May 31–June 16, 2018
Price: Free
Type of event:
Visual AIDS Event
  • La MaMa Galleria
  • 47 Great Jones Street
  • New York, NY, 10012

Cell Count

La MaMa Galleria
47 Great Jones Street
New York, NY, 10012
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Cell Count 
Curated by Kyle Croft and Asher Mones for Visual AIDS 

In the last ten years, HIV-specific criminal statutes have been used in over 300 prosecutions in the United States, resulting in prison sentences of up to thirty years. The nature of these laws varies across the thirty-four states where they are currently in effect, but the majority criminalize the act of HIV non-disclosure, placing people living with HIV at risk of prosecution and incarceration for consensual sexual activity if they do not notify their partner of their HIV status, regardless of condom use, viral load, or the actual risk of transmission. Other statutes enhance sentences for crimes relating to sex work, heightening misdemeanors to felony status when the defendant is HIV positive. Even states without HIV-specific statutes have prosecuted people living with HIV under aggravated assault, attempted murder, and bioterrorism charges. While recent reforms in California, Colorado, and Iowa speak to a growing movement against HIV criminalization, these laws are often overlooked in conversations about the contemporary landscape of HIV and AIDS.

Cell Count brings together artists who unpack the metaphors and assumptions that enable the punishment and incarceration of people living with HIV, presenting nuanced analyses and conceptual refigurings as well as sardonic humor and imaginative revisions. The exhibition reframes conversations around HIV criminalization, questioning the characterization of HIV as a weapon, the conflation of serostatus with guilt, and the framing of non-disclosure as harm. Placing HIV criminalization in a broader context, the exhibition suggests that these laws echo a long history of medically sanctioned violence and incarceration in the United States. Drawing together nineteenth century experiments on enslaved women, the medicalization of homosexuality, and coercive public health practices with the emergence of HIV-specific criminal statutes, Cell Count asks us to consider how medical institutions have been complicit with systems of surveillance and incarceration.

Cell Count is accompanied by a 116-page catalog featuring critical essays and reports from activists working against HIV criminalization. Contributors include Che Gossett, Theodore Kerr, Risa Puleo, Timothy DuWhite, Jordan Arseneault, Robert Suttle, Barb Cardell, Thandi Harris, Craig Pulsipher, Eric Paulk, Johnnie Kornegay, David Plunkett, and Alexander McClelland. 

The catalog is available for purchase at the Visual AIDS store.

Gallery Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 1–7 PM, or by appointment.

Cell Count includes work by:
Jordan Arseneault
Barton Lidicé Beneš (1942–2012)
Brian Carmichael
Chad Clarke
Chloe Dzubilo (1960–2011)
Doreen Garner
Georgia HIV Justice Coalition with JB Edify, Shyronn Jones, Myke Johnson, Torrey Marxavian Deville, and Antron-Reshaud Olukayode (1984–2017)
Camilo Godoy 
Frank Green (1957–2013) 
Shan Kelley 
M. Lamar 
Charles Long with Christopher Paul Jordan
Alexander McClelland 
Laurie Jo Reynolds 
Muhjah Shakir in collaboration with women from Tuskegee, Alabama
Chris E. Vargas

and performances by:
Jordan Arseneault with Mikiki
Timothy DuWhite

Public Programs:

Scarlet Letters: Performances by Timothy DuWhite and Jordan Arseneault
Wednesday June 6, 6:30 PM
An evening of performances by Timothy DuWhite and Jordan Arseneault with Mikiki reframing narratives of desire and criminalization.

Dismantling HIV Criminalization: A Panel Discussion
Thursday June 14, 6:30 PM
With Kate Boulton of the Center for HIV Law and Policy, Kenyon Farrow of, Abdul-Aliy Muhammad of the Black and Brown Workers Collective, and Robert Suttle of the Sero Project.

Closing Event: Curator and Artist Tour
Saturday June 16, 3 PM
To celebrate the culmination of Cell Count, curators Kyle Croft and Asher Mones led a tour of the exhibition with artists M. Lamar, Alexander McClelland, Dr. Muhjah Shakir, and Chris E. Vargas.

Cell Count is accompanied by a 116-page catalog featuring critical essays and reports from activists working against HIV criminalization. 

The catalog is available for purchase at the Visual AIDS store.

Contents include:

"Cell Count: Rendering Harm in the Face of HIV Criminalization"
by Kyle Croft and Asher Mones

"We Will Not Rest in Peace: AIDS activism, Black radicalism, queer and/or trans resistance"
by Che Gossett

"Curation will not save us: Wrestling with the spaces between analysis and action"
by Theodore (ted) Kerr and Risa Puleo

"We Are Never The Victims"
by Timothy DuWhite

"The New Equation"
by Jordan Arseneault

And report backs from activists Barb Cardell, Thandi Harris, Johnnie Kornegay, Alexander McClelland, David Plunkett, Craig Pulsipher, and Robert Suttle. Designed by Aaron Fowler.

Curator Bios

Kyle Croft is the Programs Assistant and Day With(out) Art Project Manager at Visual AIDS and a Curatorial Project Assistant at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He is a graduate student in Art History at Hunter College, where he researches the role of visibility and imperceptibility as political tactics during the 1980s and 1990s. He has assisted with exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the New Museum, and the MIX Queer Experimental Film Festival.

Asher Mones is the Special Events Coordinator for Development at Housing Works, where he works with a community of people fighting to end the dual crises of AIDS and homelessness. He holds a BFA from the Cooper Union School of Art (2015) and has assisted with curatorial projects at P!, Project Projects, Locust Projects, and Visual AIDS, in addition to developing his own video and sculpture practice.

Artist Bios

Jordan Arseneault is a performer and film curator in Montréal. Arseneault employs song, cello, drag, and original/found text in his performance work. He has developed two social practice workshops, Fear Drag (2010–present), and Disclosure Cookbook (with artist Mikiki, to be performed at M:ST Performative Arts in October 2018). His collaborative performances Serocene (MIX NYC, 2014, with Matthew-Robin Nye) and Propositions for the AIDS Museum (projets hybris, 2014–2017) and his participatory works address issues of criminalization, stigma, HIV/AIDS, addiction, queerness, and community. His agitprop poster Silence = Sex, made for Toronto’s 2013 PosterVirus campaign, was part of Visual AIDS’ 2017 VOICE = SURVIVAL exhibition at the Rubin Foundation’s 8th Floor gallery and is featured in the catalogue for the exhibition Art, AIDS, America in an essay by Sarah Schulman. 

Barton Lidicé Beneš (1942–2012) was born in Westwood, New Jersey on November 16, 1942. Beneš first came to prominence during the 1980s with his whimsical constructions of shredded currency and later with his signature “museums,” gridded arrangements of relics from Ancient Egypt to Hollywood. He transformed fragments of our throwaway culture into art that sometimes addressed taboo subjects and often used unconventional materials including cremation ashes, shells, bodily fluids, currency and shredded money, relics, celebrity artifacts and found objects. At the forefront of New York’s burgeoning gay scene in the post-Stonewall era, Beneš was also featured in numerous documentaries about art, AIDS and gay history, including Lovett Productions’ Gay Sex in the 70s. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at The Cleveland Museum of Art; North Dakota Museum of Art; The Katonah Museum of Art; The New York Public Library; and Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as Centre Pompidou, Paris; Boras Konstmuseum, Sweden; and Old Town Hall, Prague. His work is in the permanent collections of The Art Institute of Chicago, The Smithsonian, The U.S. Mint and North Dakota Museum of Art. 

Brian Carmichael is a peer educator through the Know the Risks program at the Elmira Correctional Facility in upstate New York where he advocates for prisoners living with HIV and Hepatitis C. Carmichael has been an advocate for incarcerated PLWHIV since the late 1980’s. While incarcerated at Vacaville in Correctional Facility in 1989, Carmichael fought for hospice-like conditions for PLWHIV in prison and organized medicine boycotts, writing campaigns and a hunger strike which led to the establishment of the first ever federally funded hospice in any U.S. prison. Carmichael’s painting and sculpture practice allows him to stay in contact with loved ones on the outside and work though the loss he experienced at Vacaville, where so many of his friends passed away from AIDS. 

Chad Clarke has been living with HIV for 14 years. His personal experience of prosecution and imprisonment has transformed him into an activist against unjust criminalization of HIV non-disclosure. He sits on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Positive People Network and the Prisoners’ HIV/AIDS Support Action Network (PASAN). He is also a member of the Steering Committee of the Canadian Coalition to Reform HIV Criminalization. 

Timothy DuWhite is the Program Director at New York Writers Coalition, a non-profit dedicated to providing writing workshops to underserved communities, and much of his work is about being black, queer, HIV positive and having to either navigate or evade varying state apparatuses to remain alive. His writing has been featured at the United Nations/ UNICEF, Apollo Theater, Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe, La Mama Etc., and Dixon Place. He has made appearances and keynote speeches at San Diego State University, Columbia University, Oregon State University and Columbia College Chicago. 

Chloe Dzubilo (1960-2011) was an artist, performer, activist, and an icon of downtown
New York City nightlife. She was a member of the Blacklips Performance Cult and singer- songwriter for the punk-rock band Transisters. Chloe advocated for civil rights, adequate health care and dignity for people living with HIV/AIDS, transgender people and drug users. A longtime volunteer for the LGBT Community Center’s groundbreaking Gender Identity Project, she served on its transgender HIV prevention team conducting outreach in bars, nightclubs and on strolls. Chloe was involved with the political action group The Transsexual Menace and went on to direct one of the first federally funded HIV prevention program for transgender sex workers in 1997. Her drawings and collages reflect the world that existed around her with beauty and confrontation, humor and heartbreak. 

Doreen Garner is a Brooklyn-based artist born in Philadelphia, PA practising as a sculptor and an inscriber of flesh. Select exhibitions include White Man on A Pedestal, Pioneer Works (2017); Surrogate Skin: The Biology of Objects, MoCADA (2016); Ether and Agony, Antenna Gallery NOLA (2016); SHINY RED PUMPING, Vox Populi Gallery (2015); and Something I Can Feel at Volta Art Fair (2016). Garner has completed residencies at LMCC Workspace Program (2015), Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2014), Abrons Art Center (2015-16), Pioneer Works (2016), GAPP Residency at the Toledo Museum of Art (2016), and the International Studio & Curatorial Program (2017). She holds a BFA in Glass from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University and an MFA in Glass from the Rhode Island School of Design and is a recipient of the Toby Devan Lewis award, Van Lier Fellowship award and a Franklin Furnace Grant. 

Camilo Godoy is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice is concerned with the construction of political meanings and histories. He was born in Bogotá, Colombia and is based in New York. He holds a BFA from Parsons School of Design (2012) and a BA from Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts (2013). Godoy was an Artist-in-Residence at the International Studio & Curatorial Program (2017), as well as an Artist-in-Residence at Movement Research (2015– 2017), a Keyholder Resident at the Lower East Side Printshop (2014), a EMERGENYC Fellow at The Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, NYU (2014); and a Queer Art Mentorship Fellow (2012). His work has been presented publicly at venues such as Instituto Cervantes; Movement Research at the Judson Church; La MaMa Galleria; Donaufestival, Krems; Mousonturm, Frankfurt, and most recently on a billboard in Manhattan. 

Frank Green (1957–2013) was an artist and writer based in Cleveland, Ohio. After studying filmmaking at Kent State University, he moved to New York in 1980, appearing in East Village clubs including the Limbo Lounge, Pyramid, ABC No Rio and Club 57. Returning to Cleveland in 1988 to kick a cocaine and heroin addiction, he discovered he was HIV positive, and spent the next several years practicing his art as a ritual of self-healing. He worked in various media, including audience participatory events, monologues, multimedia spectacles, and installations. A six-time Ohio Arts Council fellowship recipient, he performed throughout the U.S. and Canada, and was a regular art critic for the Cleveland Free Times, an alternative weekly newspaper. 

Christopher Paul Jordan, born in Tacoma, Washington, integrates virtual and physical public space to form infrastructures for dialogue and self-determination among dislocated people. Jordan’s paintings and sculptures are artifacts from his work in community and time-capsules for expanded inquiry. Jordan’s work has been recognized by the 2017 Neddy Artists Award for painting, the Jon Imber Painting Fellowship, the GTCF Foundation of Art Award, the James W Ray Venture Project Award, and the 2017 summer commission for Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park. 

Shan Kelley was raised in the prairie backdrop of Alberta, Canada’s beef and petroleum heartland. His work sits amidst a slippage of intersections between art and activism. In his fascination with language, Kelley uses text as material, to scrutinize the manner in which relationships to self, identity, body, and power are deconstructed, created, and curated. Shan Kelley is a Visual AIDS Artist Member and has shown work in Canada, USA, Mexico, and Spain. His Disclosures series is currently represented by DC3 Art Projects. 

M. Lamar is a composer who works across opera, metal, performance, video, sculpture and installation to craft sprawling narratives of radical longing loss and becoming. Lamar holds a BFA from The San Francisco Art Institute and attended the Sculpture program at the Yale School of Art before dropping out to pursue music. Lamar’s work has been presented internationally, most recently at The Meet Factory, Prague; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Participant Inc; National Sawdust; The Kitchen; MoMA PS1’s Greater New York; Merkin Hall; Issue Project Room; The Walter and McBean Galleries, San Francisco; and Human Resources, Los Angeles. Mr. Lamar is a recipient of a 2016 Jerome Fund Grant for New Music, a 2016 NYFA Fellowship in Music and Sound, The Rema Hort Mann Foundation (2015), Harpo Foundation (2014–2015), and Franklin Furnace Fund (2013–14). 

Charles Long is a Chicago based multi-disciplinary artist, activist and Black liberationist. He has worked in communities across the United States with poor, disabled, young, LGBT, currently/formerly active drug users and formerly homeless folk. He uses that background to inform both his artistic and movement work with a particular lens of Black, Queer Feminist perspectives that naturally create space for growth rooted in true freedom. 

Alexander McClelland is a Canadian-based writer and researcher who is currently working on a doctorate at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture at Concordia University in Montreal. He has been living with HIV for 20 years. His work focuses on the intersections of life, law, and disease. He has developed a range of collaborative and interdisciplinary writing, academic, artistic, and curatorial projects to address issues of criminalization, sexual autonomy, surveillance, drug liberation, and the construction of knowledge on HIV and AIDS. His doctoral work examines the lives of people who have been criminally charged and/or prosecuted in relation to not disclosing their HIV-positive status to sex partners in Canada. His work has been supported through a range of awards, including the Concordia Public Scholars program fellowship, Canadian Institutes of Health Research Doctoral HIV/AIDS Community-Based Research Award, and the Institute for Anarchist Studies Grant for Radical Writers. McClelland is a steering committee member of AIDS ACTION NOW! and part of the Canadian Coalition to Reform HIV Criminalization. 

Mikiki is a performance and video artist and queer community health activist of Acadian/ Mi’kmaq and Irish descent from Newfoundland. Their work has been shown in artist-run spaces, public galleries, performance festivals and self-produced interventions internationally and throughout Canada. Mikiki has worked across the country as a sexuality educator in public schools, a bathhouse attendant, a drag queen karaoke hostess, a gay men’s sexual health outreach worker, a harm reduction street outreach worker and an HIV tester. Mikiki currently lives in Toronto. 

Laurie Jo Reynolds is an artist and policy advocate whose work challenges the demonization, warehousing and social exclusion of people in the criminal legal system. She has spent two decades researching the exigencies of solitary confinement and public conviction registries, retributive extremes that expanded in the punitive turn of the 1990s. She was the organizer of Tamms Year Ten, the grassroots legislative campaign to close the notorious state supermax, which Illinois Governor Pat Quinn shuttered in 2013. During that time, Reynolds also advocated for sex offense policies that truly recognize and prevent victimization and urged policymakers to address the unintended consequences of sex offender registries and restrictions. Reynolds produced listening projects, photography and calling cards. She also conducted bill analyses, designed communications trainings, and organized conferences, symposiums and performances with state officials, justice advocates, and people directly affected by crime and incarceration. Her ongoing work is focused on the impact of public conviction registries. She has received fellowships and grants from Open Society Foundations, Creative Capital, Opportunity Agenda, and United States Artists, as well as Creative Time’s Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change. She is an inaugural Soros Artist Fellow and Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

Dr. Muhjah Shakir is the founding president and CEO of Nature’s Garden for Victory and Peace, Inc., a non-profit 25 acre Community Land Trust located in Tuskegee, Alabama. Professor Shakir is the founder and project director of Women’s Narratives Transforming the Legacy: The Syphilis Study and created Tuskegee Bioethics Community Quilt Project as a result of her affiliation with the Tuskegee University National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care. The project has stimulated community dialogue and helped to heal old wounds by making it possible to speak the unspeakable. In 2011, Professor Shakir founded The Black Belt Deliberative Dialogue Group on the campus of Tuskegee University. The organization prides itself in being a community-campus partnership whose aim is to promote civic engagement and positive change using deliberative dialogue. Muhjah Shakir has a BS degree in Occupational Therapy from Western Michigan University; a MA degree in Cultural Anthropology, and a PhD degree In Transformative Studies, both from the California Institute of Integral Studies. As a holistic health practitioner, Dr. Shakir is a certified massage therapist and Reiki master. In May 2016, Dr. Shakir retired after nearly sixteen years of teaching as a full time professor of Occupational Therapy at Tuskegee University. 

Chris E. Vargas is a video maker and interdisciplinary artist originally from Los Angeles, CA, currently based in Bellingham, WA. His work deploys humor and performance in conjunction with mainstream idioms to explore the complex ways that queer and trans people negotiate spaces for themselves within historical and institutional memory and popular culture. From 2008–13, Vargas collaborated with Greg Youmans to make the web-based trans/cisgender sitcom Falling In Love ... with Chris and Greg. He also co-directed with Eric Stanley the movie Homotopia (2006) and its feature-length sequel Criminal Queers (2015). He is the Executive Director of MOTHA, the Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art, a conceptual arts and hirstory institution highlighting the contributions of trans art to the cultural and political landscape.