PG169.2007.a-b
David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992), Wind (For Peter Hujar), 1987. Acrylic and collaged paper on composition board, two panels, 72 × 96 in. (182.9 × 243.8 cm). Collection of the Second Ward Foundation. Image courtesy the Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W, New York

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Howl Sky

On my way to the Whitney Museum of American Art to see History Keeps Me Awake At Night, the first major retrospective of the work of David Wojnarowicz in nearly twenty years, I walk past the handful of meat suppliers left in what is still known, here in Manhattan, as the Meatpacking District, though these days it’s mostly a plate glass zone –– designer clothes, luggage, the Apple store.

JT Jobaggy Inc
Fresh Fabricated Beef Cuts
USDA Prime and Choice

The meat supply places have loading docks, roller doors. It’s Sunday and each is deserted; if I had a spray-can I could get away with

MEAT IS MURDER,

or some such graffiti.

and I want to throw up because we’re supposed to quietly and politely make house in the killing machine called America and pay taxes to support our own slow murder and I’m amazed that we’re not running amok in the streets, and that we can still be capable of gestures of loving after lifetimes of all this.

There’s a photograph in Wojnarowicz’s Arthur Rimbaud in New York series (1978-79) that must have been taken right around here. In the left half of the black-and-white print, five animal carcasses hang from a scarcely visible rail. A worker dressed in white apron and cap stands beside, his back to the camera, his left hand resting on one hanging carcass as if about to flick through the rack of them. As if these bodies were garments. He’s black, which is really no surprise in terms of who gets paid to do which kinds of labour, and what hazards this labour may entail.

Pressed. Dressed up, down. Dress meat. Wounds. Wojnarowicz called his 1991 essay collection Close to the Knives in recognition of his proximity to the killing machine. I don’t want my death to have the pressured earmarks of courage or strength. He fought to live, and to live with HIV and AIDS, as so many people did and do. He fought for expressions of beauty that could break through the fug of ruling-class morality: Work more; fuck less; grieve and die privately. And so his versions of beauty are what some people have called ugly, blasphemous, and offensive.

I want to be raw. I want blood in my work.

A white man stands to the right of the worker and carcasses in Wojnarowicz’s photograph, pressed up against a brick wall, becoming inconspicuous even though he’s wearing a paper mask with Arthur Rimbaud’s face on it. In his diary entries from the late 70s and early 80s, parts of which he later reused in Close to the Knives, Wojnarowicz wrote of cruising the docks of these meatworks late at night, and also the piers along the Hudson River, just a block or two west, within a shout of where the Whitney Museum stands now.

The decrepit warehouses along the piers were full of openings. Holes in the floors, walls, ceilings making flickering views of the buildings’ insides / outsides. Wojnarowicz described the sensory experience of cruising the piers as like watching a film. He compared his eyes to cameras, and wrote rapturous descriptions in his diary of the headlights from passing cars lighting up sections of fallen boards and glass scattered along the ways, and how these lights would also make intermittently visible the sex between (mostly) men who sought out these spaces.

I was losing myself in the language of his movements.

The word cruise most likely evolved from the Dutch kruisen, to cross. For Wojnarowicz, anonymous sex was a way of crossing the borders of what he called the Other World. The bought-up world; the owned world. Fuck shopping. Fuck work. Fuck the nuclear family. Fuck cops, fuck television, fuck the Bomb. Fuck. Each sexual encounter had the potential to open up the World again; the World that was latent beneath the pre-invented existence that Wojnarowicz tried to resist. Yes, he was a Romantic, old-style; always on a quest for the real, unpolluted deal.

And he was searching for companions in the World, and a means of signalling to them. Throughout the streets of the East Village, and especially at the Ward Line warehouse at Pier 34 – a little south of the Meatpacking District, at the western terminus of Canal Street – he began painting in semaphore. A house in flames. A man falling through space. A cow’s head, tongue poking out. The cow was afraid, he said, because it was en route to the abattoir.

In another photo from the Rimbaud series, which was taken at the piers, the man in the Rimbaud mask stands with his arms outstretched, a visual echo of a sketch on the wall behind him of a naked man with arms extended and back turned to us. Also on the wall is a statement that Wojnarowicz spray-painted:

THE SILENCE
  OF MARCEL
    DUCHAMP 
               IS
OVERRATED

Wojnarowicz swiped this from Joseph Beuys, but on his own terms I have taken it to mean —

There is a difference between cryptic and impassive. We must find a way to speak with each other, but don’t be incautious; let’s keep our secrets inscrutable to the state — out of reach of being chewed up, bought out, brought down. But speak. Or kiss, lick, suck. Touch, hold. We want more than they will ever know. And we can still be capable of gestures of loving: there are prisons to burn and illusions to break. After lifetimes of all this.

But I am reading the message retrospectively. I am projecting back into it the voice of rage that Wojnarowicz would hone over more than a decade, and which would bring him, by the early 90s, into public conflict with various prosecutors of the Culture Wars. In 1979 his artistry was nascent. Perhaps what he meant by the spray-paint but also by the photograph was, more or less: Stick around with me while I find my language.

Or perhaps these messages – the nascent, the later – share the same kind of hope. (Hope? Jesus. Well, exactly. It’s hard to use this word without wheeling in deferral to a power that’s eternally deferred in its arrival. Still I cleave to Ernst Bloch’s procedure: Its meaning is Not-Yet, and the task is to grasp it thoroughly.) We can only find each other through learning how to find each other in the spaces that we find. Where I might lose myself in you. For years I assumed that the man in the Rimbaud photographs was Wojnarowicz himself, but it isn’t –– it’s three of his lovers and friends. Je est un autre.

Well, I was born on a horse farm in West Virginia and moved to Cairo, Egypt, some time around the age of eight, Wojnarowicz told Sylvère Lotringer, in a 1989 interview. This was a kind of joke upon what Wojnarowicz’s friends would call ‘the mythology’: the hard-to-believe-but-true story of the artist’s childhood.

David Wojnarowicz was born on 14 September 1954 in New Jersey. His mother, Dolores, was Australian. His father, Ed, was American and a merchant seaman; the two met and married while Ed was docked in Sydney. That was 1948. She was 16, he was 26.

Ed Wojnarowicz was a violent alcoholic who made his wife and children – David was the youngest of three – live in fear for their lives. But Dolores, too, could be abusive. The children would be locked in the attic of their New Jersey house while Dolores went out all day and Ed was at sea. Ed and Dolores divorced in 1957; the following year, Ed kidnapped the children, assuming custody by force.

He would shoot guns off in the livingroom missing us and sometimes put the gun to our heads. He killed our pet rabbit and fed it to us claiming it was “new york steaks” and if he found me with a lame bird or animal he’d take it in the yard and have me watch him shoot it. Once after x-mas he came into my room drunk, and found me working on a paint by numbers image of venice he’d given me. He forgot it was paint by numbers and told me I was a genius and would be famous for my art one day.

Wojnarowicz never lost his anger at the silent neighbours who must have heard him and his siblings screaming as Ed beat them with a plank of wood or a dog leash. Such complicity angered him more than the exploitation he later faced when he drifted onto the streets, by which time he and his brother and sister were ostensibly living with their mother again, this time in New York.

‘There was a part of David that always wanted to be masked,’ writes his biographer, Cynthia Carr. Wojnarowicz’s childhood was tough and many cruelties were done to him; no one who reads about his life could come to any other conclusion. But the specific details – names, locations, dates – are more difficult to sort out, obscured by family chaos and, concludes Carr, by Wojnarowicz’s own need to keep some aspects of himself to himself.

He told Lotringer, as he told many others, that he was ‘eight or nine’ years old when he started hustling at Times Square — at first sporadically, and then, in time, for a living. Carr thinks he was more likely to have been ‘eleven, twelve, thirteen’. Whatever his actual age, he was indisputably young and vulnerable. But here’s the thing: as an adult, Wojnarowicz almost never – if ever – passed judgement on the men who had bought sex with him while he was still a child. (Nor, to be absolutely clear, did he ever advocate in favour of pederasty.) This what he said to Lotringer:

There were a whole variety of desires. The money was definitely an important part, but then there were guys that I met that I wouldn’t even think of asking for money. The sexiness of what we had was so great that if they had asked me to live with them, I probably would have. Then, there were emotional exchanges in the sex, things that replaced what I needed.

All his life, Wojnarowicz identified with outcasts: homeless people, street sex workers, child runaways. And he insisted upon the truth of the love and camaraderie that he found – those things that he needed – when he was part of these extremely marginalised groups.

Fran Lebowitz: [… ] David understood the ways in which adults abuse children… But I think he believed that there were some people who weren’t like that.

Marion Halligan: David believed that some of the people he was hustling were being kind?

Fran Lebowitz: Yes — that it was alright because they were nice to him. They didn’t beat him up, or they didn’t steal… Yes, David thought there were good and bad users of eleven-year-old hustlers. I make no such distinction.

Most people would not make the distinction, but Wojnarowicz did, perhaps in part because he had to, as one who had lived it, and survived. He would not have liked that word, survived, with its suggestion of imperilment and catastrophe. He never wanted pity; his work makes that clear.

Rimbaud walked out of his young life and disappeared from sight. Wojnarowicz came off the streets just as he went onto them: in stages. There wasn’t a line of demarcation. Nor was the difference between homed and homeless, danger and safety necessarily clear in New York City in the 70s, when the city’s fiscal crisis had made it, for the poor, a very difficult place to live.

The Rimbaud mask from the photographs is on display at the Whitney, in a free-standing case; the reverse side is stained with sweat from the faces of the men who once wore it. Such evidence of the body — of specific bodies — is somehow difficult to find in this show full of work by a person who launched all his forays, both artistic and moral, from the starting question of his body. That quality has been subdued, somehow, and I don’t think that the curators have done this deliberately, or even consciously. Maybe it’s just that when I look out the window from the museum’s fifth floor towards the Hudson River what I see is that piers are either gone – nothing left but rotting stumps of wood – or have been rendered into spaces called ‘public’ that aren’t really public at all.

The Hudson River Park, as it is now, is neatly laid out, all blonde wood and oversized permanent chairs and you could get fit running the length of the refurbished Pier 34 back and forth, back and forth. But you can intuit prohibitions without even having to read all seventeen pages of the Amended Hudson River Park Rules and Regulations, 2013:

It is prohibited for any person to hold or sponsor any special event or demonstration without a permit.

Demonstration means a group activity including but not limited to, a meeting, assembly, protest, rally, march or vigil which involves the expression of views or grievances, involving more than 20 people.

Sexual activity means any touching of the exposed sexual or other intimate parts of a person for the purpose of gratifying the sexual desire of a person.

I was so jealous when Olivia Laing published her book The Lonely City in 2016. Read it, if you haven’t; it’s superb.

No — jealous isn’t right. A part of my reaction as a reader was an uncanny depth of identification with Laing’s material, for I too had lived in New York, had been bereft and profoundly lonely in New York, and had also loved, for decades, some of the artists that she writes about, including Wojnarowicz and Andy Warhol. But in larger part I was angry with myself, for having failed to recognise that any of these things – and especially these things combined – could be legitimate subjects. Why had I never taken the initiative, as Laing did, to avail myself of the David Wojnarowicz Papers at New York University? I knew the collection existed. I think I thought that to access a research collection you had to wait to be invited. I was clueless. Worse: I was passive.

So, even though I could have walked into NYU at any time between 2008 and 2011 and listened to the tapes for myself, it isn’t until I’m sitting in a room at the Whitney, which is empty apart from a bench, that I hear Wojnarowicz’s voice for the first time, reading his work, mostly extracts from Close to the Knives. His reading voice reminds me of Eileen Myles’s: the same deadpan, seen-it-all tone. (Two of the books of my life: Close to the Knives and Myles’s Not Me.) They knew each other, just a little, in the 80s.

I remembered a friend of mine dying from AIDS, and while he was visiting his family on the coast for the last time, he was seated in the grass during a picnic to which dozens of family members were invited. He looked up from his fried chicken and said, ‘I just want to die with a big dick in my mouth.’

On the audio tape, the audience bursts into laughter. The recording was made at a benefit for the needle exchange program of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), in October 1991. Wojnarowicz had joined the activist group in 1988, and this turned out to be the last public reading that he ever gave. He died of AIDS-related illnesses on 22 July 1992.

At a certain point his deadpan catches alight. I’m standing in the gallery adjacent to the audio loop when the recording happens to sync with the text printed onto the artwork in front of me: Untitled (Hujar Dead) (1988-89). So I read, listening to his voice in the next room as he speaks the same words.

and as each T-cell disappears from my body it’s replaced with ten pounds of pressure ten pounds of rage

Peter Hujar, twenty years older than Wojnarowicz, was the younger artist’s ex-lover / comrade / mentor / father figure / most beloved friend. Hujar was also an exceptional photographer who sabotaged his own career because, in the words of his friend Fran Lebowitz, he couldn’t make a distinction between someone who owned some little photography gallery and the Pope. His abiding distrust of authority was one of the things that drew him and Wojnarowicz together. (Lebowitz again, on Wojnarowicz: You know, he hated cops. Because they’re cops.)

Hujar’s work is better recognised now than it was during his lifetime. You might have seen his portrait of his friend Susan Sontag (Hujar knew everyone), supine and splendorous, or the one called Candy Darling On Her Deathbed (1973). Both of these photographs, and some of Wojnarowicz, were reprinted last year in a book called Peter Hujar: Speed of Life, which coincided with a travelling retrospective. His portraits of Wojnarowicz, which are included in the Whitney’s show, are terribly sexy without being in any way possessive; desirability belongs to the subject, regardless of who’s there to notice or take pleasure in it. Hujar also took beautiful photographs of animals, to which he brought the same ethics of attention as he did to his human subjects. In his pictures, each being is complete in its dignity.

Hujar died of AIDS-related pneumonia on November 26 1987. Nearly 41,000 people in the United States had died from AIDS-related illnesses by the end of that year. 1987 was the year that ACT UP formed in New York, the year that Ronald Reagan first publicly acknowledged AIDS, and the year that AZT treatment drugs for HIV and AIDS first became available – which is to say that Burroughs Wellcome, the drug’s manufacturer, planned to charge around $10,000 per year, per prescription. In a country like the United States, with a privatised health system, they might as well have printed Fuck you die anyway on the box. As Zoe Leonard, artist, ACT UP member and friend of David Wojnarowicz, remarked: what AIDS revealed was not the problem of the virus; what AIDS revealed was the problem –– the problems of our society.

In Australia, the number of AIDS-related deaths by the end of 1987 was 429, which tells you something about the differences in public policy and health care treatment between the two countries. Not that local AIDS activists didn’t also have plenty to fight for; not that each death, no matter the number, wasn’t and isn’t also a devastation. On 24 November, outside the NSW state parliament, protestors at a rally organised by ACON (AIDS Council of NSW) demanded an increase to the number of people enrolled in the limited AZT treatment quota system. On 26 November, the day that Peter Hujar died at the Cabrini Medical Center in New York, NSW Health Minister Peter Anderson increased the AZT trial quota by twenty places, in response to the protest.

Beneath the printed block text of Untitled (Hujar Dead) is a grid of black and white photographs: Hujar, just minutes after he passed away. Wojnarowicz shot 23 frames exactly — the number was significant to him because it is the number of cells in a human chromosome. He shot Hujar’s hands, face, feet. The pictures are beautiful and hard. Hujar doesn’t look at rest. He looks in agony.

and I focus that rage into nonviolent resistance but that focus is starting to slip my hands are beginning to move independent

On 27 July 2018, a fortnight after the opening of History Keeps Me Awake At Night, ACT UP members staged a protest inside the Whitney’s galleries. People held up news articles next to Wojnarowicz’s artworks that detailed current conditions faced by people in the Americas living with HIV and AIDS.

For instance: HIV-positive asylum seekers from Central America, who may be fleeing homophobic and/or transphobic persecution, are at risk of having medical treatment denied to them in US border prisons. Roxana Hernández, an HIV-positive transgender woman from Honduras, died in the custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in May this year, from complications of HIV. Transgender women in particular face a high likelihood of abuse, segregation and solitary confinement in border detention, compared to other asylum seekers.

One of the for-profit prison companies currently benefiting from the incarceration of asylum seekers at the US border is The Geo Group, contracted earlier this year by ICE to run a new detention centre in Conroe, Texas. According to The Geo Group’s press release, the ‘new 1,000-bed Detention Facility is expected to generate approximately $44 million in annualized revenues and returns.’

The Geo Group also runs five private prisons in Australia.

and all I can feel is the pressure all I can feel is the pressure and the need for release

‘I did not go to see the David Wojnarowicz show at the Whitney Museum,’ wrote Jessa Crispin, at The Baffler. ‘Now the cold-water lofts so many gay artists died in have underfloor heating and granite countertops and ten-foot walls, all the better to display their work, which has become a good investment.’

This is true — true in so far as it speaks to a strand of New York’s history since the advent of the AIDS epidemic. A strand of loss, which, like most losses, some have stood to make a profit from. And a part of me wanted to possess such clarity, such disdain, regarding the context of this show — I think I might have done, once. But I don’t know. I don’t know, anymore. I just want one teenager who visits here to encounter Wojnarowicz’s work, as I once encountered it, and to feel her heart come alive. I just remember holding the book in which I first saw his work (Gay photography? Modern art?) and the photograph on the right-hand page: the man in the Rimbaud mask sitting in a graffitied subway car, destination FLATBUSH AVE, commuters all around. And how instantly I wanted to be there, inside the world of the photograph.

David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992), Arthur Rimbaud in New York, 1978–79, (printed 1990). Gelatin silver print, 8 × 10 in. (20.3 × 25.4 cm). Collection of the Estate of David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992); courtesy P.P.O.W, New York. Image courtesy the Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W, New York

To run away. To be somewhere else, with another face, and not to be at war with my own corporeality, or to feel such overwhelming rage. I didn’t know then that this artist with the difficult name (Voyna-row-vich) was known for his anger. The photograph wasn’t angry, or not obviously so. It was playful, which felt like a thing far away from me, though something I was looking for — still look for. Without evidence other than the photograph, I took the man who made it to be my kindred spirit. I wanted to talk to him; I talk to him in my head.

See me. See this. Wojnarowicz calls you to witness, which is why his work feels so intimate even when he’s really addressing everyone at once. These days I see the edge of mortality. And because he did, he’s one of a handful of artists of whom I have wished to be worthy; worthy of his artistry and spirit, and I know that I am far from the only one for whom this is so.

The Ward Line warehouse at Pier 34 was torn down in 1984. Now all that remains of the original site is the distinctive brick vent shaft at the end of the pier, which serves the Holland Tunnel that runs beneath the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey. Wojnarowicz’s choking cow peered out from a new hole ripped in the wall of the warehouse as the bulldozers went through.

Everyone had to in some way learn to give up the desire for possession. So wrote Wojnarowicz and his fellow artist Mike Bidlo, when their long experiment in living and art-making at Pier 34 seemed to be over. When the cops and private gallerists were closing in. Projected onto a wall at the Whitney is a sequence of colour photographs by Andreas Sterzing, who documented what had been made there: the paintings, stencils, murals, sculptures, graffiti; the grass that Wojnarowicz planted. The other piers, the cruising piers, were boarded up and then torn down, in the moral panic over AIDS.

In his early paintings that weren’t made directly onto or inside of buildings, Wojnarowicz carried over his semaphore from the streets. The burning house, the falling man, and shooting targets, fighter planes, an outline of the landmass of the continental United States. He learnt how to screenprint and overlaid his images directly onto scavenged supermarket posters. A v-shaped formation of riot cops on top of

HYGRADE or WILSON
                       MEAT
                    FRANKS
LB.                   89c
PKG.

or a naked, masturbating man (Jean Genet, apparently) with another man

U.S.D.A. CHOICE BEEF
              SHOULDER
                LONDON
                   BROIL
              $ 2 29 LB.

These works are tender, tenderised, threatening — the threat is in the frankness of their want, for the World remade, for the language of his movements. ‘Sometimes you want to be made meat; I mean to surrender to the body, its hungers, its need for contact, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to be served bloody or braised,’ writes Laing, in The Lonely City. I have become aware over the years of the number of women – some known to me, many more unknown – who respond with passion to Wojnarowicz’s work. I think that women can recognise its difficulties, fears and contingent pleasures, which spring from the energy of a maker acutely conscious of their body as both a singular, subjective reality and an overdetermined, often despised social fact.

How does one surrender without becoming possessed? How might I lose myself in you but not abase myself? And how do those to whom desire has been historically denied, policed and punished, learn to act upon desire outside of the law? I mean this literally. I think a lot about what women’s sexual safety in spaces outside the home might resemble (let’s not even start on inside the home), and to my mind it’s never looked like bright lights, CCTV cameras or help buttons to the cops. Fuck carceral feminism. There were always women at the piers, trans women especially, risking a great deal to make themselves known. Wojnarowicz’s final dedication to ‘the living’ on the first page of Close to the Knives is to the drag queens along the Hudson River and their truly revolutionary states, and all the guys and girls future and past who give chaos reason and delight.

The later it got, the wordier his work became, as the deaths of loved ones piled up, as he moved closer to his own death. (I won’t grow old and maybe I want to.) As if he couldn’t run the risk of being misunderstood, anymore. No time not to be recognised. Unlike the supermarket posters, where the images overlay the words and thus disrupt, erupt, or rapture the plane of language

(HYGRADE OR WILSON MEAT FRANKS or

A DISARRANGEMENT FOR HOWL SKY?),

these later works – meticulous acrylic paintings of flowers, and photographs of bandaged hands and skeletons – are walled in by blocks of text. They are very powerful, but they are also evidence of the emotional toll that Wojnarowicz paid in having had his earlier work be deliberately misconstrued. In 1990, the Reverend Donald Wildmon, of the conservative American Family Association, sent out a mass mailing which included pornographic images cropped from some of Wojnarowicz’s large and complex photographic collages. Wojnarowicz sued for copyright violations and defamation of his character. The defamation claim was dismissed but he did win an injunction against further distribution of the AFA’s pamphlet; his settlement included a symbolic US$1 in damages from the Manhattan District Court. The cheque is on display at the Whitney.

There are a few exceptions to the late torrent of words. According to Carr, the work that Wojnarowicz had hanging near him until the last was Fever (1988-89), an arrangement of three black-and-white photographs on board. The top two images, of the moon, recall the stereo novelties of nineteenth-century photography, where a viewer pressed their eyes to a pair of lenses – the stereoscope – in order that the separate images might be viewed as a composite. The moon would appear close by, then; closer than it ever really could be. One plus one equals let’s take a glimpse at the impossible. Which might yet be reachable.

Below the moons, in Wojnarowicz’s Fever, is a skinny, grimacing dog, which he photographed in Mexico, hanging around an abattoir. How does a dog see the moon? Understand its own body? Feel love and pain? Howl sky? Can we remember to be animals?

Wojnarowicz travelled to Mexico several times, aware of himself there as tourist, voyeur, adventurist, artist, North American. On his final trip to Mexico he went with his partner, Tom Rauffenbart, to a bullfight, and his description of that experience forms the ‘Postscript’ of Close to the Knives, alongside a dream of a mermaid, memories of his childhood, and observations of mexican queens who sit in the shadows of this park at dusk [who] can’t afford to buy rubbers when they sleep with the north american and european queers and straights who come here for vacations. Sentences first written in his diary became incorporated, worked upon, in essay form, as was his habit. Maybe I won’t grow old with a fattening belly and some old dog toothless and tongue hanging, he writes now. I won’t grow old and maybe I want to. Wojnarowicz was 37 when he died. I write this aged 37. It feels like a very short space of time in which to have to learn one’s language.

David Wojnarowicz with Tom Warren, Self-Portrait of David Wojnarowicz, 1983–84. Acrylic and collaged paper on gelatin silver print, 60 × 40 in. (152.4 × 101.6 cm). Collection of Brooke Garber Neidich and Daniel Neidich, Photograph by Ron Amstutz.

He saw himself in the bull, a creature goaded into self-defence by others’ determination to destroy it; a projection of my own body’s nerve endings and nervous system onto the body of that exhausted and enraged animal. But he also recognised himself, and his communities – the East Village queers, the street artists, the street hustlers, the activists, Les Enragés – in the figure of the matador. I step forward with the shield and sword to confront the State.

I am distrustful of the word community, and who it might enclose, and what borders it papers over –– how a community only ever seems to be composed of the ones excluded from the ordinary public. But I am drawn nonetheless towards a version of community stashed inside the Pier 34 Statement. Community: communication, wrote Bidlo and Wojnarowicz. Communication: word of mouth. Drift of water. Drift of thought. And so it moves and corrupts; changes gesture, changes form. The task is to grasp it thoroughly and over again.

At the end of Close to the Knives, the carcasses of the bulls that have been killed in the ring are carved up and sold at a spontaneous meat market. The meat is cheap and people line up for it. I don’t believe that David Wojnarowicz wanted his death to be seen as a sacrifice, or understood himself to be a martyr to AIDS and/or to the difficulties of a life lived at the margins of North America’s unevenly distributed material abundance. I think he made his own abundance in his work and left it there to be found and, inside of it, for people to find each other, maybe, through luck and effort.

At the Whitney Museum’s shop I buy two pin badges. One the Rimbaud mask, one the house in flames. I can’t spin this as a counter-cultural move. The symbols have been co-opted. The task is to turn the signal against itself, from within the bought-up world. Word of mouth. Cruising. Where I might lose myself in you. Because we haven’t all found each other yet.

Not yet.

David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake At Night was exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York between 13 July – 30 September, 2018.

This piece was written on Gadigal land.

Works cited

ACT UP. ‘A Companion Guide to David Wojnarowicz’. New York. July 2018
ACON and the Albion Centre. ‘A HIV/AIDS Timeline Emphasising the Australian/NSW Perspective’. Sydney. 2015
Bloch, Ernst. introduction to The Principle of Hope, Vol. 1. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 1995.
Carr, Cynthia. Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz. New York: Bloomsbury. 2012
Crispin, Jessa. ‘Good Girls Gone Mad’. The Baffler. 2 Oct 2018
Green, Carla. ‘Transgender Honduran woman’s death in US ‘ice box’ detention prompts outcry’.
The Guardian. 31 May 2018.
Hudson River Park Trust. ‘Amended Hudson River Park Rules and Regulations’. 2013
Hujar, Peter. Peter Hujar: Speed of Life. New York: Aperture Foundation. 2017
Laing, Olivia. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. London: Canongate. 2016
Leonard, Zoe. ACT UP Oral History Project interview, conducted by Sarah Schulman. January 13, 2010.
Lotringer, Sylvère. David Wojnarowicz: A definitive history of five or six years on the lower east side. ed., Giancarlo Ambrosino. California: Semiotext(e). 2006
Power, Jennifer. Movement, Knowledge, Emotion: Gay Activism and HIV/AIDS in Australia. Canberra: ANU Press. 2011
Wojnarowicz, David. Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration. New York: Vintage Books. 1991
Brush Fires in the Social Landscape. New York: Aperture Foundation. 1994
In the Shadow of the American Dream: The Diaries of David Wojnarowicz. ed., Amy Scholder. New York: Grove Books. 1999
History Keeps Me Awake At Night. eds., David Breslin and David Kiehl. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art. 2018
The Weight of the Earth: The Tape Journals of David Wojnarowicz. eds., Lisa Darms and David O’Neill. California: Semiotext(e). 2018
Wojnarowicz, David and Bidlo, Mike. ‘Pier 34 Statement’. New York. 1983. Originally published in Benzene, Fall-Winter 1983-84.