On September 24,2012 panelists Gregg Bordowitz, Joy Episalla, Loring McAlpin, and Harvey Weiss with moderator Barbara Hunt Mclanahan, gathered for Frank Moore: Together in Art and Activism. Presented by Visual AIDS and Grey Art Gallery at NYU’s Fales Library, the panel discussion was an opportunity to explore the life of Moore, while diving into relationships between art and activism. Each panelist took personal but diverse approach.
Instead of rehearsing his wonderful “Battle Lines” essay he wrote for the Toxic Beauty catalog, artist and writer Gregg Bordowitz began Together in Art and Activism by placing painter Frank Moore in conversation with 20th Century politically engaged artists Ben Shahn and Robert Rauschenberg. A rigorous presentation illuminating the role art plays in relation to social change; it situated Moore in a historical context and placed HIV within the ongoing struggle for freedom, and self-determination.
Yet it was an off the cuff comment from Bordowitz that pulled attention from the vast scope he was sketching, rooting Moore’s work, and his legacy very much in the days of early AIDS activism.
In recent years Bordowitz, member of ACT UP and DIVA TV, has been reexamining his ideas regarding AIDS, art and activism. In his 2011 book about General Idea’s Imagevirus, Bordowitz writes, "At the time I didn’t appreciate Imagevirus. I wasn’t even aware of the scope and scale of the project. Now, from the vantage of time, I can appreciate General Idea’s work was no less political than the AIDS activists’ work of the 1980s. This realization prompts a re-calibration—a reframing of the group’s efforts within the complex and contradictory history of avant-garde aspirations throughout the twentieth century."
Bordowitz offered a similar re-calibration of Moore. He casually mentioned he remembered Moore as “an artist in his studio”. Meant as a testament to Moore’s dedication as an artist, and a way to locate him during the height of direct action AIDS activism. The comment exposed a fault line related to Moore, opening up into a larger conversation.
Some artists, such as Bordowitz, involved in HIV/AIDS during the 80s and 90s felt at the time that creative production should err on the side of agitprop, rooted in the idea that the HIV crisis was political.
Moore was an example of an artist on the other side of the spectrum. "The AIDS virus is just a virus,” he said in an interview with the New York Academy of Sciences, “It has no personal agenda against me. Moore was one of many members of the Visual AIDS Artist Caucus who originated the red ribbon as a symbol for AIDS awareness, seen at the time by some activists as a passive form of activism.
During the Q & A Bordowitz was asked to elucidate on the different approaches. Like in Imagevirus he spoke about how his idea of what was needed then, is different than what he knows now. The re-calibration is: at the time activists like Bordowitz had a hard time seeing contributions from artists like General Idea and Moore as a form of activism, with distance, and contemplation, now he can. This is not a change of heart on his part. Rather it is Bordowitz letting us in on his personal reckoning, his past colliding with the present, resulting in new (and maybe constantly changing) conclusions. While Bordowitz resisted bringing his own biography into the conversation, he ended up sharing through his process his thoughts on what it means to be together in art and activism: it is complicated, deeply personal, and things change over time
Gregg Bordowitz is an artist and writer. His publications include, General Idea: Imagevirus, 2010, and The AIDS Crisis Is Ridiculous and Other Writings 1986-2003, 2004. His films, including Fast Trip Long Drop (1993), The Suicide (1996), and Habit (2001) have been widely shown in festivals, museums, theaters, and broadcast internationally. For the past several years, Bordowitz has turned his attention to performance, including the improvisational lecture series Testing Some Beliefs. Bordowitz teaches in the Film, Video, New Media, and Animation Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and he is on the faculty of the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. www.greggbordowitz.com