installation shot from NOT OVER: 25 Years of Visual AIDS (Jack Waters and Peter Cramer, Short Memory / No History, 2013)

This Saturday, June 15th at 1pm at La MaMa Galleria Visual AIDS is hosting a conversation between four people working at the intersection of art and activism to respond to a question about art within the ongoing AIDS crisis: BUT DOES IT MATTER?

It can seem like a tired question, and yet it is one that is worth reviewing. Which is what Todd Lester, Pato Hebert, Nancy Brooks Brody and Charles Long will be doing. But not in the way you may expect.

Rather than debating, or trying to prove that art does matter, Todd will be leading Pato, Brody and Charles through ideas and questions that examine the possibilities and limits of art. Todd has a rich background of using art as a site for reconciliation, communication and transcendence such as his work with freeDimensional and his newest project lanchonete.org.

By refusing to debate something we know to be true, BUT DOES IT MATTER aims to be more generative. Like what are the possibilities and limits of art, specifically within the ongoing AIDS crisis. What is the relationship between social practice and social justice rooted art? And what about feeling?

The idea of does art matter is something we think about all the time at Visual AIDS. We were founded on the belief that art does have a role to play in the ongoing AIDS crisis and yet we are not so naïve or self important to think that art alone can save a life. It can make someone feel, provoke dialogue, offer an opportunity to heal, inspire action. But as Gran Fury said, “Art is Not Enough.” So what can art do? What is it about art that does matter?

Pato, Brody and Charles will be speaking from their specific positions in the world about what art does for them and their world.

Each of them brings to the discussion an approach grounded in social justice, and human interactions.

For those who attended TIME IS NOT A LINE, you may be familiar with Pato Hebert’s work. He is a contemporary artist with a commitment to tenderness, thoughtfulness and making the world a better place. His work runs the gamut from crossword installations, to straight up photography, to organizing. When he is not making art, he is teaching, working with the MSM Global Forum, and bringing people together.

I first heard about Pato when he was one of the driving forces behind CORPUS, one of the most amazing interventions to ever enter into the AIDS discussions. It surpasses ideas of HIV prevention by being about LIVING. It was an art magazine by queer youth for queer youth. Each issue had a theme and each went deep. (In 2008 I wrote this short piece about it for the CHAMP blog.)

Brody is an artist whose work defies simple explanation. It is heady and delicate. And like Pato it takes many forms: video, collaboration, and installation. She is a member of fierce pussy, an arts collective that uses the street and reproduction to create a visual consciousness about women and power.

Brody currently has work in Not only this, but ‘New language beckons us.' an exhibition at the Fales which pairs up writings with objects from the Fales’ downtown collection. Her work responds to the photos of Martin Wong in a very honest way.

I first met Brody when she and other members of fierce pussy spoke on a panel at Union Theological Seminary. It was interesting to hear about their work in the context of religion. How can art provide faith? And what else can art do?

Charles Ryan was an artist before he was an activist, but for 10 years he couldn’t help but organize, rally, disrupt, facilitate, fight back and work for difference. His art took a back seat to the urgency of AIDS. From Housing Works to CHAMP and beyond Charles was sweating on the front lines. Then, starting two years ago, he began revisiting his drawings, markings, and paintings. It was an intense reunion, one he is still working through. After you have been committed to a movement for the entirety of your adult life, how do you just focus on your own practice?

Something that makes Charles a successful artist and activist is his thoughtfulness. In activism it comes out through his practice of ethics and politics. He does not work for simple answers or quick wins. In his art he is unwilling to just create beauty.

Like Pato, Charles has work in the NOT OVER exhibition at La MaMa Galleria. It is a small-scale 3D work in a corner where red yarn spools out from a paper work. The yarn pools on a shelf and seems to stand in for so much. Is it the work left to do, potential?

In speaking with Charles about the shift, it is interesting to hear him speak about the connection between art and activism and the two spheres inform each other. It is this kind of nuanced and specific conversation that will be on offer on Saturday for BUT DOES IT MATTER?

Of course it matters, but how? But why? And why now?

Join us and share your thoughts.
There will be refreshments and time for group discussion.