Mykki Blanco, STONES & WATER WEIGHT
ALTERNATE ENDINGS, RADICAL BEGINNINGS is the 28th annual iteration of Visual AIDS’ longstanding Day With(out) Art project. Curated by Erin Christovale and Vivian Crockett for Visual AIDS, the video program prioritizes Black narratives within the ongoing AIDS epidemic, commissioning seven new and innovative short videos from artists Mykki Blanco, Cheryl Dunye & Ellen Spiro, Reina Gossett, Thomas Allen Harris, Kia LaBeija, Tiona Nekkia McClodden and Brontez Purnell.
Below, Day With(out) Art artist Mykki Blanco discusses his contribution to the program, STONES & WATER WEIGHT.
All seven artist statements are also printed in our Day With(out) Art 2017 publication, available here.
The video stems from a technique of how to deal with anxiety and stress: metaphorically picking up the heaviest object that you can hold, so all of your attention and focal points turn to the object, as a way to alleviate mental discomfort. I wanted to queer that idea, and apply it to an act of endurance. I'm lifting heavy rocks, wood and more, and also using lingerie and corsetry—the pieces that I am playing with come from my performance wardrobe as Mykki Blanco. It’s a show, a ceremony, as a reaction to people's preconceived ideas of what the physical limits are of someone who is HIV+.
People throw a lot of their own projections onto me about being HIV+ and how that now defines every single aspect of my narrative. When people know that you're HIV+, it comes with this question or gut reaction that you're somehow ill or incapable. People have this tendency to come up to me and say things like "Oh, you look really good!” I know that they think they're being nice or feel like they have to say something because now they know this very personal thing about me, but they had no context for my health before I went public about being HIV+. I know that unfortunately that is something that people will probably do to me for the rest of my career. It's very patronizing actually, to say to someone "You look healthy." It's like, "Well so do you! You look healthy too I guess.”
I shot STONES & WATER WEIGHT with my boyfriend in a quarry in Norway, where I was on an artist residency. You're watching struggle and tension build in my body, and it relates to Greek mythology, Sisyphus and Atlas. Sisyphus is always rolling the stone up to the top of the hill to have it come back, and then has to roll the stone again. Atlas is a figure that holds the world in place on his shoulders, if he ever let go, the world would fly out of orbit. I very much know what it's like to feel like you have all this great success happening, while also spinning out of axis at the same time.
So much of what's happened with my career and being in the public eye happened very quickly. I have only been making work since 2012. I was lucky in that people caught on to what I was doing at a time when it felt pioneering, subversive or transgressive, amidst broader gender queer and trans visibility. Yet there have been many times when I felt very overwhelmed. I felt blessed and fortunate for everything that was happening, but also that my career and my own life was very much out of my control. During the times before I came out as HIV+, the feelings of fear, depression and stagnation spun out. I did not have a very balanced or healthy routine in my life.
The video is a thought form. I always want to tie in actual states of consciousness I have really lived. I think about my body a lot, and physical work is very much a part of who I am and what I do. My physical body is how I make my money—a majority if not all of my actual income comes from performing. I physically have to be somewhere, in a location moving my body and that is how I have eaten for the last four and a half years. If something were to happen to my body or if I were to do things that would harm my body, that would then end, derail, delay or cause a friction to how I intrinsically survive.
Through social media now there's a lot of pressure with fitness culture to look healthy. When you're losing weight, working out, when you're physically active, water weight is the first weight that you lose, it's the easiest to shed. Water is also the ingredient of who we are, essential for our life. You release water when you sweat, and I sweat in this video. It's this release but also something that is intrinsic to our survival. I do believe that you can transmute your emotions and your mental activity positively. That may mean going to therapy, needing to run two miles in the morning and at night, having to participate in a ritual of some kind—whatever form that shedding of your mental or physical trauma takes, your water weight. For me, the idea of ritual, of having a focal point, has been something that I definitely needed in my life, and I thought I could reflect that.
I didn't want my narrative as an artist to stop with my HIV admission. I didn't have examples of anyone coming out as HIV+ and that being beneficial to their career, their practice, or their public image. The only examples that I ever had of anyone coming out as HIV+ were Magic Johnson and Eazy-E, which, generationally, I have never quite been able to connect with. I was extremely scared, because I did feel as if I was on a path to breaking more barriers, within hip-hop and performance work. When I did come out and there was support, it became very clear professionally and personally who would want to be associated with me and who would not. I realized this duty for my creativity to continue working, because there was a surge of new support and compassion.
I'm HIV+ in 2017. I don't need to be nostalgic or play into society's nostalgia about my condition. By sheer definition of living how I live, making the decisions that I make in my career as an artist, I'm going to redefine what you think that condition is in general, for me and for other people. I think that for a lot of people becoming HIV+ is the worst thing that's ever happened to them. But the buck doesn't just stop at me becoming or coming out as HIV+, fading away. I still have other ideas. I still have a platform. I'm going to keep working. And I have.
~As told to Alex Fialho
Mykki Blanco is a writer and international recording artist. Blanco found fame first as a fearless noise rap poet publishing the book "From The Silence Of Duchamp To The Noise Of Boys.” Blanco is known as one of hip hop’s queer pioneers amassing a vast global following with a savvy and savage social media output. Mykki is hailed online as a digital warrior princess who rules across the underground music scene with mixtapes like Gay Dog Food, cult hits like Kingpinning and sensational videos like Coke White, Starlight, The Initiation, Wavvy, and Haze Boogie Life. Everything Blanco has ever released has been razor sharp, ahead of its time and sometimes deliciously far out. Blanco has toured with Björk, recorded with Tricky and Basement Jaxx. In 2016 Blanco released "MYKKI" her debut album to critical praise. She has also been featured in The New York Times; on the covers of Gay Times as well as The Village Voice; and in Time Magazine, where she discussed what it means to be a musician living openly with HIV. Blanco lives and works internationally, often in Lisbon, Portugal.