program without having to do anything formally? What does it mean to not have a plan?

That proposition contradicts the productivist modus operandi of the art world. Little by little cultural programs, courses, exhibitions and residencies tend to put themselves as alternatives to the status quo, when in reality they re-produce the same mechanisms and the same fast-paced logic of the market. The Capacete program proposes not only a dilated usage of time, but also an empirical process of learning and creating through a real conviviality and immersion in this European context; a juxtaposition of empirical, theoretical, practical, and non-productivist time pedagogy.

At the same time, we didn’t just come to “some” place to immerse in “some” European context, but to a very specific place in a very specific period of its history. We came to a city under intense external intervention, catapulted by enormous financial and biopolitical crises that opened the path for contemporary strategies of precarization, imperialism, and colonial update — which, by the same token, has created an atmosphere of contestation that now justifies the existence of programs such as the one we are part of. This is to say that we are in Athens and that we came because of Documenta’s movement towards here, and that this particular location changes everything.

Since the launching of the project, but especially after its big opening on the 8th of April, Documenta has faced huge criticism concerning its presence here in Athens. Recently an open letter was released by a collective called Artists Against Evictions which was addressed to the viewers, participants, and cultural workers of Documenta 14: Learning from Athens. In one of the paragraphs we read the following statement:

Your jostling bodies crowd the streets of Athens, your mouths are speaking of our hardship, your feet are pounding the pavements. But this is not enough. Now is a time for carving out a space for all, not a time of culturally archiving crisis. Now is a time of action not blind consumption. We ask you to redirect your limbs into the shadows and the black outs, away from the feast the Mayor of Athens has staged for you.

You say you want to learn from Athens, well first open your eyes to the city and listen to the streets.

On the other hand, the chief-curator of Documenta, Adam Szymczyk, in one of his public statements of the week said:

Naturally one could accuse us that we didn’t engage enough with the local art scene. We weren’t that interested in the Athens art scene, but rather in the city as a living organism. And that goes beyond contemporary art. Athens does not stand on its own, it also stands for other places in this world. Lagos. Guatemala city. We are equally engaged with this here. The expectation, to connect ourselves with the Athens art scene, would be much too narrow for this Documenta.

In talking with Greeks from the so-called art world we quickly noticed a disgust with all aspects of this festival. Why do Germans want to learn from Greeks now? Are they really willing to do such a thing? In the opening week we could hardly hear any Greek been spoken. The vernissage party was a copy-paste of a traditional German fabrik-techno party; it felt more like an imposition of how, to a certain degree, things should be done, than a real open dialogue, as the chief-curator tried to propose.

Comparing both statements, the one from the open letter and the one from the chief-curator, it is easy to notice how Documenta neither connects with the Athens art world, nor with the “city as a living organism.” The relationship between the festival’s network and the city described by the Artists Against Evictions exposes the contradictions of the very aim of the curatorial team’s proposition. When they suggest that the viewers, participants, and cultural workers of Documenta “open their eyes to the city and listen to the streets,” they are calling attention to the wounds in the “living organism” of Athens which are overshadowed by the overexposed lighting of the exhibition’s venues.

Wor(l)ds and Narratives

“Global south,” “Financial Crisis,” “Refugee Crisis,” etc. Today’s nomenclature exposes a much more sophisticated relationship of power between the subaltern and hegemonic, the colonized and colonizer. This diffuse form of constructing hierarchy leads us to a force field full of contradictions, questions without answers, and problematics that require a different form of performing responsibility.

In the seminar “The Gesture of Hospitality” held in the public program called “The Parliament of Bodies”, one of documenta 14‘s curators, Hendrik Folkerts, was asked about the power relationships that have materialized through this edition of Documenta. His response commented on the possibility for an ethical commitment to the detachment of the curatorial premise of documenta 14 from the colonial apparatuses of Documenta as an institution, by putting into practice an approach using indigenous thinking and aesthetics, biopolitical activisms, and other forms of contemporary political and artistic contestation. He added, however, that his position might have been too naïve for not taking into account the political dimensions of the geopolitical game that documenta 14 contributes to.

To claim a naïve position within a dominant framework means, in a certain way, a disregard for the contextual and political implications of one’s own subject position. This effect should not be ignored, since it reproduces the very logic which configures the historical position of the Eurocentric subject. The erasure of such accountability through the claim of a naïveté concerning the power relations that make up the international (art) world, which can be read as part of the fundamental axis of such geo- and bio-political games, tends to empower the systems in place. In other words, it enhances the historical oppositions such as subaltern/dominant, colonized/colonizer, and local contexts/global investments of power, instead of operating as they claim to: as mediators of these dualities in the spaces between them.

If we consider the history of such art events, they are a development of what were called previously “World’s Fairs (Exposition Universelle),” which had not only exhibited the machines and products of the industrial revolution, but also the achievements of the colonial enterprise. The vastness of the empires was portrayed and exposed in those gigantic exhibitions. In 1895 two important events took place: the first was the launching of the Venice Biennale (as a result or development of the Universal Fairs), and the second was the formalization of the Berlin Congress, which regulated what is called the Scramble for Africa, or the partition of the continent amongst imperialist powers. This period gave birth to the new imperialism and to exhibitions such as the Biennales and other forms of colonial exhibitions.

The “coincidence” that those events took place at the same historical moment gives us a sense of the entanglement of the ideas and the approach which have been criticized in Documenta’s Learning from Athens project, and, at the same time, it exposes its historical persistence, since the platform for the development of a critical turn today is the same one that created the problem. What if the changes in the narratives, modes of writing, and performance of power has paradoxically perpetuated the very same dominant discourse? What if this critical turn, which now inserts words and narratives on decoloniality, anti-capitalist activism, political solidarity, and biopolitical contestation into a culturally hegemonic framework, could not simply detach itself from its own historical contradictions regarding colonial and imperialist heritages?

While these questions cannot be answered, they may lead us to an ontological paradox: the impossibility of a turn inside of a system built to embrace its own contradictions. In other words, the problem that documenta 14 has to face now is the one of its own implication in the processes that this curatorial project seems to criticize or attempt to surpass. To merely archive the voices of resistance and the aesthetics of contestation within the infrastructure inherited by colonial and imperialist powers, could be read, thus, as not a form of learning from, but of earning from. This is to say that the critique performed by this exhibition has no political effect if it is detached from a certain form of radical self-critique.


Photo by Theo Prodromidis

After the event

We do not want to claim an outside position, since we came here through an articulation between Documenta, CAPACETE and the Fine Arts School of Athens. We are part of it, so the open letter by the Artists Against Evictions is also targeted at us. We are, in a sense, part of the problem and we must embrace these contradictions as ours without being confined by it. But how can we operate from our own position as a breach within Documenta’s environment, since we are inside — as participants of the residency — but not exactly related to the institution? At the same time, what forms of political accountability must we enact in order not to erase our own implication in the problem? How can we operate a form of contestation which does not create some sort of heroic avatar for ourselves?

We are again posing questions without answers and those are some of the questions that will live with us even after the event. When Documenta leaves Athens in July, we will still be here, as part of the “legacy” — or of the after-effect — of Documenta’s crossing through the Greek context. If, in a certain way, it creates a possibility of interaction which cannot be reduced to Documenta’s form of acting in this specific context, it at the same time enhances the contradictory aspect of our presence here. Then how do we inhabit those contradictions? How do we stay here as a form of staying with the trouble?


Article originally published on ArtsEverywhere, on May 31st 2017

Paula Nishijima on LUV (red site)

[*In the process of making Luv ’til it Hurts (starting with a two-year staged impersonation by its alter-ego, Luv Hurts), I began working with fellow artists, Paula Nishijima and Brad Walrond. Paula reviewed my organization of ideas & content from its 2018-20 archive (a.k.a. the red site) using her ‘swarm’ methodology to understand patterns, and ultimately to propose the project’s next online iteration.]

Larry Kramer, Playwright and Outspoken AIDS Activist, Dies at 84

The author and activist Larry Kramer at an AIDS conference in New York in 1987. In the early 1980s, Mr. Kramer was among the first people to foresee that what had at first caused alarm as a rare form of cancer among gay men would spread worldwide and kill millions of people. Credit: Catherine McGann/Getty Images


[*I once saw Larry outside of the VIP performance of ‘A Normal Heart’. He was handing out fliers to people exiting the theater. I remember he, Urvashi Vaid and Kate Clinton exchanging warm greetings as he shoved a flier in their hands gruffly. It seems he never stopped pushing an HIV-related agenda. The other day a partner on the LUV project in Warsaw, Jakub Szczęsny sent me a two-word text ‘Larry Kramer’, and while I’m not sure what made Jakub think of him, he reminded me I want to commemorate his life of being importantly difficult on the LUV site! xo Todd]


He sought to shock the country into dealing with AIDS as a public-health emergency and foresaw that it could kill millions regardless of sexual orientation.

By Daniel Lewis
May 27, 2020

Larry Kramer, the noted writer whose raucous, antagonistic campaign for an all-out response to the AIDS crisis helped shift national health policy in the 1980s and ’90s, died on Wednesday morning in Manhattan. He was 84.

His husband, David Webster, said the cause was pneumonia. Mr. Kramer had weathered illness for much of his adult life. Among other things he had been infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, contracted liver disease and underwent a successful liver transplant.

An author, essayist and playwright — notably hailed for his autobiographical 1985 play, “The Normal Heart” — Mr. Kramer had feet in both the world of letters and the public sphere. In 1981 he was a founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the first service organization for H.I.V.-positive people, though his fellow directors effectively kicked him out a year later for his aggressive approach. (He returned the compliment by calling them “a sad organization of sissies.”)

He was then a founder of a more militant group, Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), whose street actions demanding a speedup in AIDS drugs research and an end to discrimination against gay men and lesbians severely disrupted the operations of government offices, Wall Street and the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

Mr. Kramer at his apartment in Manhattan in 1987.
Mr. Kramer at his apartment in Manhattan in 1987.Credit…Ángel Franco/The New York Times

“One of America’s most valuable troublemakers,” Susan Sontag called him.

Even some of the officials Mr. Kramer accused of “murder” and “genocide” recognized that his outbursts were part of a strategy to shock the country into dealing with AIDS as a public-health emergency.

In the early 1980s, he was among the first activists to foresee that what had at first caused alarm as a rare form of cancer among gay men would spread worldwide, like any other sexually transmitted disease, and kill millions of people without regard to sexual orientation. Under the circumstances, he said, “If you write a calm letter and fax it to nobody, it sinks like a brick in the Hudson.”

Demonstrators in front of the New York Stock Exchange in 1989 protesting the high cost of the AIDS drug AZT. The protest was organized by the militant group Act Up, of which Mr. Kramer was a founder.
Demonstrators in front of the New York Stock Exchange in 1989 protesting the high cost of the AIDS drug AZT. The protest was organized by the militant group Act Up, of which Mr. Kramer was a founder.Credit…Tim Clary/Associated Press

The infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was one who got the message — after Mr. Kramer wrote an open letter published in The San Francisco Examiner in 1988 calling him a killer and “an incompetent idiot.”

“Once you got past the rhetoric,” Dr. Fauci said in an interview for this obituary, “you found that Larry Kramer made a lot of sense, and that he had a heart of gold.”

[Read about Dr. Fauci’s relationship with Larry Kramer.]

Mr. Kramer, he said, had helped him to see how the federal bureaucracy was indeed slowing the search for effective treatments. He credited Mr. Kramer with playing an “essential” role in the development of elaborate drug regimens that could prolong the lives of those infected with H.I.V., and in prompting the Food and Drug Administration to streamline its assessment and approval of certain new drugs.

In recent years Mr. Kramer developed a grudging friendship with Dr. Fauci, particularly after Mr. Kramer developed liver disease and underwent the transplant in 2001; Dr. Fauci helped get him into a lifesaving experimental drug trial afterward.

Their bond grew stronger this year, when Dr. Fauci became the public face of the White House task force on the coronavirus epidemic, opening him to criticism in some quarters.

“We are friends again,” Mr. Kramer said in an email to the reporter John Leland of The New York Times for an article published at the end of March. “I’m feeling sorry for how he’s being treated. I emailed him this, but his one line answer was, ‘Hunker down.’”

At his death Mr. Kramer was at work on a play centered on the epidemic. “It’s about gay people having to live through three plagues,” he told Mr. Leland — H.I.V./AIDS, Covid-19 and the decline of the human body, an inevitability brought home to him last year when he fell and broke a leg in his apartment, then lay on the floor for hours waiting for a home attendant to arrive.

Mr. Kramer enjoyed provocation for its own sake — he once introduced Mayor Edward I. Koch of New York to his pet wheaten terrier as the man who was “killing Daddy’s friends” — and this could sometimes overshadow his achievements as an author and social activist.

His breakthrough as a writer came with a screen adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s “Women in Love,” for which he had obtained the film rights with $4,200 of his own money. He also produced the film, which was a box-office hit when it was released in 1969 and a high point of more than one career. The screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award; Glenda Jackson won an Oscar as best actress for her performance; and the director, Ken Russell, established himself as an important filmmaker.

Four years later, Mr. Kramer wrote the screenplay for the ill-fated musical remake of the classic 1937 film “Lost Horizon.”

Mr. Kramer’s breakthrough as a writer came with his screen adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s “Women in Love” (1969), directed by Ken Russell. The movie’s cast included, from left, Eleanor Bron, Jennie Linden, Alan Bates, Oliver Reed and Glenda Jackson.
Mr. Kramer’s breakthrough as a writer came with his screen adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s “Women in Love” (1969), directed by Ken Russell. The movie’s cast included, from left, Eleanor Bron, Jennie Linden, Alan Bates, Oliver Reed and Glenda Jackson.Credit…MGM

Mr. Kramer eventually turned to gay themes, and in his first novel, “Faggots,” he did so with a vengeance. A scathing look at promiscuous sex, drug use, predation and sadomasochism among gay men, it was a lightning rod from the day of its publication in 1978.

Some reviewers simply found it beyond belief. (On the contrary, Mr. Kramer responded, it was more a documentary than a work of fiction.) Others complained that it libeled gay people generally, that it lacked literary merit, and that the narrator’s epiphany — one “must have the strength and courage to say no” — was not exactly a stroke of genius.

“Faggots” drew a line between Mr. Kramer and a significant number of gay men, who saw him as an old-fashioned moralist or even a hysteric. In various forums well into the 1990s, he found himself called on to defend his point of view, which was essentially that gay men and lesbians had a diminished chance of living fulfilling lives or producing great art so long as they defined themselves primarily in terms of their sexual orientation.

He preached not only protected sex but also the virtues of affection, commitment and stability — arguments that anticipated the values of the movement for same-sex marriage.

Laurence David Kramer was born on June 25, 1935, in Bridgeport, Conn., the second son of George and Rea (Wishengrad) Kramer. George Kramer had earned undergraduate and law degrees from Yale University but was unable to make a decent living during the Depression. Rea Kramer supported the family by working in a shoe store and teaching English to immigrants. In 1941, George got a government job in Washington, and the family moved.

By his own account, Larry had a miserable childhood and hated his father. His protective older brother, Arthur, was the scholar-athlete of the family, on his way to becoming a prominent lawyer. Larry read the Hollywood gossip columns.

“From the day Larry was born until the day my father died, they were antagonists,” Arthur Kramer told Vanity Fair in 1992.

Nor were the two brothers always on the easiest terms. In “The Normal Heart,” Arthur Kramer is represented by the character Ben Weeks, a man with ambivalent feelings about his brother’s homosexuality. But they shared an abiding affection until Arthur’s death in 2008. Arthur gave $1 million to Yale in 2001 to establish the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies, and his law firm became active in pro bono work for causes like same-sex marriage.

Larry Kramer himself married his partner, Mr. Webster, in 2013, in a ceremony in the intensive care unit of NYU Langone Medical Center, where Mr. Kramer was recovering from surgery for a bowel obstruction.

Mr. Kramer at home in 1989, a year after he learned he was H.I.V. positive.
Mr. Kramer at home in 1989, a year after he learned he was H.I.V. positive.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

In 1953, Mr. Kramer, like his father and brother before him, enrolled at Yale. He studied English literature, tried to kill himself once and had a liberating affair with a male professor.

After graduating in 1957 and serving a tour in the Army, he worked in New York, first for the William Morris Agency and then for Columbia Pictures. In 1961, Columbia sent him to London, where he worked as production executive on “Dr. Strangelove” and “Lawrence of Arabia.” He returned to the United States in 1972.

He got into AIDS work in the summer of 1981 after reading an article about deadly cases of a rare cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma, among young gay men. It had previously been associated mostly with older men. A meeting of about 80 people in his New York apartment the next week led to the formation of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

For the next several years, Mr. Kramer threw himself into fund-raising, lobbying and confrontation, and also into his writing. His landmark essay “1,112 and Counting,” which appeared in the March 14, 1983, issue of The New York Native, was one of many articles taking gay men to task for apathy.

The urgency of his life found its way into his plays. “The Normal Heart,” which opened at the Public Theater in April 1985 and ran for nine months, was a passionate account of the early years of AIDS and his campaign to get somebody to do something about it.

“The Normal Heart” returned to the stage in 2011, to powerful effect. “By the play’s end,” Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote in his review, “even people who think they have no patience for polemical theater may find their resistance has melted into tears. No, make that sobs.”

That production won the Tony Award for best revival of a play. An HBO adaptation, written by Mr. Kramer, won the 2014 Emmy for outstanding television movie.

Less successful was Mr. Kramer’s “Just Say No,” a sendup of official morality aimed at familiar targets, including Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Widely criticized as crude and nasty, it opened Off Broadway in October 1988 and closed a month later.

That same year, tests confirmed what Mr. Kramer had long suspected: He was carrying the virus that causes AIDS.

“A new fear has now joined my daily repertoire of emotions, and my nighttime ones, too,” he wrote in the afterword to a later edition of his 1989 book, “Reports From the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist.” “But life has also become exceptionally more precious and, ironically, I am happier.”

Mr. Kramer in 2011 in front of the John Golden Theater in New York, where his 1985 play, “The Normal Heart,” returned to the stage to powerful effect.
Mr. Kramer in 2011 in front of the John Golden Theater in New York, where his 1985 play, “The Normal Heart,” returned to the stage to powerful effect.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

He turned his attention to another autobiographical play, ultimately titled “The Destiny of Me,” which opened in 1992. Recalling the development of that work in an essay for The Times, he called it “one of those ‘family’-slash-‘memory’ plays I suspect most playwrights feel compelled to try their hand at in a feeble attempt, before it’s too late, to find out what their lives have been all about.”

As the play came to life during rehearsals at the Circle Repertory Company, Mr. Kramer wrote, it was a revelation even to him: “The father I’d hated became someone sad to me; and the mother I’d adored became a little less adorable, and no less sad.”

He and Mr. Webster, an architect, began living together in 1994, and Mr. Kramer was able to devote much of his time to writing, in spite of being ill for many more years. Believing that he would die soon, he began putting his literary affairs in order. In fact, The Associated Press reported in 2001 that he had died.

The real plot twist, though, was that the H.I.V. infection had not progressed; he instead had terminal liver disease, traceable to a hepatitis B infection decades earlier. He underwent the liver transplant in Pittsburgh a few days before Christmas 2001.

At the same time, he had been working on a mammoth project, a historical novel called “The American People,” by which he meant the gay American people — a central tenet of which was that many of the country’s historically important figures, including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, had had homosexual relationships.

A first volume, almost 800 pages long, was published in 2015. Volume 2, more than 80 pages longer, was published in 2020.

The reviews for “The American People, Volume 1: Search for My Heart” were not kind. Dwight Garner of The Times, for example, called it “a frantic novel that builds up little to no narrative momentum.”

Mr. Kramer in 2017. “Once you got past the rhetoric,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, an adversary who became a friend, “you found that Larry Kramer made a lot of sense, and that he had a heart of gold.”
Mr. Kramer in 2017. “Once you got past the rhetoric,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, an adversary who became a friend, “you found that Larry Kramer made a lot of sense, and that he had a heart of gold.”Credit…Joshua Bright for The New York Times

“It wasn’t given much serious attention,” Mr. Kramer told The Times in 2017. “Most people seemed to review me, not the book: Loudmouth activist Larry Kramer has written a loudmouth book.”

“The American People, Volume 2: The Brutality of Fact,” whose protagonist was based on Mr. Kramer, took its story almost to the present and took scabrous aim at characters clearly based on Ronald Reagan, Hugh Hefner and others. The reviews were not much better.

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But while Mr. Garner for one found much to dislike, his Times review was not unsympathetic.

“It’s a mess, a folly covered in mirrored tiles, but somehow it’s a beautiful and humane one,” he wrote. “I can’t say I liked it. Yet, on a certain level, I loved it.”

Looking back in 2017 on his early days as an activist, Mr. Kramer, frail but still impassioned, explained the thinking behind his approach:

“I was trying to make people united and angry. I was known as the angriest man in the world, mainly because I discovered that anger got you further than being nice. And when we started to break through in the media, I was better TV than someone who was nice.”

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

Article originally published in The New York Times on May 22nd, 2020

Every Where Alien’s POETICS + PANDEMICS

Pictured: Brad Walrond and Alberto Pereira Jr.

poetics & pandemics is conceived as a Quarterly virtual publishing & performance platform that takes seriously the role of word, voice, ideas, and semiotics in framing how pandemics like HIV & Covid-19 root themselves in cultural landscapes. We will curate a quarterly open mic that features the written and performance work of artists, poets, critical thinkers. Open mic will be a mix of performance and interview as we engage contributors work and ideas in context to the current and historical events delimited by a focus on our anticipated changing theme.

To make the most of our time our exhibitions, curated open mics, art/artist/artivist showcases will be framed among four key themes:

race: dna of disparities and underlying conditions

health disparities and co-morbidities are not new; pandemics do however occasion the re-opening of these systemic, pervasive, insistent sores and pushes them in the face of new publics in arresting uncomfortable ways.  through the voices of keen artivists and organizers whose lifework and cultural contributions make way for the artivist spaces we occupy now

we want to animate our lived and living histories and hold these in conversation with contemporary voices and movements. In the American context COVID-19 lays bare

 how these disparities structure around world historical organizing principles like race and white supremacy. The focus here hopes to hold the emergent themes surrounding this new pandemic in conversation with that of HIV/AIDS in the American and global contexts. 

[Other Countries, Colin Robinson]

desire: the 3-D & the geosocial

the logics of DNA everywhere is bio-diversity and reproduction. Human DNA is no different. Pandemics invariably change how humans weigh the temporary and long-term risk of all things conjugal. We explore here how cultures mitigate the sex, sex work, sexual acts, gender and sexual identities, and norms attendant to desire against the imagined and real-life risks of transmission, illness, and death.

We insist on being a venue that centers the voices of all bodies, gender and sex expansive identities and communities. By zooming in on desire and each its tidy and untidy manifestations we hope to place how bodies find themselves and each other in virtual and 3-D spaces in conversation with public and political norms contending with the new realities pandemic induce.

poli-cliques: political and culture war

pandemics cleave to the boundaries and fissures in society and twist them into new, often malignant nodes. The terror associated with disease, risk, exposure, and spread grab hold of our penchant for groups and induce anticipatable and unexpected realignments. In the social media age this reconfiguring is catalyzed and amplified perhaps like no other time in human history 

poisoned pill: science, faith & myth

pandemics create new worlds out of our collective and individual imaginations. These new terroires are rife with opportunities to spur scientific and cultural innovation. They are also fraught with new corrosive incentives to aggrandize and succumb to our darkest fears and genocidal inclinations.  Explore how the life of the mind push and pull societies across the beautiful and brutal provinces of science, myth, and myth.

To do this work in a way that is both exciting, engaging, interactive, and nuanced, our collaborators and cultural production will be anchored along four key axis:

generational: survivor insight & instincts

showcase the first-hand expertise, insight, and lived experience of survivors, artists, activists infected or deeply impacted by these pandemics;

context: parochial, regional, & global

common/familiar themes live very different lives as we move in, through, and out of local and region discourse and territories into global ones; our work hopes to elucidate these distinctions and explore how they engage and co-create even as they influence unique and sometimes divergent outlooks and outcomes

dimension: disciplines & praxis

we will enlist a multi-disciplinary approach as we curate the work of our collaborators across a range of academic and creative disciplines and praxis; our systems level approach understands the value-added to curating work that arises out of multiple contexts and diverse voices.

innovation: posters and PSAs:

pandemics are dynamic material and non-material environments. They create and produce language, discourse and semiotics that marshal new communities and organizing principles. We aim to explore these histories as they draw upon discipline specific jargon(s) and historical and contemporary cultural memory to deploy instrumental and transformational memes in our virtual and physical worlds both old and new.

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