SILENCE = SEX

“The New Equation”
by Jordan Arseneault

It’s that awkward moment when…
You’re naked in bed with a boy you’ve just made out with on a rooftop.
Looking up at the little toy cross
On top of the big, dark mountain.

That awkward moment where you bring in the Greek chorus
Of Angels in America characters
And the dump truck of dead bodies and
News segments of ashes actions
And Diamanda Galas howling over Fire in My Belly.

That awkward moment when you decide to cough it up
To rip the band-aid off the unhealed wound
And tell him:

I just need to tell you something that’s really not easy to say and
I’m legally required to tell you before we take this any further:

I have been shortlisted for a very special prize.
I am on the shortlist for those who didn’t win the bet.
I am biopolitically pegged for a lifetime of awkward moments.

There’s 50 parts per millilitre of me
That are Having It Very
difficult; that are too late for a vaccine,
That didn’t do their due diligence
And that echo a Harsh Interior Voice
Saying “stay away,”
Even though any other combination of bodies in a moment like this
Would just be getting it on right now.

It’s that awkward moment where you look up at the
SILENCE = DEATH poster
On his cluttered bedroom wall
And say the words
I AM HIV POSITIVE
Only to see him freeze, lose his boner, sigh,
And explain trippingly that he has an anxiety disorder
And “just can’t take it right now.”

It’s that awkward moment when you want to rip a hypocritical poster
off someone’s wall
Or at least half of it:
SILENCE = riiippppppp crumple crumple
SILENCE =
SILENCE = SEX
All those posters say THAT to me now:
Silence equals sex.

If you just keep your mouth shut
And don’t talk about cells and replication and undetectability
And minor cuts or abrasions
And rinsing with lemon juice
And tests every three months
And how you ever got it in the first place…

“Oh,” you ask “you were in a video PSA about serophobia too?”
“Yes, I’m sure you are very open-minded.
Thank you for showing me that,” you say,
As you put your clothes back on.

SILENCE = SEX
Get used to the new equation,
Cause these bastards just don’t know the math.

4

My gluten fix for the week. This past week I was wheat-pasting with POSTER VIRUS, an art action / culture jamming / consciousness raising happening. Check out the website below for curatorial statement and information on context of the posters below. Also for more pictures of the posters in Toronto. 

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[taken from: http://www.thebody.com/content/73229/postervirus-artists-affected-by-hiv-use-images-to-.html?ic=7001]

Alex McClelland and Jessica Whitbread

poster/VIRUS Curators

We are under pressure. Our viral loads are overloaded. The response to AIDS is becoming destabilized. We are faltering, becoming complacent, giving up and giving in. The law is creeping further and further in. Our bodies are over-medicalized. And our lives are under-supported. We are not the public that ‘Public Health’ cares about. The AIDS Industrial Complex forces out Treatment as Prevention, while state indifference and austerity measures crush us. But we are “resilient” right?

We are tired of the limits imposed on how we can talk about AIDS. We are tired of individualized responses that ignore the realities and complexities of our lives. We are tired of being defined through acronyms. We are tired of the buzzwords, language that privileges some groups over others and increases the divide between us and them. The bureaucratization of AIDS has marginalized voices that complicate for too long.

But things are changing. There is a move from business suits and pharma-driven hotel conferences back to the grassroots. This year with the poster/VIRUS project we continue to make new assertions about AIDS. We have worked with artists and activists on a series of works that address poverty, sex work, HIV disclosure, queers, incarceration, criminalization, privilege and neo-liberalism.

With this project we are calling for a return to dialogue and complexity. We are moving away from one-way social marketing AIDS campaigns. We are critiquing public health messages that divorce people from the harmful impacts of institutions and the state. This is why these works were developed as a dialogue between activists and artists, and this is why we encourage these works to help promote community dialogues. We continue the tradition of claiming space for those of us who are most impacted by the epidemic. We hope that these works provoke, critique and encourage new ways of conceptualizing and talking about AIDS. The AIDS experience is spoken through many voices. As a diverse community, we have always been able to take care of each other. We need to remember where we came from. We need to continue to self-organize. AIDS ACTION NOW!” 

INFLAMED

Ted Kerr and Chris Jones

This poster was inspired by the work and lived experience of Chaplain Jones, a black HIV-positive Baptist minister and activist, who is passionate about raising awareness around the lived experience of black and brown men who have sex with others men and their disproportionate rate of HIV infection in the West, which rivals infection rates in third world countries.

The burning condom, (and litany text), are shared by Jones, and collaborator Ted Kerr, with the intention of igniting public discourse around the condom. Since the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (Play Fair, 1982) and Richard Berkowitz and Michael Callen (How to Have Sex in an Epidemic, 1983) first popularized the use of condoms as an AIDS prevention strategy there has been little public discourse around the holistic impact of condoms on the lives the latex barrier is said to be saving. In an age where condoms are—for some—a loaded symbol of “AIDS Inc” and the systemic discrimination leveled against profiled and monitored bodies, and at a time pharmaceutical interventions such as PEP and PrEP are seemingly reducing the need for condoms, what is one to make of the rubber?

Key to this conversation are the various understandings and attachments people have to condoms, often related to age, life chances, race, orientation, faith, gender and class.

The burning condom is the fire around which we can gather, listen and discuss.

Litany for Burning Condoms

 

It’s hard to stay silent when faced with burning condoms.

We burn condoms to say we are whole.

We burn condoms to say we matter.

We burn condoms to remember.

We burn condoms to say that public health does not have all the answers.

We burn condoms to exercise our voice and power of choice.

We burn condoms to merge the secular with the spiritual.

We burn condoms to influence thought and change.

We burn condoms because they are not enough.

We burn condoms because they are too much.

We burn condoms because the kids want more.

We burn condoms because sex is not just penetrative.

We burn condoms because they do not protect against stigma.

We burn condoms because they add to stigma.

We burn condoms because they are not they only answer.

We burn condoms because they are distributed in our name.

We burn condoms because we believe in harm reduction.

We burn condoms because we know it is complex.

We burn condoms because it’s a primordial act.

We burn condoms because we know they save lives but they also erase them.

We burn condoms because if you are going to give me something free make it health care education or a place to live.

We burn condoms because by 2015 approximately 27 billion condoms will be distributed across the globe bringing 6 billion dollars to the condoms industry.

We burn condoms because if you are going to pass me something pass mean end to racism sexism gender roles homo and heteronomativity transphobia profiling and policing.

We burn condoms for those unheard & populations underserved.

We burn condoms for the good & the bad and the light & the shade & the dark. 

We burn condoms in the age of the Global AIDS Industrial Complex.

We burn condoms in our friend ’s backyard.

We burn condoms as two men living together on the HIV spectrum.

We burn condoms as a ritual which can be activism.

We burn condoms like a draft card for a war we didn‘t sign up for.

 

It’s hard to burn condoms. It takes time, partnership, and patience.

It’s dangerous, stinky, challenging, beautiful and shocking.

It’s commitment.

It’s endurance.

It’s life giving.

It’s work.

It’s real.

It’s happening.     
What ‘s your response when faced with burning condoms?

YOUR NOSTALGIA IS KILLING ME

Vincent Chevalier with Ian Bradley-Perrin

Strictly speaking, nostalgia does not entail the exercise of memory at all, since the past it idealizes stands outside time, frozen in unchanging perfection. Memory too may idealize the past, but not in order to condemn the present. It draws hope and comfort from the past in order to enrich the present and to face what comes…

In the slight of hand that weaves the short and long memories of our community with the artifacts that remain and the work we do to alter our near future into our present sense of the blurred lines of our “community,” let us not drop the adaptability that we have always used to keep up with the virus that adapts so well to us. It is not the remembering and it is neither the history, nor the material culture nor the valorization of the battles won and lost that impedes our movement forward, but rather the unpinning of our past from the circumstances from which the fights were born. It is this that makes light of the impetus to resist; the gentrification of our memories and our worshipping of idols whose miracles are forgotten.

Silence=Death but the white noise humming from your latest post is keeping me up at night. Flying in two dimensions, scrolling through virtual space, virtual time, random access memories referencing deep memory held in those you find inaccessible; beneath the porch light we’ve all been circling. Do not let the dregs of our history be your horse blinders as you move through today’s world because things are different now as they were different then. Allow the history to be real and tethered to a time and place and reason such that the output is responding to today and is ready for tomorrow. Let the past sleep some such that it can be more present the choices you make on reality, not the reality itself. “Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind and dreaming ahead. At least I think that’s so.”

Hey Girl, I’ll Tell You When I’m Ready! BY JESSICA MAcCORMACK

With this poster I combined a series of collaged images with the text “HEY GIRL, I’LL TELL YOU WHEN I AM READY”. The text plays with two possible readings, “I’ll tell you when I am (physically) ready to fuck” and “I’ll tell you when I am ready to disclose (HIV status, addictions, abuse history, mental health problems, marital status, beliefs, past loves/losses/experiences, etc.)”. The images were collected from the internet and assembled in Photoshop, with sources from Second Life, Medical Venus’ from the 18th century, Facebook, crystals and dying stars. Combined, the images are an expression of dissociation and the body in relation to the internet, as well as reflections of contemporary politics and laws that control experiences of embodiment. The calling into question in recent news media of the reproductive rights of women, HIV criminalization, and events such as the Pussy Riot arrests all reflect a shift in state control of the body in recent news. Similar oppressive conditions have been experienced on an ongoing basis for many lifetimes by queers/gays, people of colour, our First Nations communities, the homeless, as well as people struggling with poverty or mental illness (or any combination of the above +). 

I am disturbed by how the telling of ourselves, the act of becoming, acutely shifts as disclosure is forced. Who do we become, or not become, within the threat of imprisonment? The criminalization of disclosure creates silence, it is an act of violence itself. 

As a person who struggles with mental health problems due to experiences of excessive sexual trauma at a young age, I have lived with the first hand effects of stigma and state control. Some of my close friends are HIV poz, I find it very difficult to associate the very existence of their sexualities with sexual assault. I have seen a correlation between actual sexual assault survivors, addiction and HIV. It is very difficult to maintain a healthy or safe relationship to one’s body after surviving abuse or assaults, it is common to put oneself directly into harmful situations as a method of expression of those experiences, for self-medication and survival. The stigma of criminalization just adds to this cycle, preventing prevention.

Many people struggle to tell their 'truths' for many reasons, but they are not criminalized for this. These truths we tell about ourselves are constructions that are affirmed or negated by dominance, social norms, the status quo and laws. 

 

 

WORKING CONDITIONS by RYAN CONRAD 

Hustlers, hookers, dancers, rent boys, escorts, trade, or just your average gay university student looking for a generou$ older gentleman to help pay rising tuition costs: we are everywhere.  While very public battles are being waged between radical feminists and anti-sex work feminists over the legalization of sex work in Canada, male sex workers have been largely left out of the conversation and rendered nearly invisible.  While patriarchy and misogyny account for the heightened stakes in the battle between feminists over sex work, male sex workers also face similar safety related working conditions including those gestured towards in the text of this poster.  These working conditions are framed and further compounded by poverty, classism, racism, ableism, hetrosexism, transphobia, sexphobia, serophobia, gender based-stereotypes, and the failure to recognize sex work as a form of labor.  Sex workers, like all other laborers, deserve safe healthy working conditions and the dignity to work without shame, stigma, fear, or exploitation.  This poster was designed in collaboration with Mikiki and with feedback from other sex workers, artists, and service providers.

I DON’T NEED TO WEAR A SPACESUIT TO FUCK YOU By ONYA HOGAN-FINLAY & MORGAN M. PAGE

Two women in spacesuits, legs interlocked, seem to be having a romantic evening at home in their retro-futuristic feminist landscape. In the distance, Toronto and the solar system watch on, perhaps approvingly. Approving of their prescribed, so-safe-you-can’t-even-feel-it-so-why-is-this-happening sexual encounter.

This poster was originally inspired by a conversation had between activists/artists Jessica Whitbread and Morgan M Page, in which Jessica related telling a date that she “didn’t need to wear a spacesuit to fuck” them. So often we are told by safer sex educators working in the Safer Sex Industrial Complex that the only way to have sex with and/or as people living with HIV is to hermetically seal everything up under layers of latex. Failure to do so is at best irresponsible, and at worst criminal. Little, if any, room is made for a discussion about levels of risk in various kinds of sex. Nor is there talk around making your own choices about what kinds of risks you’re willing to take. Despite having the lowest risk of transmission, the queer women’s community runs rampant with ignorant cautionary tales and folklore. We are left feeling like Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls, after her gym teacher yells, “If you have sex, you will get pregnant and die!” before passing out the condoms.

Stigma continues in the regulation of people living with HIV’s sex lives in relation to perceived promiscuity – if you’re going to have sex as and/or with someone living with HIV, you better be in a committed relationship – though not advised – as symbolized here through the dinner, roses, and champagne that Sally Ride and her date have displayed before them. (Side note: The use of Sally Ride is particularly interesting, locating both lesbian or queer identity in the image, and recalling that her long-term partner was unable to receive benefits after her recent passing.) Heaven forbid poz people continue to enjoy the same kinds of casual sex that every other queer person feels entitled to. The stigma around promiscuity is especially damaging to women who already face considerable slut shaming in all areas of our culture simply for having any kind of sexuality at all (and, should they fail to display sexuality, face stereotyping as the frigid bitch).

LA-based artist Onya Hogan-Finlay astutely takes a singular visual idea dreamed up between Jessica and Morgan and transforms it into this delightfully retro lesbian sci-fi fantasia. Her design inspiration is taken from the work of groundbreaking lesbian feminist graphic designer Sheila Levrant deBretteville’s promo poster of the Women in Design: The Next Decade, created in 1975.

LOOK AFTER EACH OTHER

Scott Treleaven

The rough edged look of the poster is an intentional strategy: I always find that the trace of an actual hand-drawn element in posters or signage makes a message far more immediate and intimate. I wanted to come up with something simple, striking, and evocative of the kind of imagery that’s always caught my attention (HomoCult, Gran Fury, Queer Action Figures, etc). The pos/neg imagery was an obvious choice for me as all of my current work deals with ideas of interconnectivity, continuity, and perception. As constructs, the symbols are only useful as visual shorthand and they deliberately fall apart, or vanish, at the edge of the page. As for the text - the message is simple. It’s a broad-based but heartfelt slogan meant to imply a number of issues around health, awareness, community, charity, and solidarity. Queers, especially younger ones, seem to be fatigued when it comes to AIDS awareness, and I think this is largely due to the awful, exclusionary push towards “normalizing” queer culture. The message, to look after each other, is always worth reiterating. We’ve always watched out for one another when no one else would. And this message is becoming more important than ever.

vimeo

AS LONG AS THERE ARE PRISONS, THERE WILL BE AIDS

Alexis Mitchell

I began to think about my project for Poster Virus through the lens of disclosure - about what it means for different bodies to have to speak and the precarity of speaking out when bodies are already in danger. For me, this culminates in the space of the prison, where those left most vulnerable through acts of disclosure - speaking out and/or staying silent, become embodied in one space/place. Because of this, I use the body of a white, male subject building his fortress in the sand in conjunction with the slogan ” As long as there are prisons, there will be AIDS” in order to point to the ways that a homonormative gay agenda further silences, marginalizes and hides behind those consistently affected by the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC).

This sentiment comes from Dean Spade about the shared experiences of Trans people (specifically trans women of colour) and people living with HIV within the PIC. It is at this moment of confluence, between the fears and real ramifications of disclosing one’s status and disclosing one’s assigned gender that becomes unavoidable in thinking about who is incarcerated and who has access to the constant construction and renegotiation of state power.

In noting the ways these bodies are continuously left out, there is a real need to point to the structures which continuously take them in, and ask what kinds of systems and experiences do prisons uphold and whether there is a possibility of dismantling them with the prison still standing.

2013 POSTERVIRUS Curatorial Statement

image

This year PosterVirus struggled to find its footing. We looked critically at ourselves. We aim to understand our own limitations. How can we challenge the logic of the AIDS industry? What can art posters change? What do people care about in the AIDS response? In a movement divided by identity politics, how do we make sure that voices are being heard (and not only the ones with the privilege to shout the loudest)? Are we just talking to each other - what about all the people around the world who are not (or do not want to be) part of the mainstream HIV discourses?

Due to recent films such as How To Survive a Plague, Dallas Buyers Club and United in Anger, hipsters across North America are flocking to get down with the AIDS movement and embracing some of our lost warriors. We are swimming in nostalgia. As we continue to romanticize the past, is the popular imaginary forgetting that AIDS still impacts us today? Has this created the false appearance that AIDS has made its way back on political agendas?

People are still dying. People still don’t have access to treatment. People don’t have housing. People are increasingly criminalized. People still spread ignorance and hate. And yet mainstream AIDS industry and media suggests that stopping all this is as simple as a “cure”. A simple pill to make AIDS go away.

This year we focused on issues of the prison industrial complex, religion, the consequences of being labelled “risky”, the failure of condoms, racism, countering individualization, and challenging heteronormative assumptions. We want to problematize language, poke holes in the way that terms are used and continue hard discussions. We worked with artists Scott Treleavan, Natalie Wood, JJ Levine, Alexis Mitchell, Vincent Chevalier, Ian Bradley-Perrin, Ted Kerr and Chris Jones.

We want to push for open hearts, open arms, open ears, and open thoughts. We want to be reflective and critical about our role in the AIDS response. We call for people to announce their fears and push for complex conversations. We are sick to death of death - we should be focusing on life. This project continues in attempting to bring our communities together to support and love one another… AIDS ACTION NOW!

PRISONS KILL PRISONS KILL by NEAL HARTWICK-FREELAND & GISELLE DIAS

When we began working on the AAN! poster project, Neal was still inside the Waseskun Healing Center in Quebec and Giselle was living in London Ontario. The process was complicated by the fact that Neal didn’t have access to the internet and Giselle was unable to accept collect calls on her cell phone. Despite these barriers we were able to conceptualize the idea of what we wanted to communicate through a few short phone calls. We knew that we wanted to highlight Bill C-10 and the effects it would have on prisoners, focusing on overcrowding.

Neal is the artist so he conceptualized how the overcrowding would look visually. He produced an incredibly powerful image and then we were left with the task of finding the best message. We wanted to highlight the fact that prisons are violent, dangerous places and NOT because of the prisoners themselves but because of the circumstances people are put in. Prison conditions make prisons dangerous - especially overcrowding. The watermark of “PrisonsKillPrisonsKill” was created to say that “prisons kill” but that we should consider to “kill prisons”. Neither of us believe that prisons make our communities safer and in fact if we addressed social problems such as homelessness, mental health issues, the criminalization of drug users and people living with HIV/AIDS we would be able to reduce the prison population significantly leaving us time and resources to work with people inside for more violent offences.

Neil highlighted the fact that Indigenous populations and People of Colour are over-represented in the system in this piece.  In the Prairie Provinces over 80% of the prison population is Indigenous and we see this as a form of on-going colonization practices (reserves, residential schools, 1960’s scoop, foster care and now prisons). The idea that Canada’s solution to control marginalized populations through incarceration seems absurd to us so we decided to pose the original statement as a question asking “lock ‘em up till they die”?! Really?! This is how Canada wants to deal with homelessness, mental health, drug use and HIV/AIDS? Our commitment is to continue to find ways to dismantle the Prison Industrial Complex through pressuring the government to create a housing strategy, to stop criminalizing drug users, people with mental health issues and people living with HIV/AIDS. 

Giselle and Neal have been collaborating on projects since the Prisoners Justice Film Festival in 2003.  Neal’s work as a Peer Health Educator in prison and Giselle’s work with Prisoners with HIV/AIDS Support Action Network (PASAN) made them ideal colleagues. 

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