video still giccle print 1/3 + a/p, Paul Chisholm

On April 23 1984 Margaret Heckler, President Reagan's secretary of health and human services from March 1983 to December 1985, held a press conference with scientist Robert Gallo to announce that he had located the virus (The day before French scientists claimed they had found the virus). Earlier that day it had been announced that there were 4,177 reported AIDS cases in America and 1,807 deaths. At the press conference Heckler told a desperate public that an AIDS vaccine was 2 years away. Three decades later there is no vaccine.

Heckler's action epitomizes a problematic administration. In 2006 interview for PBS she was asked about the support her department had from President Reagan. She responded, “This was not a problem that money could solve; it was a problem that the scientist could solve.” Deferring to the medical establishment Heckler sidestepped the Reagan administration's responsibility for the crisis, something others who worked for the US government were not willing to do. In an interview about Regan’s response to AIDS, C. Everett Koop, Surgeon General from 1982 to 1989 stated, "Some people have said that it was a homophobic administration. I think that's a bad word. Homophobia has the connotation of being fearful. This wasn't fear, it was hatred."

By the time Regan did say AIDS, in 1987, 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed with AIDS and 20,849 had died. The disease had spread to 113 countries, with more than 50,000 cases. Today more than 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and 33.4 million are currently living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. There is still no vaccine, no cure; AIDS is ongoing.

Below, artist Paul Chisholm discusses his connection to the infamous press conference, a moment he captured in his art work.

23 rd April 1982
Limited edition print

A debilitating fear and the panic of the unknown had finally been given a name, the virus had been discovered by scientists.

A monumental date in the AIDS crisis this day finally gave us a physical and scientific grasp of hope over a plague that had had until that point no name, no explanation and was known only through deep speculation, rumors and fear.

In my mind’s eye this moment of Heckler is an iconic turning point in the history of AIDS. With the American government’s lack of action finally we had an image of the enemy, meanwhile all around us people were simply dropping dead.

Writing this 30 years later I sit in trepidation. What will this video still conjure up in people 20 years from now?

Paul Chisholm’s practice is informed by popular culture, gender issues, the financial crisis, the appropriation of iconic works of Art and the eternal cleansing and contagion of society. The transcendence of political climates, controversies & cultural strife are key to the reading of his works. Utilizing found & utilitarian objects, Sculpture is the key to the artists practice however diverse media including photography, video & drawing creates a practice which speaks of the contemporary.

Paul Chisholm