This week I’ve spent most of my time photocopying old AIDS and HIV-related articles from the years 2004 and 2005. Fortunately this is the kind of busy work that I love. It’s endlessly fascinating to enter this kind of timewarp, to watch time collapse in on itself as you breeze past a year’s major news items from over a decade ago in the space of a few long afternoons. While my task was to focus on the AIDS-related articles, I confess that sometimes my attention got caught on the corners of an unrelated news story — after all, that 2004 presidential election was a nail-biter!
So much of what I’m finding interesting about doing the legwork for the 25th anniversary catalogue is the fluidity of time. This project has been going on for 25 long years, and in that time it’s grown, changed shape, and talked back to itself. Some of the years were completed in real time, in the messy midst of time’s coursing waters, and some of them were completed much later, concocting a narrative safe from the riverbank. I think there’s great merit in both of these perspectives, which is something I love about working here: the ICI throws dogma out the door when it gets in the way of a fascinating angle. There’s something awesome about trying to build something when all the bricks haven’t yet landed on your doorstep; there’s also something awesome about the clarity that distance brings. And yet is there a moment in time when we can ever achieve true clarity? We’re always writing and rewriting our stories, incorporating new information, thinking that this time we’ve got the story down pat, before a new day comes and brings us a wrench to throw into the works.
We’re doing a 25th anniversary retrospective to look back at what we’ve accomplished but also to look forward at what we might yet do. We’ve chosen an arbitrary number because society tells us that, for some reason, multiples of 5 are a perfect time to take stock of ourselves and our work. But the project doesn’t cease even as we try to capture it in the frame of our camera. As students of visual culture, we know better than anyone else that a snapshot is defined by what’s left outside the frame as well as what’s contained in it. There is no one ultimate metaperspective from which we can truly see and understand everything, no moment in time in which the one true narrative will finally crystallize.
That’s why I love the way the ICI is challenging itself to tell the story of itself. Telling a hundred overlapping, contradictory stories from a hundred different angles is much more interesting to me than trying to create one totalizing narrative.