Below is the final in a three part series by A.Anthony, entitled: "Acting Up in Public—HIV/AIDS Documentation and the Stakes of Representation". Read Part One and Two.

In Part Two, I posed the following question: If documentary can be both viewed and read as set of postcards, messages sent and received across generations of activists, how can we reflect on how HIV/AIDS has been represented, remembered, and imagined anew? I argued that the use of archival footage in How to Survive a Plague and United in Anger allows the viewer to engage the haunted legacies of past and present ACT UP New Yorkers. The incorporation of camcorder content allows these films to represent, document, and re-define contemporary conceptions of the movement. Following David Wojnarowicz, I have asserted that future directions in HIV/AIDS activism continue to take a position "close to the knives". An archive of acting up in public serves as a “tiny charcoal scratching[s] done as a gesture to mark a person’s response to this epidemic.”[1]

In the following, and final, section I turn to contemporary pieces of HIV/AIDS activist ephemera through media produced for and distributed by Visual AIDS, New York. Moving from David Wojnarowicz’s POSTCARDS FROM AMERICA X Rays from Hell, How to Survive a Plague, and United in Anger to fierce pussy’s postcard contribution to Day With(out) Art 2013, and Kay Rosen’s tote bag AIDS/ON/GOING/GOING/ON, I argue that everyday pieces of material culture allow the continuing legacy and work of ACT UP New York to bring practices of direct action “back to life.”[2]

Part 3: “For the Record”[1a] HIV/AIDS is “/ON/GOING/GOING/ON,”[2a] A Conclusion /// Ongoing-ness, everyday displays, and HIV/AIDS activism(s)

In the first section of acting up in public—HIV/AIDS Documentation and the stakes of representation, Iargued for the continual utility of Wojnarowicz’s image of the postcard as a framework for understanding the performative nature of acting up in public.I have further argued that postcards do not disintegrate. I have suggested that the temporality of art, activism, death, and life expressions of AIDS demand that we recognize the ongoing nature of the epidemic in order to foresee its end.In returning the image of the postcard as a medium for activism, documentation, and representation of the larger HIV/AIDS activist community, I ask that we focus on the materiality of activist objects, postcards and tote bags.

“if she were alive today she’d know exactly what to say”[3]

Answering the need for resilient acts, correspondence, and new interconnections, Visual AIDS distributed two pieces of activist ephemera in 2013, a post card by fierce pussy and a tote by designed by Kay Rosen. As many members of the Visual AIDS community are well aware, the organization has annually observed a Day With(out) ART, a critical alternative to Worlds AIDS Day since December 1st 1989. In 2013 Day With(out) ART featured fierce pussy’s For the Record, “an exhibition and broadside project.”[4] The ephemera produced for For the Record consisted of a broadside on newsprint, a set of vinyl stickers, and a postcard. Each of the three components of For the Record enables public acts of resistance.

The third component of For the Record is a postcard. How does this postcard encourage “daily aspects of living not only with HIV/AIDS but as a person in the world”?[5] What have we done with fierce pussy’s postcards?

The Postcard

The postcard from For the Record, displays the image of a run-on-sentence. fierce pussy’s message begins and ends in medias res. I suggest that we read, view, and experience the postcard as a portion of a larger narrative, an archive of acting up in public. I have argued that David Wojnarowicz’s POSTCARDS FROM AMERICA X Rays from Hell is central to understanding of the mundane and extraordinary materiality of HIV/AIDS activism. I ask that we return once more to the end of POSTCARDS in order to guide our reading of For the Record

“bottom line, emotionally, even a tiny charcoal scratching done as a gesture to mark a person’s response to this epidemic means whole worlds to me if it is hung in public.” [6]

fierce pussy’s For the Record postcard extends Wojnarowicz’s bottom line in order to encompass the ongoing-ness of the fight to end HIV/AIDS. The sentence printed on the postcard begins, “if he were alive today he would be at this opening if she were alive today you’d be texting her right now.”[7] No longer an instant message, the fierce pussy postcard reminds its reader that postcards are both tactile and performative. As discussed in Part One: Postcards, postcards mark time, space, and place.For the Record utilizes the length and width of a postcard to narrate and illustrate the need to act up in public and archive these actions. Further, “if he were alive today you would have met him by now” and, most importantly, “if he were alive today he’d still be living with AIDS.”[8] If “his arm [were still] around you”[9] and if “she still wouldn’t have health insurance” and AIDS[is]/ON/GOING/GOING/ON,[10] then is there an adequate response to questions posed by all of the authors, artists, and activists discussed thus far?

Reading fierce pussy requires that we turn to Kay Rosen’s tote bag, produced by and for Visual AIDS. Kay Rosen’s tote is a small off white canvas tote bag with extraordinary message, AIDS/ON/GOING/GOING/ON.[11] This message and the bag itself are utilitarian, wearable, and functional pieces of art. Additionally the bag and it’s wearer acknowledge that “even a tiny charcoal scratching done as a gesture to mark a person’s response to this epidemic means whole worlds to [us] if it is hung in public.”[12] Through the ongoing-ness of AIDS we are brought to the last phrase of fierce pussy’s postcard, “if he were alive today he’d be in this picture.”[13]This last line haunts the entire frame of the postcard, its contents, and serves as a conclusion to this essay.

I would like to take this opportunity to end with a set of questions:

  • How can we reflect on how HIV/AIDS has been represented, remembered, and imagined anew?
  • How do postcards allow us to accomplish the dynamic and varied goals of HIV/AIDS activism?
  • How do we utilize and incorporate archives of acting up in public in order to inform turns in the movement?
  • Do we still need to re-define AIDS?
  • What tools are at our disposal for such processes?

Perhaps acting up in public is still the answer.

A.Anthony is a second year PhD student in the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.His main areas of interest are: American Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, Queer Theory, and Performance Studies.Their larger body of research is focuses on the intersections between sex commerce and service provision in the District of Columbia.As a researcher and an ethnographer A.Anthony works most closely with the DC transgender women of color communities.Contact A.Anthony at: aanthon1@umd.edu

[1a] Fierce pussy.“For the Record.” Visual AIDS, the international day of action. Day With(out) Art

2013. New York, New York. Web.

[2a] Rosen, Kay. “AIDS/ON/GOING/GOING/ON.”Red ink on canvas tote.Printed for and sold

by Visual AIDS, New York, New York. Web.

[1] Close to the Knives, p. 122-123.

[2] United in Anger

[3] fierce pussy for Visual AIDS.

[4] http://www.visualaids.org/assets/projects/HOW_TO_...

[5] Sic.

[6] Wojnarowicz, David. Close to the Knives, A Memoir of Disintegration. New York: Vintage

Books. 1991. 122-123.

Expanding upon Wojnarowicz’s use of gesture I will return to “POSTCARDS FROM AMERICA X Rays from Hell” in the conclusion to this essay. It is the work of such acts of mourning that enables documentary to politicize the contradictions of activism under neoliberalism.

[7] Fierce pussy.

[8] Sic. Choice of red font, present in the original.

[9] Sic.

[10] Visual AIDS. Art by Kay Rosen. New York, 2013.

[11] Printed in red, this message is featured on canvas tote bags produced by Visual AIDS. Art by Kay Rosen. New York, 2013.

[12] Wojnarowicz, David. Close to the Knives, A Memoir of Disintegration. 122-123.

[13] Kay Rosen for Visual AIDS.