The Melancholia of AIDS: Interview with Douglas Crimp
Takemoto, Tina, Art Journal
From 1977 to 1990, Douglas Crimp was an editor of the journal October. In 1987 he edited the October special issue on AIDS, entitled AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism and published as a book in 1988.1 This collection of critical, cultural, and theoretical responses to AIDS was a formative work in AIDS activism and a founding text in queer theory. Crimp is author of AIDS Demo Graphics, On the Museums Ruins, and, most recently, Melancholia and Moralism: Essays on AIDS and Queer Politics.2 Crimp is Fanny Knapp Allen Professor of Art History at the University of Rochester in New York.
Tina Takemoto: I thought we could begin by discussing your October special issue on AIDS. This publication marked a significant moment in AIDS activism as well as a turning point in your own work as an art critic and activist. Can you describe what was going on at that time in relation to popular representations of AIDS?
Douglas Crimp: When I started to do work on AIDS, it was with the view to include material in the journal October, so I was thinking rather narrowly about the art world response to AIDS. It wasn't until I got further into working on the publication that I began thinking more about representations of AIDS in popular culture, though of course, as a gay person living in New York City, I was living in the grip of the epidemic, and I was aware of media representations of AIDS. Initially, I was interested in featuring a few articles on AIDS in October. I had commissioned Martha Gever to write a piece on Stuart Marshall's Bright Eyes, one of the first activist video-art responses to AIDS, and I was going to include reviews of a few art exhibitions as well as a review of Simon Watney's book Policing Desire.3 By this time, I had seen the Homo Video exhibition, curated by Bill Olander, at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, and I had discussed this work in the first Dia Discussions in Contemporary Culture.4 I had already become aware of the privileging of artists who were dying of AIDS as against ordinary people dying of AIDS, and I was also troubled by the assumption that artists could only respond to the epidemic by fundraising or creating works that express human suffering and loss. When I saw the pilot for Testing the Limits,5 I got in touch with Gregg Bordowitz, who was a member of the Testing the Limits Collective. He told me that if I wanted to be involved with what was going on with AIDS I should go to ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) meetings. This was the summer of I 987. ACT UP started in March of 1987 and by June or July I started going to meetings.
Takemoto: How did your involvement in ACT UP affect your approach to the October publication on AIDS?
Crimp: The experience of ACT UP changed everything for me. After all, AIDS was a personal crisis as well as a public issue, so I was pulled into it in ways that were very emotionally direct. When I got involved with the movement, I was going to meetings and demonstrations regularly, and that meant I had a completely different relation to AIDS. I was coming from a fairly radicalized social agenda regarding art in the first place, which was partly the agenda of October, and then I became increasingly involved in what is now called identity politics. I decided that I needed to do a full special issue on AIDS, and I brought my theoretical training to bear on it. As I became more aware of the issues, I realized that the cultural aspects were only part of the picture I would have to address. It was clear that AIDS was a political issue and there were activist responses that also needed to be part of the special issue. That's when I began commissioning work from people who weren't involved in academic discourse but were involved in the activist struggle from other perspectives.
Takemoto: Can you describe how ACT UP differed from other grassroots political organizations?
Crimp: ACT UP was innovative for activist politics partly …
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Publication information: Article title: The Melancholia of AIDS: Interview with Douglas Crimp. Contributors: Takemoto, Tina - Author. Journal title: Art Journal. Volume: 62. Issue: 4 Publication date: Winter 2003. Page number: 80+. © 2008 College Art Association. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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