Thursday, March 06, 2008

Visualize This

When I think about the history of artists' roles in AIDS activism, I usually think about tactical media interventions that tend to be very low-tech: SILENCE=DEATH t-shirts, red ribbons, costumes, performance art, and street theater come immediately to mind. However, Make Art/Stop AIDS at the Fowler Museum presents a twenty-five year retrospective on artistic message-making about this global pandemic that features a number of pieces that foreground computational media. For example, this photomosaic on a 2004 report from the UN was featured in the show. From a little web surfing I also discovered that the idea of creating a digital composite photo of the epidemic was also picked up in this 2005 request for user-generated content for a website at that is now defunct.

UNFPA invites everyone with an Internet connection to submit a photograph of himself or herself and a brief comment about AIDS to be placed in the “I’ve Got the POWER” photo mosaic world map according to his or her country of residence. When visitors to the “I’ve Got the POWER” website click on any individual photograph in the mosaic, a larger version of the picture will appear along with the comment. Comments may have to do with what a person is doing to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, or what the AIDS crisis means to him or her personally, or the honoring of a friend or a family member who has died of AIDS.

Artists who provided visualizations of the virus also deployed advanced technologies. The gallery had work from the Visualize This collaboration, which used images of T-cells taken with electron microscopes, alongside work by Lennart Nilsson showing the HIV virus attached to a white blood cell.

There was some striking web art in the exhibition. HIV-Positive in Los Angeles tells the stories of twelve individuals living with HIV and uses each subject's voice in the soundscape of the piece. Electronic musicians Ultra-red also had a piece in the show.

The installation included social marketing spots from the Brazilian health ministry, the Heroes Project in India, The Three Amigos cartoons from South Africa, and PSAs from Gran Fury.

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