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Art AIDS America recalls changes and a new threat
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2016-12-07

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There was a powerful mosaic of sound that echoed through Chicago's Alphawood Gallery in Lincoln Park on Dec. 3.

Between the deep resonance of a bell sounded every 10 minutes ( audio art originally created by Robert Farber signifying the rate of AIDS-related deaths in 1991 ), performance artist Joseph Ravens was followed by an ensemble of five all dressed in bright crimson chanted the words "condom cloud" in a hauntingly Gregorian manner as they paced through the museum carrying with balloons of dark gray inflated condoms above them.

"Some things are not allowed beneath the shadow of a condom cloud," Ravens recited with subtle power as the others slowly embraced and fell at his side. "The condom cloud keeps chasing me, something like an enemy and promising protection inside its rubber walls."

In his own spoken-word performance, Alphawood Foundation Program Officer Christopher M.M. Audain said, "I'm sick of being an endangered species, sick of being a statistic. I'm dying twice as fast as any other American."

And still the bell tolled—a constant reminder that HIV/AIDS is not to be dismissed now any more than those occupying the highest offices in the land did so in the 1980's.

Organizations like ACT-UP refused to let them.

It was therefore only fitting that ACT-UP founding members Mary Patton and Jeanne Kracher were part of a panel discussing how AIDS changed America.

They were joined by University of Chicago Professor of Medicine Dr. Renslow Sherer; Columbia College Chicago dance/theater chair Peter Carpenter; artist and member of New York City-based AIDS activist artist collective Gran Fury Robert Vazquez-Pacheco; and Tacoma Art Museum ( TAM ) Executive Director Stephanie Stebich. Public health administrator, educator and 2001 LGBT Hall of Fame inductee Lora Branch served as moderator.

In all the discussion of AIDS past and present, one consistent theme seemed to emerge—that the fight, particularly on the part of activists, had to begin anew. According to Vazquez-Pacheco, there is even talk among Gran Fury of starting up again.

With the threat of devastating cuts to the health care and civil rights of LGBTQ people and HIV/AIDS sufferers looming under an Electoral College win of Donald Trump, there was a sobering consensus that the plight of those living with HIV/AIDS may become even worse than it was under President Ronald Reagan, that the bell which tolls for them even today will only become louder, perhaps more frequent but never silenced.

For more information on Art AIDS America, visit ArtAIDSAmericaChicago.org .


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