featured gallery for March 2004
The visual arts, as well as music and the rest of the arts, sustain us through acts of looking and listening. In Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Stop No Evil Christopher Trujillo renders a hip Black, perhaps African native, listening to some tunes against a textual landscape with words from the title of his work. The figure dons headphones and groovy sunglasses that would seem to signify precisely the familiar aphorism he appropriates, "Hear no evil, Speak no evil, See no evil." But the excess of words, the dark hilly background with oil drilling towers set against a blazing orange background seems to be an ironic commentary on the political situation then (2002) and today. The title seems to describe appropriately the modus operandi of the current administration. The word AIDS has rarely passed the lips of President Bush, and one might well wonder whether he even knows what the acronym stands for. It seems that all he knows is passing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It is important in such a hostile environment that places such as Visual AIDS address a community that remains marginalized despite current discussions on "post" AIDS identity and culture.
Recently, due to an overdetermined global market, and a cynical knowledge in the ways of the new and the trendy, we remain silent and resigned that art is not what it used to be. But might we, especially at this time, be willful and naive, and say that art still remains an undeniable avenue for changing lives? Art can unmoor us into a spiritual realm of understanding or it can socialize and galvanize the way we understand the world of power. I assume that everyone who enters and remains in what we know as the "art world" or those who are interested and invested in the arts have had such an encounter with a work of art at least once and that, at some level, each of us strives to re-create such an experience no matter how irretrievable or impossible.
The stakes are high for anyone who chooses the visual to tell a story, to understand the world, to convey an experience. To live with AIDS and to be HIV positive is an unfathomable experience for those whose lives have not been affected or touched by these challenges. Carefully filed within black binders and the grey metal cabinets of Visual AIDS, the archive offers a feast of creativity, cultural memories, and an expansiveness of the world in contrast to today's polarized climate of political conservatism and narrow-mindedness. The Archive Project underscores how, for these artists and for those who believe in their chosen passion and profession, art is a life-sustaining practice, a way of life and a way to see and know the world, to be as one is, as well as to come into being.
My selections sort themselves into two loose categories each of which has distinct poles: agitated disquiet and melancholia on the one hand, and on the other, lust and repose. What they share is a pivotal need to engage with the world visually, by revealing how art is more than a mere compulsion, but a kind of sustenance that allows one to live in the present, to move on, and to be remembered.
Art is an imperative, a calling that makes palpable the smothering experience of chaos (the amazing draftsmanship of Steven Mendelson), narrates the saga of loss (John Morrison's panda bears and lone unicorn and the animating absence elicited by the little toy train in David Nelson's Train, Man, Dice), and renders the fallen and the shamed (as in Joyce McDonald's Rough Side of the Mountain and Albert Winn's heart-wrenching and hilarious narrative series My Life Until Now (Appendicitis)).
Art can also serve as a salve in relation to chaos and loss by creating a different kind of rapport (Martin Wong's nourishment of the flesh) and redemption (the spiritually felt photographs of Nelson Edwin Rodriguez, Peter Madero, and Tseng Kwong Chi) that provide more than the conventional narratives of sin, guilt, and confession.
All of the works selected aim through different valences, to sustain a present and future that may elude us, may haunt us, but that will ultimately affirm the invisible, the damned, and the forgotten.