133 Message

Vincent Cianni, What a mess at my age, what a message", Chauseestrasse, Berlin, 1990

Today is National HIV Testing Day. Across the United States of America service providers are testing people for HIV in central locations, for free. For more information about Testing Sites in the USA, visit: AIDS.gov.

In thinking about testing, we at Visual AIDS think about many things. Most urgently we think about HIV Criminalization, and we remember the work of the Testing the Limits collective.

"Get The Test, Risk Arrest"

This is a common saying among young people deemed high risk for HIV, who are also at risk for jail time. The phrase speaks to the fact that across the US once someone knows they are living with HIV their is a huge onus on them to not only disclose their status, but also be able to prove that they disclosed if it should ever become a conversation for the courts. This is unfair. What other group of people have to account for their personal conversation between consenting adults? What other group of people are made to take full responsibility for something shared?
HIV is not a crime, yet people living with HIV are being treated as if they are a threat.

So we suggest that on your way to get tested you learn more about HIV Criminalization from the Sero website. Find out what it means, how it can impact you, and what you can do about it.

"Voices from the Front"

From 1987 to 1995 a group of artists and AIDS activists came together to form the Testing the Limits collective, using video to document the early days of the AIDS crisis in the face of being ignored or incorrectly represented by the mainstream media. TTL provided a point of view of the epidemic from the front line. TTL did not shy away from difficult discussions around access to treatment, the role of sexuality and gender, and violence. Their cameras rolled as heady issues were worked out in real time.

In a day in age when many of us have cameras on our phones and are broadcasting our every move to the world, TTL provides a reminder of what can be done with technology we may be taking advantage of. How different would our understanding of HIV/AIDS in New York in the late 80s and 90s be without video artists and activists? What is going on now that we should be documenting, considering, archiving and presenting?

The Testing The Limits collective reminds us not only to test the authority of mainstream media, but also to test ourselves to use representation, ourselves, and the tools at our disposal, to make a difference.

About the image
Visual AIDS artist member Vincent Cianni makes work that documents the many realities that lay behind wars, epidemics, and struggles. He provides human context to historical moments and complicates simple ideas of what suffering looks like. His photos of New York in the early days of the AIDS crisis are not only of physical pain and wasting bodies; they include sex clubs, and demonstrations. The photo that accompanies this entry is entitled, "What A Mess At My Age, What A Message" from his work in Germany after the fall of the Berlin wall. The photo speaks to the many ways one can read "the writing on the wall" while giving voice to a people dealing with destruction, new opportunities, pain, and an uncertain future. As we think about the ongoing AIDS crisis, and initiatives like National Testing Day, it is important to acknowledge the progress made, while acknowledging the ongoing suffering stemming from the past, the present, and the future.

Self Portrait 181227 204538

Vincent Cianni