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Review: Implicated and Immune

Sun 15 Feb 2015 In: Events View at Wayback View at NDHA

Artzaid by Phillip Kelley Implicated and Immune, HIV/AIDS-themed art exhibition Michael Lett Gallery Cnr Karangahape Rd and East Street 28 January to 28 September 2015 I didn't see the original Implicated and Immune exhibition at Pakuranga's Fisher Gallery (now Te Tuhi) in 1992. For me, viewing that would have been too much too soon. My partner and I were then in daily life and wide-screen Technicolour, surrounded by HIV. Most of our friends had it, there was no cure and precious little in the way of medications to keep them alive. All around me gay men were sick and dying. Every friend, and most acquaintances, we had at the start of the 1990s eventually died, often horribly. It was real and present and for us seeing it interpreted by artists was to enter the world of the abstract would have been too much. Unbeknown to me then I also had HIV, I was late to test but in 1994 I got the dreaded diagnosis. My partner, thankfully, had not contracted it. I was recently able to put the pieces together and now know that I contracted it in Los Angeles in April 1984. Somehow I have survived for just over thirty years where most others lasted four or less. As I entered the Michael Lett Gallery just off Auckland's Karangahape Road, in company of another of the small cohort of long-term survivors, the first thing I saw of 2015's Implicated and Immune was a collage, by Philip Kelly, of newspaper and other writings on HIV running from the early days of the epidemic. Sheets and sheets of pink paper covered in names, attitudes, fears and hopes from HIV days past. Interesting, reflective yet not emotionally gripping... but well-placed as an introduction to the new incarnation of Implicated and Immune. On the ground floor I was struck by a row of ten wire-framed clotheshorses draped with stark white sheets and towels by Grant Lingard. It was impossible not to reflect on how messy being bedridden in the final stages of an AIDS death often was. Incontinence, sores, coughing up phlegm, vomiting, and in one sadly memorable case I dear friend whose lack of immunity let cancer run rampant and whose last days were spent weeping blood from every possible orifice. Friends formed a roster to keep him company and change his bedding time and time again. I can't remember if the staff of the AIDS ward were over-worked or over-cautious of the risk of infection. But he was cared for and his blood and HIV-soaked towels and sheets quietly dealt with. To me these airing sheets are a homage to those in our community who stepped up to the mark. And a ghostly echo of those who died messily. Julia Morrison's Godog, Dulia rosary hangs from the ceiling Another visually arresting work is Julia Morrison's huge 30 metre long rosary of beads pressed from her own shit and paper. Some are gilded. Morrison has done other works using her shit and blood and I'm told this piece was included to reflect the early days when every bodily product from tears to blood to shit was suspect in the search for transmission routes. It certainly reminded me of an Auckland doctor involved in the early response to HIV who made a bizarre mantra of wailing about anal sex and “faeces! FAECES!” But my innate conservatism around things artistic meant this was a difficult piece to countenance. Amongst the other ground floor pieces were two large albums of photographs and text by photographic documentary maker Fiona Clark. Simple, eloquent, static and deeply moving. But it's frustrating that only one double page from each album can be seen under the perspex. Downstairs, in the 'isolation chamber' of an old bank vault a video of dancer Douglas Wright, called Elegy, is intense, grainy, stark and almost impossible to ignore. A chair, a brick wall and Wright's unique choreography seemed eloquent of embracing suffering and finding a way of shedding the pain and moving on with the memories intact and a new reality to be lived. The Skeleton by Christine Webster Further on, an iconic image, by Christine Webster, of Wright embracing and clasping a skeleton to his body is arresting. Life embracing death, the living sharing death with the dying, this completely transcends the macabre and is instead touching and humane. Upstairs I really could not make head nor tail of a work by Christine Fraser of scraps of visual media stuck to a big sheet of black polythene. I stared and stared at it but... nothing. Amongst the other exhibits upstairs was a rare treat, a looping video of Peter Wells and Stuart Main's groundbreaking and searing 1986 short film A Death In The Family. In its day this film pierced deep into the heart of fear, disruption, bigotry, despair, desperation, determination and hope which suffused the early era of HIV among New Zealand gay men. It's still a remarkable piece of film-making and worthy of watching from beginning to end, for which a couple of chairs would be a help. There is much more to see, from the mind-bendingly abstract to the curiously mundane and while not all of the pieces selected for this exhibition will appeal or even convey a message to everyone it is well worth experiencing. - Doug Sanders Doug Sanders - 15th February 2015    

Credit: Doug Sanders

First published: Sunday, 15th February 2015 - 2:46pm

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