Art of Living
Meyer, James, Artforum International
In early 1989, I attended a conference on the subject of art and AIDS at Ohio State University. A number of compelling figures were present in that Columbus auditorium that gray February weekend, but one made a particular impression on me: Gregg Bordowitz. From the moment he began to discuss strategies of contemporary cultural activism, which he outlined with a kind of breathtaking clarity, I knew I was in the presence of a serious thinker - an impression that has only increased over the years.
From the beginning, Bordowitz's work has been characterized by an extraordinary adaptability and purposefulness. As a member of the video collective Testing the Limits during the early years of ACT UP, he produced tapes that recorded the movement's demonstrations and analyzed representations of the epidemic in the media. He also joined Gay Men's Health Crisis, where, with the artist Jean Carlomusto, he developed an array of AIDS-educational work: tapes aimed at empowering HIV-positive viewers, "safer sex shorts," multilingual video. More recently he produced a series of short tapes, "Portraits of People with AIDS," which I was pleased to include, along with a selection of the educational work, in "What Happened to the Institutional Critique?," a show I organized at American Fine Arts, New York, in 1993.
Bordowitz's first feature film, Fast Trip, Long Drop, was recently screened at the Sundance Independent Film Festival, at the New York and San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Film Festivals, and in commercial release at Cinema Village, New York. It was also included in this year's Whitney Biennial. With Fast Trip, Long Drop, Bordowitz joins a number of film-makers whose exploration of AIDS content has necessitated the problematic gesture of turning the camera upon themselves, recording their own experiences and narratives - a transition Bordowitz sees not as a rejection of his activist project but as its most recent fulfillment. In the representation of the self, he argues, the HIV-positive artist turns from the task of demanding new treatments to the even greater challenge of "living, simply living" with the virus itself.
JAMES MEYER: Fast Trip, Long Drop, a feature-length work being shown at film festivals and museums, bespeaks an important transition in your activity. How do you see the shift from community organization and media critique to "art film"?
GREGG BORDOWITZ: As a continuity. Fast Trip . . . satisfies the criteria I established for my activist work, in that it still has the same conception of a three-tiered audience. The first tier is those who appear in the film; the second, those who know and identify with the people in the film; the third is anyone else who wants to come along for the ride. I still see Fast Trip . . . as an organizing tape in that it attempts to voice the concerns of a constituency and to formulate these concerns in ways that are productive for that constituency; it recognizes people with AIDS as part of the work's audience.
JM: But it's a personal narrative.
GB: It does take on more personal issues, but I don't see this as its primary distinction from the earlier work. The main distinction is that in Fast Trip . . . I no longer impose fetters on the work for the sake of what I envisioned to be the good of the community it was intended for. Rather, I've tried to overturn any limits placed on the work for particular uses.
The earlier work I did - the "Safer Sex Shorts," for example - was created within a context of extreme repression, in which lifesaving information for the communities hardest hit by AIDS was unavailable. Given our lack of resources (compared to better-equipped institutions that refused to take on this issue because of homophobia), we produced educational materials in ways we felt would be most accessible to these communities. In doing so, we bracketed off certain concerns - such as the complexity of sexual identity and practices. In producing Fast Trip . …