Volume 81, Number 4 | June 23 - 29, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Clarity through mixed messages


How do you put more than 30 years of pandemic struggle, horror and death into words? In “Mixed Messages,” over 40 artists try their hands at expressing the HIV/AIDS crisis through whatever means possible — from words scrawled on bathroom walls and ceiling ducts, to statements proclaimed in paintings, prints and sculptures, to messages stamped on door handles and floor mats. All of these methods, and more, are employed to communicate messages meant to end the silence (and death) that still persists.

The brilliance of those concise messages resides in their endless possibilities: “You do what you do/And they do what they do” (James Joyce), “So what if I did” (Lou Laurita), “Lifestyles/Ultra Sensitive” (Sam McKinniss), “Touch Me” (Yoko Ono). Each can mean one thing to the artist, another to the viewer.

The works are accompanied by neither a face nor a story, and yet are painfully intimate. Curator John Chaich focuses on a message he heard years ago from a colleague at an AIDS service organization: ‘AIDS is a crisis of connections.’ Recalling the lasting impact of that quote, Chaich says, ‘The acts through which HIV is transmitted — intercourse, sharing needles and even giving birth — may be the very ways through which we find connection.’ A piece by artist Paul Chisholm (“Fuck Me I Have…Love & H*I*V”) echoes this agonizing reality.

“Mixed Messages” is the most recent project by Visual AIDS — a contemporary arts organization dedicated to HIV prevention and AIDS awareness. They seek to fight AIDS by provoking a dialogue, and that’s what these artists have done. Their words are not just a cause for reflection, but a call to action.

Through July 3 at La MaMa La Galleria (6 East 1st St., btw. Bowery & 2nd Ave.). Gallery hours: Thurs.-Sun., 1-6pm. Call 212-505-2476. Visit visualaids.org and lamama.org. On Wed., June 29, 7-9pm: “Ask Me: Mixed Messages.” This benefit for Visual AIDS features a night of storytelling inspired by the exhibition, hosted by Cammi Climaco and David Crabb. Suggested donation $10; all are welcome. Visit askmestories.com.

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