Activists’s Subversion of ‘I’m Too Sexy To Have AIDS’ Slogan Does Queer History a Disservice – 活动家颠覆“我太性感,没有艾滋病”的口号,奇怪的历史是一种伤害吗?

On Sunday 6 October members of ACT UP London, activists fighting the HIV pandemic, spray-painted over a series of posters by the late artist and HIV-AIDS activist David McDiarmid. Art space Studio Voltaire had been celebrating his work by posting his colourful ‘Rainbow Aphorisms’ (1993–95) slogans across South London. But the activists took exception to one which read: ‘I’M TOO SEXY TO HAVE AIDS’. They painted over the message, so it read instead: ‘I’M TOO SEXY AND I HAVE HIV’.

In an online statement, ACT UP member Dani Singer argued that medical progress since the posters were first made meant that they now contained ‘misinformation’. Singer said that ‘the thought of a newly diagnosed person stepping onto the streets of Soho and coming face to face with this messaging’ was ‘deeply distressing’. Few people diagnosed today with HIV will go on to develop AIDS, and to imply that they would, without proper contextual information, would in the group’s view unnecessarily stigmatize an already discriminated against group. In their opinion, the correction preserved the humour of McDiarmid’s work, whilst making it more ‘relevant’ for today.


Activists’s Subversion of ‘I’m Too Sexy To Have AIDS’ Slogan Does Queer History a Disservice - 活动家颠覆“我太性感,没有艾滋病”的口号,奇怪的历史是一种伤害吗?

David McDiarmid, Rainbow Aphorisms, 1993–95, installation view, Clapham, London, 2018. Courtesy: the Estate of David McDiarmid, Sydney; photograph: Benedict Johnson

But while the need for accuracy and sensitivity in the fight against the pandemic is understandable, the action has not been universally supported. Many LGBTQ artists have taken to social media to describe this as an ‘own goal’. It’s difficult not to agree. Was it really necessary to defend people living with HIV by correcting the words and muting the voice of an artist involved in the same struggle, who himself died of AIDS related illnesses? To speak for an artist who can’t defend himself, or to revise the history of an already underrepresented group, seems more than a little self-defeating.

It didn’t have to be this way. If the activists needed a model for how to do things differently, they need only have looked to the past actions of ACT UP, or to two current exhibitions in London: Gran Fury at AutoItalia and General Idea at Maureen Paley. When the Furies – an artist group affiliated with ACT UP New York – took exception to General Idea’s public art project Imagevirus (1987–ongoing) they didn’t deface them. The work had, with dark humour, taken Robert Indiana’s colourful 1960s ‘LOVE’ logo and turned it into the word AIDS. Objecting to General Idea’s cool irony in the face of a social and political crisis, Gran Fury produced a parody of their own, this time replacing the word ‘LOVE’ with ‘RIOT’ (1989), which they posted on streets and billboards across New York. It was by allowing the two works to exist side by side that the Furies generated awareness and debate on the roles of artists and activists in the crisis.


Activists’s Subversion of ‘I’m Too Sexy To Have AIDS’ Slogan Does Queer History a Disservice - 活动家颠覆“我太性感,没有艾滋病”的口号,奇怪的历史是一种伤害吗?

Members of ACT UP, amending one of David McDiarmid’s Rainbow Aphorisms posters, 1993–95, London, 2018. Courtesy: ACT UP

For Gran Fury it was important not to be complicit in limiting or censoring the already excluded voices of people living with HIV. My correspondence with the group has confirmed that they never altered or removed the work of other artists. The group knew only too well how such work could be obscured: when they did use graffiti, it was to show how homophobes, not other activists, had corrected or defaced their posters. Gran Fury also built alliances with art institutions, using their money and clout to claim public advertising space to further their message. In contrast, ACT UP London did not contact either Studio Voltaire or the estate of the artist David McDiarmid to discuss how the images might have been contextualized or how the two bodies might work together. When asked why this wasn’t done, or why they didn’t use another approach that would have left the original work intact, the group cited the need for swift and direct action. Studio Voltaire have magnanimously expressed sympathy with the action and support for ACT UP London.

But the actions of ACT UP London, and the reasoning behind them, raise significant questions over how the history of HIV-AIDS activism is told and who decides how we tell it. In ACT UP’s statement, filmmaker Siobhan Fahey writes that she is sure that ‘David McDiarmid would approve’ of their more affirmative change to the posters. Even putting aside for one moment the dubious ethics of assuming one can speak for a deceased artist, or indeed a community, Fahey’s statement is hard to believe. The artist wrote of the ‘Rainbow Aphorisms’ that he didn’t want to present just a positive message, but to capture the complex, mixed feelings of living through the HIV-AIDS crisis: ‘I didn’t think it was simply a matter of gay is good’.

One of David McDiarmid’s Rainbow Aphorisms posters, 1993–95, amended by ACT UP, London, 2018. Courtesy: ACT UP

Activists’s Subversion of ‘I’m Too Sexy To Have AIDS’ Slogan Does Queer History a Disservice - 活动家颠覆“我太性感,没有艾滋病”的口号,奇怪的历史是一种伤害吗?

One of David McDiarmid’s Rainbow Aphorisms posters, 1993–95, amended by ACT UP, London, 2018. Courtesy: ACT UP

It’s also by no means certain that he would have approved of posthumously altering an artist’s work. McDiarmid was actively involved in preserving the estates of artists who had died in the pandemic, aware that many did not have heirs and that their work was vulnerable to disappearance or misappropriation. In appointing themselves to speak for an artist who can’t speak for himself, and deciding what can and can’t be said, with the best of intentions ACT UP London members risk misrepresenting the work and the often complicated, not always comfortable, history of the crisis. As the artist and former Auto Italia co-director Richard John Jones pointed out to me, in a telling irony, at the same time as undertaking this action, the group are actively campaigning against the erasure of Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality from the forthcoming film Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). Defending queer history means also finding a way to acknowledge and deal with the bits of it you don’t like.

By giving themselves the right to decide what is and isn’t ‘relevant’ or what can and can’t be said, the group’s actions also smack of the ‘moralism’ former ACT UP member Douglas Crimp identified in HIV-AIDS activism. From the early 1990s onwards, there was a tendency to push an image of those living with HIV as healthy, responsible, model citizens. But this became complicit in implying that those claimed by AIDS in an earlier phase of the pandemic were somehow bad, overly promiscuous and sick. McDiarmid’s aphorism ‘I’M TOO SEXY TO HAVE AIDS’ mockingly reminds us of a cruel time when desire was distinguished from disease. ACT UP London’s new message is that HIV is something people now live with, and that they can be just as sexy as anyone else. But to fight stigma by seeking to disassociate HIV from AIDS risks implying that the latter is something bad, belonging to a shameful past. While the new message might comfort some in the present, what does the erasure of AIDS from the poster say to those who lost loved ones, or remember a time before medical treatment became available? Surely the task is to remember where we were, whilst also drawing attention to the gains we have made.

Main image: David McDiarmid, Rainbow Aphorisms, 1993–95, installation view, Soho, London, 2018. Courtesy: the Estate of David McDiarmid, Sydney; photograph: Benedict Johnson

Paul Clinton

Paul Clinton is a writer and is lecturer in curating at Goldsmiths, London. His book Other Hunting will be published by Ma Bibliotheque in January 2019.

Opinion /

Paul Clinton
Art and Activism
Queer Politics
David McDiarmid
Studio Voltaire

10月6日星期日,伦敦艾滋病防治行动的成员们,为已故艺术家和艾滋病防治活动家David McDiarmid的一系列海报喷漆。伏尔泰艺术空间工作室在伦敦南部张贴了五彩缤纷的“彩虹格言”(1993-95)来庆祝他的作品。但是活动家们对一个例外说:“我太性感了,没有爱滋病。”他们在邮件中画了一个字母,所以它读到:“我太性感了,我得了HIV”。在一份在线声明中,ACT UP成员Dani Singer认为,自从这些海报首次发布以来,医学上的进步意味着它们现在包含“错误信息”。辛格说,“想到一个新诊断的人走上索霍的街头,面对面地收到这个消息,令人‘深感悲痛’。今天被确诊为艾滋病毒的人很少会继续发展成艾滋病,并且暗示,如果没有适当的背景信息,在群体看来,他们将不必要地污蔑一个已经受到歧视的群体。在他们看来,这一修正保留了麦克迪米德作品的幽默,同时使它在今天更加“相关”。David-mcdiarmid-rainbow-aphorisms-.-view-clapham-high-.-2017-courtesy-of-.-of-david-mcdiarmid-sydney-.-benedict-johnson_c.jpg Activists’s Subversion of ‘I’m Too Sexy To Have AIDS’ Slogan Does Queer History a Disservice - 活动家颠覆“我太性感,没有艾滋病”的口号,奇怪的历史是一种伤害吗?-David McDiarmid,RainbowA.isms,1993-95,安装视图,Clapham,伦敦,2018。礼貌:悉尼David McDiarmid庄园;照片:Benedict Johnson。许多LGBTQ艺术家已经把社交媒体描述为“自己的目标”。很难不同意。难道真的有必要通过纠正这些词语和压低参与同一斗争的艺术家的声音来保护艾滋病毒感染者吗?为一个无法自卫的艺术家说话,或者修改一个已经代表不足的团体的历史,似乎不仅仅是一点点自我挫败。不一定是这样。如果这些活动家需要一种模式来让事情变得不同,他们只需要看看ACT UP的过去行动,或者看看目前在伦敦举办的两个展览:意大利汽车公司的Gran Fury和莫林·佩利的General Idea。当Furies——一个隶属于ACT UP New York的艺术团体——对General Idea的公共艺术项目Imagevirus(1987年,正在进行的)提出异议时,他们并没有诋毁它们。这部作品以黑色幽默的方式,将Robert Indiana的五六十年代的“爱情”标识转化为“艾滋病”这个词。面对社会和政治危机,格兰·弗里反对艾达将军冷酷的讽刺,制作了他们自己的滑稽剧,这次用“RIOT”(1989)代替了“爱”这个词,他们在纽约的街道和广告牌上都贴上了这个词。正是通过允许这两部作品并存,Furies引起了人们对艺术家和活动家在危机中的角色的认识和辩论。screen_._2018-10-08_at_12.38.38.png Activists’s Subversion of ‘I’m Too Sexy To Have AIDS’ Slogan Does Queer History a Disservice - 活动家颠覆“我太性感,没有艾滋病”的口号,奇怪的历史是一种伤害吗? ACT UP成员,修改David McDiarmid的彩虹标语海报之一,1993-95,伦敦,2018。礼貌:对“大怒”来说,重要的是不要参与限制或审查艾滋病毒携带者已经排除在外的声音。我与该集团的通讯证实,他们从未改变或删除其他艺术家的作品。这个组织非常清楚这些作品是如何被掩盖的:当他们确实使用涂鸦时,它是为了显示憎恶同性恋者,而不是其他活动家,是如何纠正或毁坏他们的海报的。Gran Fury还与艺术机构建立了联盟,利用他们的资金和影响力来要求公共广告空间来进一步传播他们的信息。相比之下,ACT UP London既没有联系伏尔泰工作室,也没有联系艺术家大卫·麦克迪亚米德的遗产,来讨论这些图像是如何被语境化的,或者这两个机构是如何一起工作的。当被问及为什么没有这么做,或者为什么他们没有使用另一种原本可以保持原有工作的方法时,该小组指出需要迅速而直接的行动。伏尔泰工作室对行动和支持伦敦的行为表示了极大的同情。但是,伦敦行动联盟的行动及其背后的推理,对如何讲述艾滋病毒活动主义的历史以及由谁来决定如何讲述这一历史提出了重大问题。在ACT UP的声明中,电影制片人Siobhan Fahey写道,她确信“大卫·麦克迪亚米德”会赞成他们更积极地改变海报。即使暂时搁置一下假设一个人能够为一位已故的艺术家或者一个社区说话,这种可疑的道德观,Fahey的声明也是难以置信的。这位艺术家写到“彩虹格言”,他不想仅仅给出一个积极的信息,而是为了捕捉在艾滋病危机中复杂的、复杂的情感:“我不认为这仅仅是同性恋是好事。”David McDiarmid的彩虹格言海报之一,1993 - 95,修正法案,伦敦,2018。礼貌:ACT UP 6023602img——大卫·麦克迪米德的彩虹呐语海报之一,1993-95,由ACT UP修订,伦敦,2018。礼貌:行动起来也绝不能肯定他会同意在死后改变一个艺术家的作品。麦克迪米德积极参与保护在大流行中死亡的艺术家的遗产,意识到许多人没有继承人,他们的作品容易消失或被盗用。在任命自己为一个艺术家谁不能为自己说话,并决定什么可以和不能说,以最好的意图行动起来,伦敦成员冒着误传工作和往往复杂,并不总是舒适的历史危机的风险。正如这位艺术家、前意大利汽车公司联合导演理查德·约翰·琼斯所指出的,具有讽刺意味的是,在采取这一行动的同时,这个组织正在积极地反对从即将上映的电影《波希米亚狂想曲》(2018)中抹去弗雷迪·水星的同性恋。捍卫奇怪的历史意味着找到一种方法来承认和处理你不喜欢的东西。通过赋予自己决定什么是“相关”什么是“不相关”或者什么可以、什么不可以说的权利,该组织的行动也带有“道德主义”的味道,前ACT UP成员道格拉斯·克里普(Douglas.p)在HIV-AIDS活动主义中被识别。从上世纪90年代初开始,人们就倾向于宣传艾滋病毒携带者是健康、负责、模范公民的形象。但是这也暗示了在艾滋病大流行的早期阶段,那些声称患有艾滋病的人不知何故是坏的、过分的混乱和生病的。麦克迪米德的格言“我太性感了,不会得艾滋病”讽刺地提醒我们,当欲望与疾病区分开来的时候,是残酷的时刻。伦敦的新信息是HIV是人们现在生活的东西,而且它们也可以和其他人一样性感。但是,通过寻求将艾滋病毒与艾滋病分离来与耻辱作斗争,可能意味着后者是坏事,属于可耻的过去。尽管这条新消息可能让一些人感到欣慰,但是从海报上删除艾滋病对那些失去亲人的人说了什么,或者还记得在医疗变得可用之前的一段时间?当然,我们的任务是记住我们在哪里,同时也注意到我们所取得的成就。主要形象:David McDiarmid,彩虹格言,1993 - 95,安装视图,SoHo区,伦敦,2018。礼貌:悉尼戴维·麦克迪米德庄园;照片:本尼迪克特·约翰逊·保罗·克林顿·保罗·克林顿是作家,也是伦敦戈德史密斯策展讲师。他的书《其他狩猎》将于2019年1月由马书局出版。意见/行动起来——保罗·克林顿——关于艾滋病艺术和激进主义质疑政治的意见——伏尔泰工作室


Comments are closed.