This premiere of “COMPULSIVE PRACTICE,” coincided with World AIDS Day and marked Visual AIDS’ twenty seventh annual Day With(out) Art project.
“COMPULSIVE PRACTICE” is an hour-long video compilation of compulsive, daily, and habitual practices by nine artists and activists who live with their cameras as one way to manage, reflect upon, and change how they are deeply affected by HIV/AIDS.
A post-screening discussion featuring artists Luna Luis Ortiz, James Wentzy, and Carol Leigh was moderated by “COMPULSIVE PRACTICE” co-curator and videographer Jean Carlomusto.
ABOUT COMPULSIVE PRACTICE
From video diaries to civil disobedience, holiday specials to backstage antics, Betamax to YouTube, “COMPULSIVE PRACTICE” displays a diversity of artistic approaches, experiences, and expectations. The compulsive video practices of these artists serve many purposes—cure, treatment, outlet, lament, documentation, communication—and have many tones—obsessive, driven, poetic, neurotic, celebratory. “COMPULSIVEPRACTICE” demonstrated the place of technology, self-expression, critique, and community in the many decades and the many experiences of artists and activists living with AIDS.
Participating video makers and artists included James Wentzy, Nelson Sullivan (1948–1989), Ray Navarro (1964–1990), Carol Leigh/Scarlot Harlot, Juanita Mohammed, Luna Luis Ortiz, Mark S. King, Justin B. Terry-Smith, and the Southern AIDS Living Quilt. “COMPULSIVE PRACTICE” was curated by Jean Carlomusto, Alexandra Juhasz, and Hugh Ryan, in conjunction with the Visual AIDS exhibition “Everyday.”
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Mark S. King has written about living with HIV since testing positive in 1985, when the test first became publicly available. His blog, www.MyFabulousDisease.com, chronicles his life as an HIV-positive gay man in recovery from addiction. He is also the author of A Place Like This, a memoir of life in Los Angeles during the dawn of the AIDS epidemic.
Carol Leigh, a.k.a. Scarlot Harlot, has been working as a sex worker/prostitute activist and artist in the Bay Area for more than thirty years. Since the late seventies, she has written and performed political satire as Scarlot Harlot, and produced work in a variety of genres on queer and feminist issues including work based on her experience in San Francisco massage parlors. A “Mother” of the sex workers’ rights movement, she is credited with coining the term sex worker. Her recent work and archives are available at sexworkermedialibrary.org.
Juanita Mohammed is a community video artist and activist. She uses inexpensive camcorder video technology to respond to the needs of those who matter to her. In her work at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City, Mohammed makes educational videos for and about the AIDS community. In her personal video work, she looks to her friends and neighbors to find stories that are not typically represented in the media.
Ray Navarro (1964–1990) was an artist, filmmaker, and activist. He attended Cal Arts in California and moved to New York in 1988 to attend the Whitney Independent Study Program, soon thereafter joining ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power). He was also a member of DIVA TV (Damned Interfering Video Activists), a video-documenting affinity group of ACT UP. DIVA TV documented public testimony, the media, and community activism to motivate the fight against AIDS.
Luna Luis Ortiz was born in New York City in 1972. In 1986, he was infected with HIV at the age of 14 from his first sexual experience. In 1988, he began his journey as an HIVawareness spokesperson for youth living with HIV at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, and has worked at Gay Men’s Health Crisis since 2007. He studied photography at the School of Visual Arts and has worked with the photographers David LaChapelle, Lisa Ross, Shedrich Williames, and Nan Goldin. Ortiz is the creator and host of The Luna Show, an online show about the voguing scene and the people involved in the House/Ball community, one of the communities hardest hit by the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic. The Luna Show has been viewed by two million people worldwide.
The Southern AIDS Living Quilt is a project that illustrates the growing impact of HIV on women in the southern US, particularly women of color. Using video testimonials, the Living Quilt shares the personal stories of women living with HIV, their families and health care providers throughout the region. The stories underscore the critical importance of making HIV screening a routine part of medical care in order to ensure earlier diagnosis and prevent the spread of the disease.
Nelson Sullivan (1948–1989) was a video artist in New York City during the 1980s. Sullivan lived in a large townhouse at 5 Ninth Avenue in New York’s Meatpacking District, and his houseguests over the years included Lady Bunny, Michael Alig and the Club Kids, Sylvia Miles, Albert Crudo, and John Sex. His friendships with the emerging artists of that day like RuPaul, Deee-Lite, Scott Wittman, and Marc Shaiman give his videos an intimacy that allows the viewer an insider’s look at the past.
Justin B. Terry-Smith, M.P.H., is a noted HIV and gay civil rights activist and the creator of Justin’s HIV Journal, a popular blog in which he shares his trials and tribulations of living with HIV. A U.S. Air Force veteran, Justin resides in Laurel, Maryland, with his husband, Dr. Philip Terry-Smith, and their sons, Lundyn and Tavis. Presently, Justin is working toward earning his doctorate in public health. Find him at www.justinbsmith.com.
James Wentzy is an AIDS activist and documentary filmmaker associated with ACT UP throughout the 1990s. He has been producer director and editor for the weekly series AIDS Community Television (aka DIVA TV) since 1991, producing over 160 documentary programs, his own feature-length documentary Fight Back, Fight AIDS (2002), and has documented over 700 hours of actions and demonstrations, conferences, and communities’ cultural and artistic responses to AIDS. His footage frequently appears in others’ media documentaries. He worked as the video archivist for the Estate Project’s AIDS Activist Video Preservation Project at the New York Public Library.