featured gallery for September 2009

A Visual Decameron

In the mid-14th century, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote the Decameron, a collection of 100 stories set within the context of the great epidemic of 1348, the Black Death. Boccaccio frames the tales with the account of a group of 10 young men and women who decide to flee their native city of Florence and take refuge from the scourge of the plague. The fictitious narrators adopt storytelling as a way of distancing themselves from the illness that had affected so many of their friends and family. For a period of 10 days, each character tells one story per day on a topic decided by a democratically elected "King" or "Queen" of that particular day. They speak of love affairs (with happy and sad endings), good and bad fortune, astuteness and intellect, and magnanimity of spirit. The young men and women create a physical and emotional "safe space" for themselves in the narrative realm. Their stories celebrate life and survival and speak to us even today, almost 700 years later, reminding us of the great potency of artistic expression. Throughout the centuries, new "Decamerons" have been created as reactions to epidemics of pestilence, tuberculosis, cancer and AIDS. My web gallery is inspired by Boccaccio's spirit of optimism, realism and his celebration of human genius and passion. Like the medieval Italian raconteur, the artists in this exhibition articulate their realities and narrate their stories (as well as the story of the AIDS epidemic) through highly provocative and gripping images. These pieces fervently document life before and after the onset of the AIDS epidemic. The works do not only speak in the past tense; rather, they communicate with our generation and speak to us about our collective human experiences and our struggles for survival. Some of the artists express frustration and anger, but these strong emotions do not signal a loss of hope. On the contrary. Works by David Wojnarowicz, Becky Trotter, Mark Morrisroe and Keith Haring have a strong motivational message. They strive not only to represent, interpret and document, but also to change policies that greatly affect our society. The pieces by Jorge Veras, Peter Madero III, Yolanda, Vincent Cianni and Richard Renaldi are suggestive, playful, sexy images; they contemporaneously evoke a bittersweet sense of nostalgia for the past and hope for the future. I decided to include Felix Gonzalez-Torres' piece because it consists of "endless copies" and reminds us that the story of AIDS is not over. Each piece in this Web gallery represents a "Day" of the Decameron. I have also selected images to evoke the spirit of the frame tale and the conclusion of Boccaccio's masterpiece. These works of art may be read, like the Decameron, as distinct, stand-alone stories or as a cohesive body of personal narrative. While browsing through the images of the Frank Moore Archive Project at Visual AIDS, I felt inspired by Boccaccio's life-affirming message. With this Web gallery, I propose a visual "Decameron," an exhibition about the act of creative expression, a celebration of life, and a story of artists and their passions for survival and storytelling.