Politics and Art Meet on World AIDS Day

Peter Cramer, "We, New Yorkers"

In the New York zeitgeist, you can’t have art without politics — especially not lately. As we enter the holiday season, strikes and marches continue throughout the city. Local and global politics are stoking creativity’s flames, and art has been a necessary backbone to supporting the Occupy movement. Last week’s lineup of art shows around the city made this marriage very clear, with the closing of MIXploratorium (a collaboration between MIX NYC Queer Experimental Film Festival and Department of Transformation, a queer arts collective) and the opening of War Is Trauma at Booklyn.

World AIDS Day march, 2011

On World AIDS Day (December 1) Housing Works, Health GAP, Queerocracy and VOCAL-NY organized a march starting at Zuccotti Park for HIV/AIDS care funding. With an action of civil disobedience — eight activists stretched across Broadway blocking traffic — arrests were made. After reading about Patrick O’Connell (a founder of Visual AIDS, who helped create the red ribbon for awareness), I wondered if any AIDS-related work would show up in the MIXploratorium show.

Peter Cramer, "We, New Yorkers" detail

It did. La MaMa La Galleria was a perfect space for MIXploratorium. As a true blue multimedia show, MIXploratorium was an arts installation with events spanning from its opening to its closing, bringing other queer artists from all over the city together.

Upon entering the room, long-time Lower East Side artist Peter Cramer’s “We, New Yorkers” work was undeniably powerful. Using New Yorker covers beginning from the year of his AIDS diagnosis onward, Cramer created a beautiful, otherworldly and humbling installation. Self-described as an “open-studio process,” the harsh reality of life during the onset of AIDS is palpable. In one part, which appears like a bloody pond you see the words “Safe Sex Saves Lives,” and in the wall of magazine covers you get the sense that time has passed.

Still, one can find solace in the (super?) natural world that Cramer created, which surrounds so much pain.

Peter Cramer "We, New Yorkers" detail

Another highlight was Avory Agony’s miniature zine shelves which were installed near chairs in a cozy corner, creating a little zine library. While it may also be quaint, spaces where people can share independent media have been vitally important in queer movements, as well as activist movements of all kinds.

Avory Agony's shelves

With a pile of beanbag chairs in the middle of the room, people laid about waiting for things to get started. A queer pop-up photo studio flashed away as I inspected the works and caught up with old friends. Although I couldn’t stay for the performances later in the evening, I got the sense that as the night went on, spirits would be lifted. Mixploratorium reminded me of the possibilities in community spaces for art, where creative work — and support — can happen organically.

MIXploratorium ran from November 22 through December 2 at La MaMa La Galleria (74A East 4th Street, East Village, Manhattan).

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