Friday, January 19, 2007

'I am vibrating in isolation among you' (aka Why I Love David Wojnarowicz)

The quote that gives this post its title is one that David Wojnarowicz used in his writing. It's a tiny snippet of a larger work, and yet, to me, it still sums up something inherent in his work that I love, 13 years after his death.

I used it as the title of an extended essay I wrote about him in 1998 when I had only been working at Frontiers magazine here in Los Angeles for a short period of time. Fresh in L.A. from New York City, I was hungry to write about Wojnarowicz--an artist who meant so much to me for several reasons. Ostensibly, some would assume it was because he was so passionately angry, speaking out against injustice, homophobia, and corporate greed and how it decimated marginalized communities at the real political height of the AIDS era of the the late '80s and early '90s.

But tonight it really dawned on me why I feel such a connection to his myriad works--works that are paintings, stories, collages, films, performance, and photography. In the middle of Hollywood this evening close to 100 people turned out to listen to a scholar read about Wojnarowicz in honor of the publication of a new book of interviews with him and his peers. And then we settled in to watch a series of short films that were made by the artist, starred him, or were about him.

It was startling to see Wojnarowicz in the flesh, moving, talking, even masturbating on camera. After so many years of looking at his work, I forgot that a real, live man was responsible for these works and images that feel iconic to me--such as the stencil of the house on fire that I have tattooed on my left arm and the photograph of buffalos running headlong over a cliff, among may others:

What struck me so forcefully this evening was that at the core of Wojnarowicz's work was always the belief in love, in a connection that can be forged between two men when they simply touch each other. He believed in the power of feeling your hand and tongue on another man's body. It was often explicit that such acts were, by their very nature at the time, political. There was no way you could be a gay man of any intelligence and conscience and not be angry. And I was thrilled to hear the forceful words of rebellion coming from his mouth. Not because he was so angry, but because I think so many of us--arists or not--have forgotten how to speak like that--how to entertwine the feeling of love and desire with the righteous anger of protest.

Watching these films from so long ago, I was appalled to realize that so little has changed, except for the fact that fewer gay men are dying so rapidly of AIDS-related causes. Of course, the financial and health cost is still staggering, and to drug companies' benefit. Perhaps we don't have Sen. Jesse Helms in office now (Wojnarowicz's archnemesis), but we still have insidious conservative bastards who would be as overtly homophobic as Helms was if they thought they could get away with it.

I don't keep up with contemporary art as much as I maybe should to be informed about some of what I am about to say, but I don't feel like much art produced these days is so politically informed, so volatile and exciting. I hope to discover something that makes me think otherwise. What are the politics of being gay now? It can't simply be about marriage, can it? What happened to purposefully not living your life according to conventions laid down by religion and heterosexual society? I wish I could hear Wojnarowicz's answer to that question.

Wojanarowicz wasn't a saint, of course. Nor was he necessarily the most talented artist in the East Village during that era. But his openness, his raw nerve, his desire for love/connection, and his insistence that we keep vigilant against those who would rather we did not exist--let alone call ourselves equal to them--is something I truly admire.


Anonymous said...

OMG, you used "myriad" correctly. A bearhug awaits you.

Mikel said...

Yay for me!
I should hope all that editorial work would pay off.