World AIDS Day: Jim Hodges on 9/11, HIV and politics

Jim Hodges Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center

It's World AIDS Day, and there's room for cautious optimism on the AIDS front: HIV infection rates are down 21 percent worldwide since a high 14 years ago. But there's more to be done, and that's one of the messages of artist Jim Hodges' film Untitled, which is screening today at at some 60 U.S. art and community organizations, including my workplace, the Walker Art Center.

His film is a 60-minute mashup of cultural references from the culture wars of the 1980s, when his late friend, artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres, was working, and from around history. But while Hodges and collaborators Carlos Marques da Cruz and video Encke King include ample mention of the struggle for justice by HIV/AIDS activists -- there's some great footage of ACT UP actions -- he also jumps around in history, from 9/11 to the death camps of World War II, Gitmo to the Rodney King beatings. The structure gives a nod to Gonzalez-Torres' "dateline" pieces, which present historical events out of sequence, while also placing the activism around AIDS within the context of other social justice fights around racial inequality, poverty and war.

Hodges says the film isn't really done, nor will it likely ever be. It's a "fragment of a continuum," he told me in an interview at the Walker late last month. That is, it can be re-edited and added to as new events -- Occupy Wall Street? The Arab Spring? -- merit.

In a memorable part of our conversation, Hodges recalls his experiences following the 9/11 attacks in his home city of New York:
I would never want this to happen to anyone else. This is so horrible. This should never happen to anyone, to have this kind of horror imposed on you from you-don’t-know-what.

I felt: Wow, I know what this feels like. This feels like what it felt like in 1988, when Scott was diagnosed with HIV. This is what it felt like when he died in 1993 of AIDS. It was like, “Oh my god, that’s the same feeling.” I thought: “Okay, now the circle just expanded. It’s not just me and my friends and a small percentage of the population who are suffering from this phenomenon. Actually, all of us have been brought into this reality of horror.”

So now, we’re all vibrating from that same place. We’re all on the same ground. So now is the time to actually have a dialogue: What’s going on in this world? How could this happen to us? Why would we never want to do this to someone else?

What’s the politicians’ answer? This is a time to, boom-boom-boom, beat those drums and, boom-boom-boom, make some money and blow somebody up and expand ourselves and take advantage of someone in this weakness.
Read more from the interview, which will be published in its entirety on the redesigned Walker home page, which launches later today.

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