The contributions of the pantheon of visual artists who made art about — and ultimately, tragically, died of — AIDS are beyond measure: Robert Mapplethorpe, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Wojnarowicz, Marlon Riggs, Esther Valiquette and General Idea’s Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal are just some of the people who transformed the relationship between contemporary art and politics in the 1980s and ’90s.
Fast-forward to 2006: On the eve of Toronto?s hosting of the XVI International AIDS Conference, a motley crew of local artists, teachers, writers and others dubbed the Transmission Commission Collective have gathered to stage an ambitious public art project.
Employing a plethora of videos and still images, the installation can’t help but summon the spirit of the canonical AIDS activist art of the past while also looking to the future.
In Tents City will consist of an arrangement of military tents pitched in the courtyard outside the Edward Day Gallery and the Museum Of Contemporary Canadian Art (both at 952 Queen St W). Inside the tents will be video projections of still images and videos of 10 minutes or less that were gathered from an open call for visual art dealing with the pandemic. The stills and footage will appear like “beacons of resistance, reflection, remembrance” in collective member Kelly McCray’s words.
The Collective was born when Stephanie Rogerson (a former Xtra arts writer) sent out a mass e-mail looking for people interested in mounting a collaborative art endeavour during the conference. In queer art mecca Queen West West, away from the hustle and bustle of the downtown Convention Centre, this local initiative will bring together artists from all over the world working in many different media under one burlap roof. The massive nighttime barrage of contemporary AIDS art will hopefully serve as an antidote to McCray’s concern that AIDS is only really thought about and discussed by the ACT UP generation, and not young people growing up in a culture that scholar David Román presciently diagnosed as seeing itself as being dangerously “Not-About-AIDS.”
“It seems that there is more relevance for issues of AIDS for the generation that has witnessed, participated in, lobbied/protested for AIDS awareness/support throughout the early ’80s to mid-’90s,” says McCray.
Says Rogerson: “AIDS in North America is complicated because the idea of ‘a cure’ with the cocktail actually distorts the reality. The reality is there is no cure?. AIDS isn’t over, it is simply changing. It is women, the poor and people of colour currently being destroyed by this disease.”
The hope is that for a few hot summer nights these tents will be filled with a multitude of voices raised in creative protest against the amnesia, ignorance and injustice that still surround a disease that has now existed for 25 years.