featured gallery for July 2003

Under the Influence

Television educates, informs and entertains its viewers. More importantly, the medium influences society. This was evident from its early days, as it created and changed the perceptions and views of its audience. With the advent of cable, television was able to blaze new trails with 24-hour news, music and movie channels, creating new avenues of influence while offering programming from its early days and film classics and providing the opportunity for programs to influence several generations of Americans. For several artists in the Visual AIDS Archive Project, television serves as a source of inspiration and the medium to express artistic vision and offer social commentary.

Media Alert

From the beginning of the fight against AIDS, television provided a service never before seen in the realm of social health by acting as an outlet to disseminate important information about the disease to more people than ever before. In the process, television was used to create and destroy misconceptions about the disease, who it affected, and how it was transmitted. This ability to reach the masses continues to work to the disease's benefit and sometimes to its detriment, as is the case with Hunter Reynolds' installation Desire Paradise Lost (1990). This installation of 8 dialogue tables with video programs demonstrates the struggle waged by ACT UP, a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis via blown up colored images. Through their art, they demonstrated the power to manipulate the media to show the injustices surrounding the AIDS crisis. Reynolds provides an opportunity for their courage to still be heard by placing the viewer directly into their environment. This is achieved through the use and manipulation of the images to bring greater meaning to the statement.

Always a socially significant, relevant and aware artist, Keith Haring, who died of AIDS-related illness in 1990 at the age of 32, spoke out about his anger surrounding the politics of the AIDS crisis. In The Ten Commandments (1985), Haring was commissioned to create ten paintings to fit the arches of the Contemporary Art Museum in Bordeaux, France for his first one-person museum show. Approximately 25 feet high by 17.5 feet wide, the paintings are acrylic and oil on canvas. The ten paintings comment on the Ten Commandments from the Bible. Through his use of color, Haring creates a world where the exploited, in blue, are reacting against the dictatorial, in red, about the issue of money, in green, and the media. The painting centers around a huge red television set filled with a dollar sign and a person marked with an 'x' designating they are infected with HIV, with 3 large blue figures shaking in front of the screen also infected with an 'x' to illustrate his frustration of the media's portrayal of the AIDS crisis.

Michael Colgan places a male figure with an upside-down pink triangle as his face, to denote he is gay, in front of a wall of tabloids, newspapers and magazines in AIDS I (1985). The two prominent headlines read "Avoiding AIDS" and "The Fear of AIDS". Over the figure's left shoulder, we see the cover of a tabloid with film icon Rock Hudson, who died of AIDS-related causes in 1985. Hudson was the first major public figure to announce he had AIDS, and his worldwide search for a cure drew international attention. He had just come back into the public's attention with a recurring role in "Dynasty" before he announced his status. Colgan uses the importance of this moment and the media's fascination with AIDS to demonstrate how taxing it is on the main character.

Pop Culture Fantasies

For some artists, television allows them to become anyone or anything they can imagine. Television serves up pop culture imagery creating a fantasy world for the artist, their subject and the viewer where artists can create a safe space away from the disease. The use of these well known images permits the art to be widely recognized while extending the artist's message to a larger audience.

A world protected from HIV and AIDS through a latex condom is what Milton Garcia Latex has created in Just A Kid ... Young At Heart (1998). He positions an image of Mickey Mouse inside the sexual scenery of the condom bringing humor to his safer sex message. Similarly, Copy Berg's OK, Death (1990), uses animated characters to address death and the realities of living with HIV, while Michael Bedlin's Peep Show (2002) uses collage art to create a fantasy of people and ideas.

For Alex Aleixo, the use of classic film and television images are the beginning for his erotic art. In Ethel, come over here! (2001), Aleixo uses the Lucy and Ethel of "I Love Lucy" to engage the viewer. He places a homoerotic image of a male in fetish wear in a reasonable and realistic space within the setting, which he creates digitally. This changes the perspective to create an environment where Lucy and the fetish man can co-exist.Superman is one of the subjects in David Abbott's Super Heroes (2000), where he creates a world where fit men are costumed as they favorite super heroes on a cobblestone street.

AIDS Celebrity

At the beginning of the crisis in the 1980s, the media provided a platform for celebrities through their coverage of fundraisers, public health campaigns and personal stories of struggle created the "AIDS Celebrity."

Ryan White was an Indiana teenager whose courageous battle with HIV/AIDS and AIDS-related discrimination helped educate the nation. His story captured the hearts of Americans, while his crusade against AIDS-related discrimination created The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act -- a federal legislation that addresses the unmet health needs of persons living with HIV disease (PLWH) by funding primary health care and support services. Joe DeHoyos memorializes several heroes in a series of collages entitled Eulogy. White is remembered in Eulogy: Ryan White 1990 (1999).

De Hoyos comments again about the phenomenon of "AIDS Celebrity." In his series Celebrity AIDS, he uses black and white headshots of famous people and places amoeba-like circles all over their faces to represent the disease showing how fame is used for social awareness, as in Celebrity AIDS: Patricia Arquette (1997). Mark Carter further explores the concept in Liz Taylor and Viracept Man (2001), where the film legend and drugs come together to fight the disease. Taylor took a stance against the negative perceptions associated with the disease and began to campaign and raise funds for research to find a cure.

The influence television has had on the AIDS crisis is evident. Artists' commentaries on the power of the medium deal with the positive and negative roles it has played and will continue to play until there is cure. In anticipation of that time, television and other mediums will continue to help and hinder the fight against HIV and AIDS.