Scored by Che Gossett
“My AIDS won’t fit in your museum"
AIDS art and artists are ex-timate to the space of the museum; to use Lacan’s terminology for constitutive exclusion, the intimacy that is also foreign, given how a generation of art on and by those living with HIV/AIDS artists shaped the New York art scene and therefore, the larger cultural world. I’m interested in this type of intervention for the ways that it refuses incorporation as an objective.
In early December of 2015, the same week as World AIDS Day, the artist Kay Rosen collaborated with Visual AIDS and the Illuminator on an AIDS art and activist intervention called Radiant Presence, projecting images that read “AIDS ON GOING GOING ON” onto the facades of the Guggenheim and Metropolitan museums of art as well as the former site of St. Vincent’s hospital. The work of Rosen and Visual AIDS alerts audiences to the fact that St. Vincent’s Hospital, “once the largest AIDS ward in the East Coast,” was transformed into luxury condominiums.
AIDS haunts gentrified space.
The museumological intervention came not from the curators within the museums but rather from the outside, the unofficial curation imposed on the facade of the museum itself. The act is performative and fleeting, an act of institutional critique that refuses incorporation into the museum but rather uses it as a signpost, then leaves.
If AIDS and the museum are incommensurable and incorporation is impossible, where then to turn?
Where but inside the immanence of what Laura Harris terms the “aesthetic sociality” that already exists and is the condition of possibility for the refusal itself?
Rather than a melancholic liberalism, an unhappy inclusion, a somber realism where AIDS and queer revelry and trans(gression) would be absorbed into the museum, the party is happening outside—it was the party that put together the protest and that continues after the virtual banner comes down.
The claim that AIDS won’t fit the museum might also be read on liberal terms as a plaintive cry for inclusion: dispossession’s lament. Dispossession implies a lost object—freedom. Yet, freedom is never possessed, only shared. Freedom is a doing, not a having.
Saidiya Hartman begins where Orlando Patterson ends: with the specter of freedom.
“Throughout this work, however, the ghost of another concept has haunted my analysis...that is the problem of freedom”
Yet rather than positing freedom as sundered from slavery, in Scenes of Subjection (Oxford University Press, 1997), Hartman shows how emancipation sutures the two. Abolition, then, discloses how so-called liberty is a permutation of slavery. Abolition requires the end of liberty as property and property as liberty. Abolition throws the coordinates of ‘the political’ into crisis. Hartman’s work discloses how the political ontology of ‘freedom’ is slavery. Hartman also critiques racial liberalism, tracing its emergence not with the contemporary multicultural discourse of inclusion but rather to a project of slavery’s extension. “How did emancipatory figurations of a rights-bearing individual aimed at abolishing the badges of slavery result in burdened individuality?” is the question she poses in the preface and interlude to her series of chapters that reflect on “the subject of freedom.” Abolition then, requires the undoing of the fated entanglement of the subject (of freedom) as well as slavery. Abolition is not a closed formula—as in the fictive finality of the event—but rather an ensemble of perennial questions.
- Visual AIDS, “Radiant Presence: Saint Vincent’s Hospital Former Site Projection,” https://vimeo.com/148280801
- Visual AIDS, “Radiant Presence Projections in New York City,” POZ Magazine, December 8th, 2015, https://www.poz.com/blog/radiant-presence-pro
- The Illuminator, “Visual AIDS,” http://theilluminator.org/visual-aids/
- Jacques‐Alain Miller, "Extimit" Prose studies 11, no. 3 (1988): 121-131.
- Laura Harris, Experiments in Exile: CLR James, Hélio Oiticica and the Aesthetic Sociality of Blackness (New York: Fordham University Press, 2018)
- Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, With a New Preface (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018), 341.
Che Gossett is a Black non binary writer, currently the racial justice postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Contemporary Critical Thought at Columbia University.