Let’s meet up with… Frank Wagner

The nGbK in Berlin is hosting the second part of the exhibition LOVE AIDS RIOT SEX II, ending this weekend, March 9th 2014. The project has been conceived as a sequential, two-stage exhibition and portrays the way society has dealt with AIDS since 1985. Frank Wagner, curator of the exhibition and jury chairman of Pride Photo Award 2013, tells us more about LOVE AIDS RIOT SEX II, which features among others the 2013 Pride Photo Award winners Irina Popova and Anna Charlotte Schmid who we interviewed recently as well.
 
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Can you describe the concept behind this project? 
After 25 years I thought it was time to look back and review the interrelation between Art and AIDS. In 1988 I set up an exhibition about AIDS and how artists reacted to this horrifying health crisis. The show was called “The Full Blown Image AIDS – an Exhibition about Living and Dying” and it turned out to be the first, not only in Berlin and Germany, but also in Europe. The artists dealt with discrimination, social and political indifference, fear, and mourning, consequently creating activist statements.
 
I revisited the topic of AIDS again in 2013/14, this time in a sequential exhibition of three parts called LOVE AIDS RIOT SEX. Part one presented art works and activist strategies from the period of 1987, the year in which ACT UP New York was founded and Gran Fury (ACT UP activist/artist collective) came together. Back then, General Idea (a Canadian collective of artists, who pioneered the model for artist-initiated activities) created a ground breaking poster project in the New York subway, which showed just the four letters “AIDS” designed in the way Robert Indiana had painted his famous LOVE painting in 1966. The show goes back even before 1987, including images by Doug Ischar, who photographed the hedonistic gay life style at the Chicago Beach in 1985.
 
In 1995 a new kind of antiviral substance became available (the protease inhibitors) together with a new kind of treatment: combination therapy. The second show consolidated seminal artworks, which have been created from 1995 till today.
 
A third show, LOVE AIDS RIOT SEX 3, presented artworks by students from three art schools (Poznan, Berlin, and Kiel). They have been working on the topic of AIDS throughout the winter semester 2013/14. By doing so, LOVE AIDS RIOT SEX makes a direct connection with “the here and now” images and ideas of a younger generation and brings up for discussion how people deal with AIDS in the present day.
 
Irina Popova and Anna Charlotte Schmid, both of them winners of 2013 Pride Photo Award, have their works displayed in LOVE AIDS RIOT SEX II exhibition. What are the reasons you chose them? 
I came to know the works of Irina Popova and Anna Charlotte Schmid when I visited the PRIDE PHOTO AWARD exhibition in the Oude Kerk in September 2013, where they exhibited their fascinating and astounding series “Apt.778” (Popova) and “The Other Side of Venus” (Schmid). I immediately thought: how is it possible to provide sufficient AIDS prevention in countries where discrimination against gay people and a queer lifestyle is fostered and fuelled by the government. This is happening now in Central and Eastern Europe.
 
The work of Irina Popova is very direct and extremely close to the protagonists. I consider it good documentary photography, which captures every day queer life in Moscow in a terrific manner.
 
Anna Charlotte Schmid’s amazing portraits of young gays in Budapest are just mind-blowingly good photos. I am intrigued by the way she uses lighting and stages the models in thought provoking poses and settings. It’s a story for reflection on how proud individuals create certain codes to make a difference and recognize each other within a hostile society.
 
This project follows the way AIDS impacted our society over a long period, of almost 30 years. What changed and what has stayed the same during all this time? 
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s AIDS was a very visible disease, with horrifying impact on the people who had to live with it and the friends and acquaintances that had to cope with it. It was a time of furious, yet smart activism. After 1995 the disease became less and less visible, and works about AIDS diminished. Today the young generation is operating from a great distance with the topic of AIDS. It has become more or less just another disease – at least in Western Europe and North America. Nobody speaks about AIDS anymore except on Word AIDS Day or when the international AIDS conferences happen.
 
But there is all this despair and grief and sadness about the ones we have lost. And that lives on. AIDS has changed western society and reduced discrimination and empowered the emancipation of the marginalized. It is still a serious disease and we have to carry on dealing with it publicly and privately.
 
Do you believe that art and activism together can challenge preconceptions and maybe even make a powerful contribution to changing mentalities? 
Yes, I think so. Very often we are preaching to the converted but Art can challenge the viewer and provoke thoughts. This is what I believe. Otherwise I wouldn’t do that job. The clever activist strategies of ACT UP and Gran Fury were amazingly successful and stirred up the society in their day. Very strong, very efficient.
 
Interviewer: Claudia Vendrik
 
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See the series Apt. 779 and The Other Side of Venus together with all the winners of 2013 here on our site.
 
The photo series will be included in the photo book Pride Uncovered, for which we are raising funds on crowdfunding site Indiegogo. The book will include all the awarded photos and series of the first five editions of Pride Photo Award. We hope you are willing to support the campaign with a contribution and by sharing it with your friends, if you haven’t already done so!

Pride Photo Award is an annual international contest for photos about sexual and gender diversity.

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