Mark Morrisroe, "Untitled [John S. and Jonathan]" (1985) featured in RADIANT PRESENCE on the Castro Theatre. Grahame Perry Photography

Late last month, amid the bustle of grad festivities brewing around Washington Square Park, curator Andrew Blackley was putting the finishing touches on his exhibition, Not only this but, ‘New language beckons us.’ at the Fales Library and Special Collection, located on the third floor of BOBST library at NYU. Not only this… brings together objects from the past with conversation happening in the present. It was the first exhibition to open in Visual AIDS’ series, NOT OVER, which explores art, AIDS and activism over the 25 years the organization has been active.

Blackley invited people whose minds, and practice, he admires to select items from the Fales’ Downtown Collection and write about them. In describing the exhibition and explaining the title Blackley states, “It's a quote taken from a Daniel Garrett review of Essex Hemphill. The (Hemphill) line was featured in Tongues Untied. I also chose it based in the structure of the exhibition: not only these archival items, but new language to address them - new language from the writers and for the viewers.”

The archival items were found in the collected papers of downtown pillars of the community: Cookie Mueller, David Wojnarowicz, Peter Hujar, and many more.

Contributors Blackley invited had their own way of divining an archival item to write about. Some jumped at the chance to continue conversations, such as Gregg Bordowitz did in writing his poem to Frank Moore. Others found themselves being guided, as was the case with Nancy Brooks Brody.

In describing the archiving process to contributors, Blackley provided an example of a name in the collection, and an item that might be in their papers. One example was “Martin Wong”, and “fierce pussy”. This caught Brody’s attention since she is a member of the feminist, activist art collective fierce pussy, which uses reproduction technology, bold graphics, and the street to promote conversation around gender, sex, and politics. She wanted to know what of fierce pussy Wong had in his collection. She had known of him as a fellow artist, and remembers seeing him around, but she did not know him. And yet, as of late, she has found herself thinking a lot about Wong, and his work. She saw the Danh Vo exhibition related to Wong at the Guggenheim, a painting of his recently at the Whitney, and while walking in Park Slope this spring, Brody found a copy of Short Eyes, the drama by playwright Miguel Piñero, who was Wong’s lover.

Going through Wong’s fierce pussy papers, she was overwhelmed to find out he had a collection of fierce pussy’s earliest work, work that she and other members (Joy Episalla, Zoe Leonard, and Carrie Yamaoka) no longer have. Seeing the works moved Brody. She noticed how they were yellowing in a specific way because the toner used is no longer manufactured.

In finding fierce pussy’s work among Wong’s papers, the importance of community and witness and connection was not lost on Brody. Not only were the ideas that the works represented saved through the thoughtfulness of Wong (and then the work of the Fales), the means through which the work was created was also preserved. The archives not only keep artifacts, but also the process—and unmade connections.

In coming closer to Wong through what he left behind and the material connection they have, Brody could better tap into her own history. She selected photographs among his effects in the Downtown Collection; some of Wong himself, some of his work, but mostly of New York in the early to mid 1980s, the period Brody remembers seeing Wong around—the period Brody was also experiencing New York as an artist with an emerging sense of self.

For her contribution Not only this… Brody created a 3-page memoir of a moment she typed out on her typewriter. It is personal, brave, and moving. Like all of the work in the exhibition, it is encased in a clear box with the work it was inspired by for viewers to take in from above. “Bring your glasses,” she suggests. It is worth the read.

In creating the exhibition Blackley thought about what happens to the work once the show comes down. All of the texts produced will become a part of the Fales, and will be tagged so that in the future when someone looks up Wong’s photographs, for example, Brody’s text will cited and suggested.

Those of us involved in HIV/AIDS have, by the nature of our work, a sense of how we are interconnected, how our desires, love, relationships, bodies, and death impact each other. With Not only this…, as witnessed by the Brody and Wong experience, we see our material objects have meaning, have the capacity to make connections, and communicate long after we are gone.

Not only this but, 'New language beckons us.' is on view until July 27th. See below for details.

Hear more about Andrew Blackley's experience curating the show during Making Sense of Paper, Glitter & Life: Curator's Talk and Publication Launch. See below for details.

Hear Nancy Brooks Brody speak about art, social change, and practice at But Does It Matter, a public discussion. See below for details.