Time travel

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.

— Hanna Bahedry

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Looking closely at the AIDS Chronicles

These past few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time with the various editions of the AIDS Chronicles. I’m taking detailed notes about each one for the upcoming catalogue, noting information like dimensions, medium, and the people involved with their making (cover artists, binders, readers and painters). I’m also taking some more abstract notes, observing what makes each year unique and trying to convey that as well. It’s been interesting to spend time reading each set of objects closely,¬†seeing how wildly each year varies and picking up on the little things I haven’t noticed in my cursory interactions with them before this.

Esteban Chavez S.’s 1995 Chronicle, the earliest bound year, showcases the theme of East meets West on its eclectic hand-sewn covers; looking closer, I realized two of his four volumes read left to right in a traditionally Western style while the other two read right to left in a traditionally Western style, a defining detail which had slipped by me before.

The four volumes of Gary Brown’s 1996 edition each represent a different season. The spring edition features a cracked sidewalk with a tiny bud peeking through it, and on the back, a simple note of remembrance to his friend who passed away from AIDS. I sensed the struggle between hope and grief in the images, the difficulty highlighted by the rough ribbed texture of the paint. The summer edition features a fiery sun hanging over a convoluted hedge maze; only on a closer look do you notice the sun itself is also a maze.

Deborah Cullen-Morales’ 1998 edition is bound not as a book but as an old-fashioned newspaper rack, a form of storage about which even Google didn’t have much information to offer up. It takes up space in an impressive way that a book cannot, and I spent time wondering if this object’s meaning will continue to shift over time as our relationship to it changes.

I especially enjoyed interacting with Martin Gantman’s 2001 edition–not a book but a box filled with the ashes of that year’s newspapers, the few AIDS articles contained inside an unopenable bottle nestled in the ashes. The sheer unreadability of it challenged me, forcing me to push logic and words aside and simply sit with how the object made me feel.

I’ve still got many more years to get through, but it’s been nice to narrow my scope from the project as a 25-year whole, to zoom in closely to the various building blocks that make the Chronicles what they are. I’ll be taking a break from blogging over the holidays but will be back in January to pick up where I left off.

— Hanna Bahedry

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