Karl McCool at (re)Presenting AIDS: Culture and Accountability

On August 22, 2013, Visual AIDS along with the Pop Up Museum of Queer History and the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, held a public forum entitled, (re)Presenting AIDS: Culture and Accountability. The event was recorded and transcribed. Panelists we invited to present a short statement about their work related to AIDS, art, and representation. Below, Karl, McCool, assistant director at Dirty Looks, shares insight into how they program films, and ideas on how you present the past without memorializing.

KARL: I am pretty humbled to be on this panel. I am the assistant director of Dirty Looks, which is roaming queer experimental film and video series around the city. All I can speak to is our own experience in programming work around HIV/AIDS, which has largely been work about AIDS activism.

We sort of followed the model we already had with our screenings. When Dirty Looks started we were inspired by this idea of film societies and cinema clubs in the ‘60s in the New York underground, this idea that artists and cinephiles and the general public would come together in a social space and experience experimental film, not as a museum piece but as part of a community. I think that has guided us through all of what we’ve done, including that which is shown around HIV/AIDS. We screened some contemporary work, but a lot of it has been older work and we were acutely aware there was a danger there, that in showing that older work we were historicizing it, putting it in a box, marking it off as something memorializing, as the past, and we wanted not to do that.

Part of what we do with Dirty Looks is we try to engage the public now with artists, artists making work, and to put older works in dialogue with new work and future work. I kept thinking, when looking at the questions that guided the discussion tonight, around how AIDS should be represented, of the Visual AIDS tote bag that is going around right now that says "AIDS is ON GOING" and I think that is part of what we try to do when we show historical work - presenting it in a way that it’s seen as part of a larger current of queer activism and AIDS activism that isn't of the past. We didn't want to memorialize it. I think in the last few years there have been a lot of books, exhibitions, because there have been so many anniversaries - we just had anniversaries of Visual AIDS and ACT UP not that long ago. I think it is appropriate to mark those anniversaries. And to look back at past work at these institutions, and these forms of activism but I think not only is the virus ongoing but as a lot of recent scholarship and discussions that have come out of our own screenings with artists, have made me realize is that even the past AIDS crisis, even when we show these older works, we are showing something that is ongoing, we are still living through the effects of that previous period. We are only just realizing it.

So I would say, what at least for Dirty Looks, our idea has been, even when presenting these more historical works, to tie them to current politics, and current activism, and to engage a community. We try and have the artists present, to have panel discussions, to avoid simply memorializing, but to create a screening that is more than just a screening but a gathering of the queer community. And hopefully that will foster further activism.

Download the full transcript at: (re)Presenting AIDS transcript