Jason Bauman speaking at (re)Presenting AIDS, 2013

On August 22, 2013, Visual AIDS along with the Pop Up Museum of Queer History and the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, held a public forum entitled, (re)Presenting AIDS: Culture and Accountability. The event was recorded and transcribed. Panelists we invited to present a short statement about their work related to AIDS, art, and representation. Below, Jason Bauman, from the New York Public Library discusses his work, and the upcoming exhibition: Why We Fight: Remembering AIDS Activism

My name is Jason Bauman. I work at the New York Public Library (NYPL) as the Coordinator for LGBT collections, and I also and deal with collection assessment.As the Coordinator of the LGBT collections I work with cultural programming around the libraries collection. I am just one people working around the LGBT collection and the AIDS activist collections in the NYPL. We do public programming for young adults. There’s a wide range of people across the library who work on this, not just me.

Going through the questions for today I really just thought about the challenges I am working through with trying to put together this exhibition. I think the first issue is creating work that has a sense of emergency. AIDS has been normalized at this point in our culture and we have lost the kind of sense of crisis or emergency and it is what I am trying to do for the exhibition. Part of the problem is building this exhibition out of historical materials about AIDS and AIDS activism, the historical things that happened in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and then trying to tell two stories at the same time - both the story of the activism in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and how are things today. Trying to weave both of those stories together at once.

Secondly: About museums creating history. Thinking about these exhibitions, I think you also have to think about the unique missions of different institutions and so the reason for an exhibition at the NYPL has to be different than at different institutions. The reason for us is to highlight archives and histories we take the responsibility of persevering and to communicate (them). So for us exhibitions have to be within our own collections and also within that—based on historical archives and artifacts—always realizing how contingent we are on what is saved.We have our wish that every bit of history was saved, but we always know it is what we happen to have gotten, right? So looking at the archive that we inherited and both what is in it and what is not in it and trying to supplement what is not and work with this contingency of what happened to have been kept, and what we have to work with.

The other thing is, showing how elective it is, showing disunity, showing multiple agendas, multiple senses of what was effective politically, continuing to be effective politically. One thing that I thought was odd about how this panel was framed—or at least how the questions were framed—was the idea that there was one coherent community that one could turn to. There’s a highly problematic sense of the “we” that has been constructed for the text about this panel. Who is this “we” that we are talking about?

For institutional engagement, what I try to do with exhibitions is focus on civic engagement, and I like to talk to folks about curriculum. But I try to create exhibitions that empower people to know that they can make a difference in the world. I think the media is allergic to stories about historical change, particularly about activism. Activism is irritating and annoying, and at times boring and means being in a room of people that you don't agree with and argue with, and doing all this work to make things happen. And I think that the nuts and bolts of making things happen, and realizing that they can make a difference in the world, collectively, is something that is left out of histories. That is something I try to bring to the surface.

And lastly, stories to people who need them most. And I think the NYPL has been trying to digitize as much as their material to get it out to the world, and making this exhibition travel to our branches across Staten Island, Manhattan and the Bronx.

Download the full transcript at: (re)Presenting AIDS transcript