CLASS OF 2021
CIRCA presents VideoVirus by AA Bronson and General Idea. A reimagining of the historic Imagevirus for a global audience, the iconic artwork comes to life in a hypnotic video animation that virally transmits their activist message across billboards around the globe throughout December.
From Imagevirus’ original intention of rendering visible an ignored crisis, today’s VideoVirus colourfully heralds our progress toward the eradication of AIDS, with CIRCA’s global presentation amplifying the commitment by international healthor ganisations to achieve zero new HIV transmissions by 2030.
“General Idea first developed the concept of viral images in the early 1970s. In the mid-80s that work became prophetically and tragically true, with the appearance of the HIV virus. In 1987 we exhibited our first AIDS painting and papered lower Manhattan with AIDS posters in the hope of making the image indeed viral. Thirty-five years later, and marking the 40th anniversary of AIDS first being recorded, I am honoured to join the CIRCA platform with this reimagined ‘VideoVirus.’ General Idea’s VideoVirus replicates the spread of HIV to the four corners of the world; it expands General Idea’s signature theme of ‘image as virus’ for a global audience.” – AA Bronson
Born 1946, in Vancouver, Canada, AA Bronson currently lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Since 1995, he has worked and exhibited as a solo artist, often collaborating with younger generations of artists. From 2004 to 2010, he was the Director of Printed Matter, Inc. in New York, founding the annual NY Art Book Fair in 2005. In 2009 he co-founded the Institute for Art, Religion and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. In 2013 he was the founding Director of Printed Matter‘s LA Art Book Fair.
General Idea, a collaboration between AA Bronson, Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal, began in Toronto in 1969. The group’s transgressive concepts and provocative imagery challenged social power structures and traditional modes of artistic creation in ever-shifting ways until Partz and Zontal’s untimely deaths from AIDS-related causes in 1994.
MEET ME AT NIGHT
BY KOSTAS STASINOPOULOS
Here I am. Can you see me?
An existence so deep, it can’t map itself. White foam on top of dark waves. Here, I am. Can you see me? Across the ocean I precipitate.
I travel as an image, I spread like an idea. On the streets, on the side of a bus, in bright lights, around dinner tables, underground, in intoxicating darkness, in public and in private. In spaces where I don’t belong, where I shouldn’t be, but I must; to survive, to thrive. To justify my rights to my own existence.
Meet me downtown, inside a time capsule. Our meetings are always queer. Meet me at night, downstairs, where you can smell me. Outside the lights and stars shine. Widen your iris, take them in. Let me in. I need to trespass.
Let me dissolve and multiply. I have messages.
With every repetition, I matter. Like the words you spew at me. Like the same goddamn energy I use to repurpose them and throw them back at you. Every time.
I’ve learnt how to do this very well by now.
I sweat, as I roll them in my mouth. As I bite them and crack them open.
The way that I feel you gives me fever.
My guard is up, I become resistant. Body armour and thorn-like softness. Learn my surface. Touch the spindle. Let me drop on your dry soil. Dandelions will emerge and disperse.
Pierced skin and wild hearts.
Protect your mouth, your nostrils, your eyes. Listen to me laugh as I swim in your moat.
I revisit the past, always, myself at my most provocative and high-risk. Those moments of tension are so vital. They pulse, they open me up. With every repetition, I stomp like the beat in the basement. I become part of a series, a crowd, a generation, a monoculture planted on top of a battlefield. A sea of words, an army, a wave made of bodies. We rave together. We grow and change, together.
Into the abyss we go.
It’s dark and soft and moist. Are you here with me? I can’t see you. I can do this alone, or with you. I
never want to stop bleeding. A delirious overspill in the millions. Sticky, transfused and airborne.
You’re in my ear. I learn new words. I repeat them. I swallow them. I let them explore my body.
Undetectable, they change me.
I dance, I sing, I kiss, all night, like a dilated vein pumping blood furiously. Like an inflammation that will make your cheeks red and your mouth to give me that smile that I’ve been waiting for.
I am sea, I am sky, I am image.
Dangerous and explicit. A fissure between knowing and being.
Come out for air with me. Come in the millions. A formulaic excess under my radar.
What words live in your blood? Do they travel up your stream? Do they stop at your throat?
Right here, right now.
The sky is breaking. Alive.
Hold me tight. Too close.
and let me infect you with what matters
To us, to every one of us that you couldn’t see.
With what feels good,
what we live for and what I can die for.
Everything everywhere is always moving forever.
Say it. Say it with me.
BY JACK KING
It’s 1986. New York’s HIV epidemic, the epicentre of a health crisis of which fires burn in most-all corners of the globe, has raged exponentially for five years. Thousands, disproportionately gay men, have already died; the state is, as will become its damning legacy, criminally negligent to the burgeoning disease, with President Ronald Reagan having not publicly uttered the acronym AIDS until the year prior. The broader public is callous. A trio of Canadian artists known by the collective moniker General Idea – formed of Felix Partz, Jorge Zontal and AA Bronson, all enigmatic pseudonyms – relocate to the city, where the art scene has suffered acutely.
It was the year following, in 1987 – also, coincidentally, when the direct action group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was formed by a handful of activists, including the mercurial playwright Larry Kramer – that General Idea first put brush to paper on their AIDS image. Later turned into the Imagevirus poster campaign, it appropriated Robert Indiana’s Love, a characteristically bold pop art piece which has been formally replicated, homaged and parodied on everything from stamps, to book and album covers.
The initial creation was for a benefit for AmFAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research. That spawned a series of paintings, the same motif replicated, as if left in a petri dish, in variously gaudy and kitsch colour schemes. From there, Bronson suggests, the project “took off” into Imagevirus, which saw posters wheat-pasted across sprawling city blocks, facades, trams, and subway cars in New York, San Francisco, Toronto, and Berlin: “What we were doing initially was more like an identity campaign,” he says in the film General Idea: Art, AIDS and the Fin de Siecle, “an advertising campaign for a disease, to normalise it, in a sense.” Pasted across walls in rigid uniformity, the image repeats like a virus, infecting brick and mortar. Imagevirus itself took on the characteristics of a self-replicating organism: indeed, to appropriate the lingo of the social media age, this was a viral campaign for an analog epoch.
Unsurprisingly, AIDS inspired myriad works across mediums, from the moving image to theatre to, as with General Idea and the ACT UP-affiliated collective Gran Fury, street art and sculpture. Queer film scholar B. Ruby Rich has cast the crisis as pivotal to the genesis of the New Queer Cinema of the late-Eighties and early-Nineties, compounded by the queer world’s virtuous indignation towards Reagan and, crucially, the invention of the affordable commercial camcorder. And indeed, innumerous works of the movement explicitly deal with the epidemic in one way or another. Gregg Araki’s oft sought after The Living End (1992) centres on two HIV-positive gay men running away from the law, Thelma and Louise style; Poison (1991), the anthology film that put the now-deified Todd Haynes on the global map, is a mosaic of bodily fluids centrally interested in the ‘other’ as a sequestered, persecuted body. (See also: his 1995 film Safe, starring Julianne Moore as a beleaguered suburban housewife afflicted by a mysterious, lesion-spawning disease.)
Adjacent to the New Queer Cinema, other independent American film titles tackled the epidemic head on, oft with a focus on its devastating human effects. Canonically, the low-fi albeit stirring Buddies (1985) is usually taken as first-out-the-gate: directed by Artie Bressan, Jr., a queer pornographer by trade, it observes the relationship between two gay men, one with HIV and the other without. The year after, generously soundtracked by Bronski Beat, Bill Sherwood’s Parting Glances (1986) gave Steve Buscemi his first major role, portraying a man with AIDS on the precipice of his death. It approaches the subject with refreshing candour, and Buscemi’s character fondly reminisces over the decade prior, an oft forgotten period of queer hedonism and political liberation in the shadow of the Stonewall Uprising. Both Bressan, Jr. and Sherwood would die of AIDSrelated illnesses.
One cannot take a whistle-stop tour through the cultures spawned by AIDS, of course, without turning attention to the stage. It’s here, after all, that arguably the most notorious piece of queer agitprop was conceived: Larry Kramer’s virulent, no-holdsbarred roman-à-clef, The Normal Heart (1985), which doesn’t simply repeat the story of the New York crisis’ early years so much as roar with resentment at the negligent political class. Angels in America (1991), Tony Kushner’s oft-revived two-part epic most recently seen at the National Theatre helmed by a decidedly high-camp Andrew Garfield, bubbles less with anger than solemn inevitability, more a vigil than the deluge of mortar fire. Taken together, they are two works, however formally discordant, that effectively communicate the devastation – emotional, physiological – of this terrible historical moment.
Forty years on from this global pandemic, new public interest has been spawned by a proliferation of popular cultural works in the West, frequently replicating prior narratives. Robin Campillo’s 120BPM piqued the interest of the arthouse crowd in 2017, and more recently, Russell T. Davies’ It’s a Sin (2021), a humanistic melodrama centred on Britain’s AIDS epidemic, captured the zeitgeist. Quantifiably one of the most popular TV shows of the year – even if some contest its artistic merits – it demonstrably increased public awareness around the virus, both as a history and of its present epidemiological impact. What was once a genocide of neglect and apathy, as the playwright Matthew Lopez once put it, has mutated into an epidemic of intrigue – at least, if not empathy – transmitted through the vector of artistic reproduction.
It’s fitting, then, that Bronson and General Idea’s Videovirus takes the base concept of viral replication in the distribution method of Imagevirus and evolves it formally. In the piece, the AIDS image literally duplicates itself, spreading rhythmically – as if in the patterns of dance – to each edge of the frame. While the dissemination of AIDS awareness is perhaps not as urgent as it was thirty years ago, with the current generation, not least among those who identify as queer, better informed about the virus than ever before, it remains a bold and pertinent statement.
“With nearly 1.5 million new HIV infections and 680,000 deaths each year, the AIDS epidemic is far from over. But it can be. AA Bronson’s art is a powerful reminder of sacrifices made by activists and people living with HIV and to learn from them to tackle not just HIV, but all pandemics. We are proud to partner with CIRCA in bringing attention to the AIDS pandemic at a time when we are fighting both COVID-19 and AIDS.” – Mahesh Mahalingam, Director, UNAIDS