Memories That Smell Like Gasoline: Reading David Wojnarowicz
Whitney Museum of American Art
Alongside his work as a visual artist, David Wojnarowicz was a prolific and influential writer. In particular, the urgency of his writing about the AIDS epidemic as a social and political crisis in the United States has had a lasting impact on artists and activists.
This evening devoted to Wojnarowicz’s written work included readings and performances by artists who were engaged with Wojnarowicz during his lifetime, or who have been inspired by his example. Taking its title from his final collection of stories Memories That Smell Like Gasoline (1992), this program highlighted the passion and rage of Wojnarowicz’s singular voice.
Readers included Dennis Cooper, Timothy DuWhite, Karen Finley, Chitra Ganesh, Camilo Godoy, Miguel Gutierrez, Carmelita Tropicana, Jack Waters and Peter Cramer with their band NYOBS.
This program was organized in collaboration with the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Dennis Cooper is a writer of novels, poetry, journalism, theater, and film whose most recent works are a feature film, Permanent Green Light (2018), made in collaboration with Zac Farley, and Zac's Coral Reef (2018), a book of short fiction composed of animated gifs. He was one of the first to publish David Wojnarowicz's work in his literary zine Little Caesar and is honored to have called David a literary comrade and friend.
Timothy DuWhite is a writer, poet, playwright, performance artist, and activist. In David Wojnarowicz's work, he is comforted to see another artist using multiple mediums to unpack the devastation of HIV and AIDS.
Karen Finley is an artist, author, and professor at NYU, whose latest performance and book is Grabbing Pussy. She was a friend of David Wojnarowicz.
Chitra Ganesh is a visual artist who lives and works in Brooklyn. She has an upcoming exhibition Her Garden, A Mirror at The Kitchen opening in September. As a young queer growing up in 1980s New York, David Wojnarowicz's work, especially Close to the Knives, was, and continues to be, close to her heart.
Camilo Godoy is an artist based in New York with an upcoming Session in November at Recess and a solo exhibition in February 2019 at CUE. In 2014 after the death of his father, Godoy spent time at Fales Library for comfort and inspiration, touching and reading the journals of David Wojnarowicz.
Miguel Gutierrez is a choreographer, composer, writer and singer whose work Age and Beauty Part 1 was presented in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. As with so many art ancestors, he knew “about” Wojnarowicz’s writing for years before he actually read it when Ralph Lemon assigned it to him to read aloud for a pre-show performance during Ralph’s The Scaffold Room at The Kitchen.
Carmelita Tropicana became a writer/performer at the WOW Cafe in the 1980's and has since received awards/fellowships including the Guggenheim Fellowship, Creative Capital Award, and an Obie for performance. In 1990, as part of The Decade Show, she and David Wojnarowicz performed on the same evening. Tropicana considers his performance one of the most powerful and poignant that she has experienced, with an end that made the audience take a deep collective breath before breaking into thunderous applause.
Jack Waters and Peter Cramer are performance and media art collaborators since 1981, and founders of the community garden Le Petit Versailles and non-profit Allied Productions, Inc. In 1984, David Wojnarowicz’s work of a molotov cocktail made from a Night Train liquor bottle was included in the nationwide exhibition Artists Call Against US Intervention in Central America on display in New York City at ABC No Rio where Cramer and Waters were then co-directors. In 2010, they participated in protests organized by Art+ in New York City and Washington D.C. against the removal of Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly from the exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.