New worlds

Today is the last day of my Editorial Fellowship at the ICI. I’m sad to go but so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to work, think and learn here. I’ve been infinitely curious about this place since I came to the neighborhood years ago and noticed the ICI’s sign while pumping gas at the station next door. It was my dream to find a way inside, and I’m happy to say that my experience here has been even more interesting than I could have imagined.

One of favorite things about this place is this place: the space in which all this working and thinking and learning happens. I started off in the back room, the Monkey Head laboratory, and became unduly attached to my little corner: the wide windows, the crooked desk, the scrawled-on walls and ceiling. Then one day I came to work and everything was moving. I learned that this is something the ICI does: it rearranges its spaces at will to best fit the needs of the present moment, which at the ICI is never the same as the last moment. Bookshelves were shifted, cabinets wheeled in and out, spaces and objects repurposed in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Old landscapes were obliterated as something new was scaffolded over it, and within a few hours I was in a brand new room.

I mourned for a moment before I realized nothing could be more characteristic of the ICI than this. In line with its ethos and mission, the ICI is constantly reactualizing itself. The building is a manifestation of the ICI’s mind, hard at work looking critically and creatively at everything — including itself. The spaces are always changing, configuring themselves in relation to the project of the day; nothing is too precious to move or reimagine or leave behind. The library runs on rhizomatic thought, inquisitively jumping from concept to concept (culture, performance, bookmaking, language, visuality) like an restless mind. Things emerge from storage and disappear back into memory.  There are no hard and fast rules for how to organize yourself within the brain’s walls except be curious and be open and look closely. Each room is not just a physical space but a headspace, a place to throw your thoughts on the ceiling and pin your visions to the wall, a place from which to dream and question and conceptualize and redream, requestion and reconceptualize. And when the room has served its purpose it’s allowed to become something else, to burn itself up and start over again asking a new question, with enthusiasm instead of fear.

This is a perspective I’ve been honored to learn and digest and work within. In my six months here, I’ve contributed to two of the ICI’s on-going projects, the Monkey Head Project and the AIDS Chronicles 25th Anniversary catalogue. I’ve had the chance to ask and answer questions about art, book production, newspapers, philosophy, science, history, activism, death, sex and mourning. I’ve bound dozens of books, stained my fingertips black with newspaper ink and read the stories of countless dead men. I’ve listened to thoughtful voices from the past, taken stock of the present moment and imagined many futures. Throughout all of it I’ve been both supported and trusted by the staff here, and I’ve been humbled by their belief in my ability to contribute even a little to this dynamic and deeply compelling institution. I hope that this isn’t the end of my creative and professional relationship with the ICI, but wherever I go next, I’ll have the perspectives I learned here hooked around my neck like a pair of reading glasses, ready to reimagine new worlds.

— Hanna Bahedry

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Intersecting threads

This week I’ve been working on compiling far-flung data into one place so we can easily digest it and use it for fuel. Each year of the AIDS Chronicle has its own set of numbers and its own particular patterns. I’m looking at how many AIDS-related articles there are each year, how many are above versus below the fold, and what their content is. Hopefully after all the data’s in, it will allow us to see short- and long-term patterns and trends in the quality and quantity of AIDS reporting.

One part of this task was picking a few labels for the type of content in each article. For example, was it a political article, detailing a tussle in the Senate over funding? Was it a pharmaceutical breakthrough, or an outbreak of a new puzzling H.I.V. strain? Is it about the United States or is it an international story? Is it about the social consequences of AIDS? Is it a completely unrelated article that happens to include the words AIDS or H.I.V.?

It’s a simple enough concept, but trying to label an article and consign it to a box — e.g., political, social issues, healthcare/pharmaceutical — drove home to me just how porous the boundaries of these categories are. Every article about a new drug also holds the specters of all the political decisions made regarding who has access to those drugs. Every political battle about how much money to allocate towards H.I.V. and AIDS research is affected by real and imagined social interest. Every article about the social impact of AIDS hides all the healthcare policies that amplify that social impact. Every article about how bad it is “over there” works to elide the fact that it’s still an “over here” problem as well. Since AIDS first appeared in our national consciousness, all its various threads — social, political, health-related — have been hopelessly intertwined with one another, making it one of the most complicated issues we’ve ever had to solve.

Trying to box up all these ideas without edges reminds me of just how intersectional the problem really is — and thus how multi-facted its solution has to be. It reminds me why we do projects like this in the first place: someone’s got to point to all the empty spaces, to all the things that aren’t being said, to all the silenced voices and the grounds left unmined.

— Hanna Bahedry

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