featured gallery for May 2014

Here and Not Here: Some things I can’t say to your face

I’m not really an artist. Maybe if it weren’t for AIDS, I would have been an artist of some sort. But I was always cautious, and when I got HIV, I decided I was going to try to make myself super-safe, and in my mind that meant making money. Not a lot, just enough. Enough to share with you.

You on the other hand, could be nothing but an artist. You love to play.You believe that fame and lots of money will come to you in time, but that time is always ahead of you.

One version of our story might start here: at The Barn in Toronto, though it was called Jo-Jo’s in 1977. After years of tenuous contact—postcards from Ithaca or from San Diego—I currently share my house with you. Nowadays I knit and sleep a lot, and you carve elaborate granite headstones for people who have died, some of AIDS.

Or another version might start with the radiant children we were in the early 1980s and that scarcely identifiable aspirational anxiety that you and I felt when we were in our twenties, like we were somehow missing out because we weren’t in New York.

And then, suddenly, we were buffaloes going over a cliff.


How was it that you and I made it through the intervening 25 years to reconnect here in our specific identities as a woman with HIV and a gay man who somehow managed to survive it?

Later, after you and I were on somewhat solid ground again, I retrieved a laminated Keith Haring ACT-UP poster from the garbage in my office and explain its importance to one of my co-workers.

But in between, I spent almost four years teaching English Literature in rural southern Africa in a Catholic mission school. There I encountered the rebellious work of a young African artist.I purposefully tracked him down in order to be close to his creativity and contracted HIV from him.

You went to the States, though never to New York, and married a man who died of HIV in the early 2000s without any medical intervention.


When we first arrived back in Toronto, I remember how difficult it was to conceive of an HIV narrative that wasn’t medicalized, or punitive, or involve the abject materiality of the body. The sous rature of “LOVE” in General Idea’s “AIDS”, in a poster in the window of Pages bookstore on Queen Street, was the first image that made me feel that AIDS was something of complexity and significance that was happening to “us” and not “them”.


Andy Fabo and Michael Balser were living and working in a warehouse on Wolseley Street when we first returned to the city, and they gave lots of parties. Stephen Andrews was painting there, too.They looked after each of us for a while during that period.

Michael Balser was especially kind to me. He took a lot of interest in the book I was working on, documenting the experiences of women living with HIV, and we eventually worked together on a short documentary based on this book.

Do you remember when you and I went to Carla Garnet’s gallery off of Bathurst Street to see Stephen Andrew’s Facsimile series? We could identify some of the faces, like Tim Jocelyn’s, apparently caught in the process of disintegrating in early fax technology.In other cases, we knew the names, but the faces were already beyond recognition.And now the gallery itself is gone, and a condo has replaced it.

Robert Flack, with whom you had what you now discreetly refer to as “a dalliance”, created a beautiful poster for the men’s Body Positive support group at Hassle Free Clinic. It was one of his healing-energy-chakra-cosmic-consciousness bodies with text that read: “You are the power”. You believed that, and believed that was why you had not contracted HIV. I, on the other hand, believed in chance. And I survived, and that was not a given.

I have two giclée prints by Michael Balser that remind me of Robert Flack’s work, because like Robert, Michael used his x-rays and MRIs along with computer-generated effects in them.

So, the pictures in this lightbox by Robert Flack, Andy Fabo and Stephen Andrews, and even the one by Andrew Zealley that recalls Robert Flack, stand as themselves, but also for the absence of Michael Balser’s.


While you were living on Saltspring and later, in the States, I did a lot of work with AIDS ACTION NOW!. Once, I had to contact the friend of an AIDS ACTION NOW! member who had died, to obtain a picture of him to publish in the newsletter. I had not known him very well. He had facial Kaposi’s and had once read out a poem by his boyfriend in New York at an AIDS ACTION NOW! meeting that rhymed AIDS drug names in a kind of rap. The photo I received for publication was of a stunning, smiling young man, someone open and alive and full of the future, hugging a tiger cub in his arms. His lover in New York, though I only realized later, was Felix Gonzalez-Torres. And this young man was the subject of Gonzalez-Torres’ Untitled (Portrait of Ross in LA). I only realized this the other day, in preparing this lightbox.


I love Jessica Whitbread’s “Fuck Positive Women” poster. It’s brash with more than a hint of tawdriness.And her tea parties, through which I recently met Kia Labeija, which acknowledge and parody shrinking-violet womanhood and colonial history with tea and biscuits and handwritten letters passed among women with delicate constitutions who are part of a secret sisterhood, amidst doilies and embroidered tablecloths. Hers is kind of close to my own aesthetic, which leans toward the barely sufficient, the stained, tattered, quotidienne, hoarded and jimmy-rigged. Sort of like Jeffrey Wilson’s.

If I were to become an artist, my work would look something like his.