ALTERNATE ENDINGS, RADICAL BEGINNINGS

Newly commissioned videos by Mykki Blanco, Cheryl Dunye & Ellen Spiro, Reina Gossett, Thomas Allen Harris, Kia LaBeija, Tiona Nekkia McClodden and Brontez Purnell premiering on World AIDS Day 2017.

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.

In spite of the impact of HIV/AIDS within Black communities, these stories and experiences are constantly excluded from larger artistic and historical narratives. In 2016 African Americans represented 44% of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States. Given this context, it is increasingly urgent to feature a myriad of stories that consider and represent the lives of those housed within this statistic. ALTERNATE ENDINGS, RADICAL BEGINNINGS seeks to highlight the voices of those that are marginalized within broader Black communities nationwide, including queer and trans people. 

The commissioned projects include intimate meditations of young HIV positive protagonists; a consideration of community-based HIV/AIDS activism in the South; explorations of the legacies and contemporary resonances within AIDS archives; a poetic journey through New York exploring historical traces of queer and trans life, and more. Together, the videos provide a platform centering voices deeply impacted by the ongoing epidemic.

Visual AIDS will present ALTERNATE ENDINGS, RADICAL BEGINNINGS with public programs involving the artists and curators at four marquee screenings:

Over 100 partnering institutions across the world will also screen the program on/around December 1st! (details here)

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and the generous support of The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation. Visual AIDS would also like to thank the artists for the time and resources they have contributed to this project.

Thomas Allen Harris, About Face: The Evolution of a Black Producer, 2017 (7:52)

As the AIDS epidemic in New York escalated during the ‘80s, a young, out, Black producer was fighting to get information about the crisis on screen. Thomas Allen Harris, raised by activists in the Bronx and East Africa, produced a series of public television programs focused on HIV/AIDS, bringing folks who were previously ignored by mainstream media to the core of public discussion. Despite the program’s success in breaking open the narrative of the crisis, the pushback Harris received from the channel’s executives and constraints of corporate media ultimately led the artist to suspend work in public television. 28 years later, Harris draws from these resurfaced tapes and an essay he’d written at the time: “About Face: The Evolution of a Black Producer."

Mykki Blanco, STONES & WATER WEIGHT, 2017 (6:40)

STONES & WATER WEIGHT responds to the need for new interpretations of HIV+ people. Mykki Blanco is portrayed in tasks that test the limits of the body and physical stress and the boundaries of normative health. STONES & WATER WEIGHT is an exercise in how societies perceive the fragilities of those who survive with the virus. In this era of globalized fitness culture through the use of social media, "looking healthy" matters much more than actually being healthy. Using endurance as the motivation for the performance, the video creates a new perception of HIV+ people as strong and resilient. Research references include the Atlas myth, the god of endurance that holds the earth and the skies over his shoulders, as well as the never ending climb of the Sisyphus myth.

Tiona Nekkia McClodden, The Labyrinth 1.0, 2017 (5:48)

The Labyrinth 1.0 is a poetic film essay that cites writer and poet Brad Johnson's poem "The Labyrinth," published in 1995 in the anthology Milking Black Bull. Sourcing 16mm surveillance footage,16mm 1970s tearoom porn, and structuralist film footage shot in North Philadelphia, the work visually explores the concept of the labyrinth space as a site for cruising and gestural based desire.

Kia LaBeija, Goodnight, Kia, 2017 (5:59)

Over the duration of the ongoing AIDS epidemic, an estimated 17 million children have lost one or both parents to an AIDS-related illness. Many of these children living with the virus themselves have ended up displaced or forced out of their homes. In Goodnight, Kia, Kia LaBeija processes a reoccurring dream of the home she shared with her mother Kwan Bennett. Bennett died of an AIDS-related illness in October of 2004, resulting in an unanticipated move that reshaped the course of her teenage daughter's life.

Brontez Purnell, 100 Boyfriends Mixtape (The Demo), 2017 (8:09)

Set in an urban fairytale, DeShawn (an unlikely anti-hero) is smack dabbing in the middle of a peculiar crossroads. He is haunted by the ghosts of 100 men (ex-"boyfriends" for one and also the ghosts of everyone they dated too.) His days are filled with spiraling epiphanies and lucid reckless Bohemianism fueled by systemic poverty and HIV ennui. In this particular sketch he is relating his philosophy of the world to an unknown caller on his land line telephone whilst magically shrink fitting his new Levi's jeans that he recently shoplifted from Macy's…

Cheryl Dunye & Ellen Spiro, DiAna's Hair Ego REMIX, 2017 (8:38)

30 years after Ellen Spiro made DiAna’s Hair Ego: AIDS Info Up Front, the AIDS crisis is still raging in the deep South where the film was shot. Director Cheryl Dunye, after reading about the ongoing AIDS crisis in the South, visits DiAna DiAna and Dr. Bambi Gaddist in the hair salon in Columbia, South Carolina where they first began their innovative safe sex education work. DiAna’s Hair Ego REMIX is the beginning of a new story and new hope in the face of an ongoing tragedy.

Reina Gossett, Atlantic is a Sea of Bones, 2017 (7:32)

Atlantic is a Sea of Bones is a short film drawing from the Lucille Clifton poem of the same name that follows Egyptt LaBejia, an NYC-based performer through the 80s, 90s, and 2000's in NYC. The haunting and otherwordly film set to an original score features small every day acts of refusal, resistance, and existence—such as performance and self expression—that have a tremendous impact on the world. The film reveals how the historical and systemic violence, like the killing and policing of Black queer and trans life, continue to haunt our contemporary landscapes and is inextricably linked to the ongoing AIDS epidemic and the black queer/trans spaces shaped so intimately by HIV/AIDS, including the spaces where we come together and make life together: public spaces and nightlife spaces.

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.

Cheryl Dunye emerged as part of the 1990's "queer new wave" of young film and video makers. Dunye has made over 15 films including HBO’s Stranger Inside and her debut film, The Watermelon Woman, recently restored by Outfest’s UCLA Legacy Project for the films’ 20th anniversary. In 2016, Dunye received a Guggenheim Fellowship and became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Presently, Dunye is an assistant professor in the School of Cinema at San Francisco State University, is at work on her next feature film Black Is Blue, and recently joined the directing team of the TV series Queen Sugar, created by Ava DuVernay for OWN. Dunye lives and works in Oakland, CA.

Reina Gossett is an artist and the 2017 Activist In Residence at Barnard College Center for Research on Women (BCRW). While at BCRW, she recently directed The Personal Things, an animated short starring iconic trans activist Miss Major and the everyday ways people fight back. Gossett often makes her art through collaboration. Along with Sasha Wortzel, Gossett directed Happy Birthday, Marsha! about legendary performer and activist Marsha P. Johnson. Gossett is an editor of the anthology TRAP DOOR about trans art and cultural production, to be published by the New Museum and MIT Press in October 2017. A longtime community organizer, Gossett worked as the membership director at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Critical Resistance, Queers for Economic Justice, where she directed the Welfare Organizing Project and produced A Fabulous Attitude, documenting low income LBGT New Yorkers. Gossett moderated Visual AIDS’ 2015 event AGING FIERCELY WHILE TRANS and was a featured artist in Visual AIDS’ Playsmart safer sex kit project, exhibited and distributed in The Brooklyn Museum exhibition Agitprop. Gossett lives and works in New York City, NY.

Thomas Allen Harris is an award-winning director and President of Chimpanzee Productions, Inc. a company dedicated to producing unique audio-visual experiences that illuminate the human condition and the search for identity, family and spirituality, including feature length films, performances and live multimedia productions. Harris is a prolific gay artist who has shown at the Whitney Biennial and won Guggenheim and Sundance fellowships. Harris has recently shown in the AfroPoP series produced by the National Black Programming Consortium at PBS. His personal and innovative films- Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People (2014), Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela (2005), E Minha Cara/That’s My Face (2001), VINTAGE-Families of Value (1995) have received critical acclaim at International film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Toronto, FESPACO, Outfest, Flaherty, Cape Town and Melbourne Arts Festival. Harris lives and works in New York City, NY.

Kia LaBeija is a contemporary artist who provokes awareness, acceptance and activism for HIV/AIDS through her portraiture and performance art. Her work explores the intersections of community, politics, fine art and activism. As a visual artist she stages digital portraits as theatrical and cinematic re-imaginings of non fictional events to spark conversation, complicating the way we view her subjects and the spaces they occupy. LaBeija’s portraiture utilizes the medium of story telling, to preserve histories and make sociopolitical commentaries on current events. LaBeija was a featured artist in Art, AIDS, America, alongside Keith Haring, Annie Leibovitz, Nan Goldin and Robert Mapplethorpe and more; she was the only woman of color; the only woman living with HIV; and the only artist born with HIV included in the exhibition. A performer by nature, LaBeija is a member of the Iconic House of LaBeija and uses Voguing as performance practice and community based work. LaBeija lives and works in New York City, NY.

Tiona Nekkia McClodden is a curator, visual artist, and filmmaker whose work explores and critiques issues at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and social commentary. Themes examined in McClodden's films and works have been re-memory and more recently narrative biomythography, and shared ideas, values, and beliefs within the African Diaspora—what she calls, “Black mentifact.” McClodden’s work is interested in exploring intersubjectivities within Black communities as a tool for creating insider perspectives within film, time based works, and objects. McClodden lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.

Brontez Purnell has been publishing, performing, and curating in the Bay Area for over ten years. He is the author of Fag School, The Cruising Diaries and Johnny Would You Love Me If . . . (My Dick Were Bigger), the frontman for his band “The Younger Lovers,” and founder of the Brontez Purnell Dance Company (BPDC). The company’s founders, Brontez Purnell and Sophia Wang, build works that combine punk rock subversion, free jazz improvisation and a company comprised of movers and artists of all disciplines. Purnell has recently turned from music and dance to writing in order to use his own sex life and his incisive voice as an artist living with HIV to paint a vivid portrait of a sex life in the San Francisco Bay Area now. His new illustrated book, The Cruising Diaries, continues Purnell’s tradition of DIY literary and performing art. Purnell lives and works in Oakland, CA. 

Ellen Spiro is an Emmy-award winning indie filmmaker whose work champions mavericks and renegades with wit, inventiveness, and emotional depth. Her critically acclaimed documentaries include Diana's Hair Ego, Greetings From Out Here, Roam Sweet Home, Atomic Ed & the Black Hole, Are the Kids Alright?, Troop 15OO, Fixing the Future and Body of War, shortlisted for an Academy Award. Spiro received fellowships from Guggenheim, Fulbright, Rockefeller and National Endowment for the Arts. Spiro’s films are housed in permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, UCLA Film and Television Archive, Peabody Collection of The Paley Center for Media and the New York Public Library. Spiro is currently a Fulbright Fellow and Professor of Radio-TV-Film at the University of Texas in Austin.

Erin Christovale is the Assistant Curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. She is the curator of Black Radical Imagination with Amir George, which has screened both nationally and internationally in spaces such as MoMA PS1, MOCA Los Angeles, and the Museo Taller José Clemente Orozco. Exhibitions include a/wake in the water: Meditations on Disaster (2014) at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, Memoirs of A Watermelon Woman (2016) and A Subtle Likeness (2016) at the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, and S/Election: Democracy, Citizenship, Freedom (2016) at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery. She is currently organizing Made in L.A. 2018 with Anne Ellegood at the Hammer Museum.

Vivian Crockett is a NY-based independent researcher, scholar, and curator focusing largely on art of African diasporas, (Afro)Latinx diasporas, and Latin America at the varied intersections of race, gender, and queer theory. She is a Ph.D. candidate in art history at Columbia University whose dissertation examines artistic practices and discourses in Brazil in the sixties and seventies. Her scholarly and cultural work seeks to assert a radically political analysis of modern and contemporary art and to foster the remembrance and visioning of cultural spaces that merge a commitment to artistic and cultural production with sociopolitical justice and collective liberation. She is the 2017-18 Mellon Museum Research Consortium Fellow in Media and Performance Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.