Live, Laugh, BLOOD: An Interview with Jordan Eagles
Jordan Eagles, a Queer artist from Queens, New York, infuses into every aspect of his art: personal fascinations, history and the ongoing legacy of the AIDS/HIV epidemic. Eagles’ latest work, appropriately titled, Blood Mirror, is an artist’s critical commentary on the policies that mistreated Gay and Bisexual men during the AIDS/HIV era. The celebrated artist has incorporated animal blood in his artwork for over 20 years, however, Blood Mirror adopts a more personal form, the use of human blood. Jordan and I recently discussed his most recent piece and the nuances of using human blood, the re-appropriation of pop culture, his opinion on the AIDS/HIV landscape today and more…
WORDS BY ALEXANDRIA DETERS
In your work you use resin, human blood and animal blood. What first drew your interest to these materials and want to explore them in your art?
I was interested in the connection between body and spirit. I was looking through a medical encyclopedia and saw black and white line illustrations of childbirth. There was no depiction of blood at all in these images and I found that to be curious since I understood birth to be a bloody process. I started using those images as a way to explore the philosophical questions about life, death, body, existence, and spirit. I took the line drawings and transferred them to acetate sheets and applied blood onto them. Immediately, there was a charge as the blood dripped onto the canvas. Over the course of many months, the vivid color changed so I started thinking about how I could preserve blood so it would retain its colors and textures over time. This led to many years of experimentation until I figured out a method of preservation – this is what led me to resin and plexiglass substrates. Through the use of these materials, I learned about layering, how light interacts with blood, and how patterns and textures can be manipulated.
My interest in human blood is specific to addressing equality issues as it relates to blood donation policies, HIV/AIDS stigma, and our inherent connection to one another.
Were they the same or different when starting to use human blood?
Human blood behaves very similarly to animal blood during the process of creating art. However, there are significant differences in the how the blood is collected, the intention behind the works, the emotional charge the works carry, and my relationship with the materials – including how I handle it. The process of connecting with blood donors is very different than working with animal blood. For the human blood projects, a lot of time and energy goes into connecting with the appropriate donor (and at times working with health and advocacy organizations). There is also the process of working and coordinating with a phlebotomist and medical supervisors to oversee the blood collection. Also, there’s typically a much more limited quantity of human blood and, given the intricacies of the process, every drop needs to be utilized properly which means that I have to plan the human blood projects very specifically before executing them, as they cannot be done again–I get one chance to make the works happen.
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Since today is #WorldAIDSday, I’m sharing images of a new work made from an original 1994 #IncredibleHULK #comicbook titled "In the Shadow of AIDS," that is paired with the blood collection tubes from two donors: someone who is HIV+ undetectable and someone on #PrEP, preserved in resin. - In the story, the Hulk's friend is dying of #AIDS and asks him for a blood transfusion to save his life. #Hulk declines, as he doesn't want his radioactive and mutated #blood to turn his friend into an angry and violent individual like the Hulk – his friend ultimately dies in the end. - It’s really interesting to me how comic books dealt with the AIDS crisis, and what I find truly amazing is that in 2018, someone with HIV doesn't have to die. In fact, being undetectable means that an individual cannot transmit the virus and can be totally healthy. And someone who is on PrEP is 99.9% protected from contracting HIV and thus also unable to transmit the virus. Essentially, a person who’s undetectable and a person on PrEP are the same – neither can transmit HIV. - It’s unbelievable, shocking, and sad that with all the amazing science available today we still have HIV in the world. Greed and discrimination are major reasons – it needs to end, we can have an HIV/AIDS free world. #sciencenotstigma #BloodEquality
In some of your recent works, you reference pop icons and culture whilst integrating blood into the artwork, such as your piece that incorporates the 1994 comic book, Incredible Hulk, wherein the issue, the Hulk has to decide whether to save a friend dying of AIDS. Did comics books play a formative role in your queer identity growing up or is this a new medium you’ve discovered as you examine the influence of HIV/AIDS?
I’ve always been interested in pop culture and have always been a huge fan of superhero movies. With this new body of work, I felt as though appropriating images with story lines or historical reference points that people are already familiar with could provide another interesting entry point to address policy and political conversations.
What is your earliest memory of hearing about HIV/AIDS? Was this subject openly discussed as an adolescent?
I don’t have a specific first memory, I feel like it’s been around forever in my mind. In my early teenage years, I did a project for science class in the form of a video interview with someone who was HIV-positive. It was in the early 1990s, and I believe that was my first in-person interaction with someone who I knew to be positive. It was very meaningful to me as it gave a real life human connection beyond what I would see on TV. We sat in my family’s kitchen and talked. It was very personal.
“My interest in human blood is specific to addressing equality issues as it relates to blood donation policies, HIV/AIDS stigma, and our inherent connection to one another.”
Originally Blood Mirror referenced the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood. Then in 2015, the ban changed to permit gay and bisexual men to donate blood if they had abstrained from sex with men for a full year. Since, you’ve updated Blood Mirror by having 49 men on PrEP donate blood, including yourself. Since the shift in the ban, do you know of anyone that was originally denied donating that is now able to?
If not, why do you think that is?
The requirement for gay and bisexual men to be celibate for a full year is ridiculous, both from an equality and a scientific standpoint. There is absolutely no basis for the 12-month celibacy requirement – it is completely arbitrary — and it’s unrealistic to assume that anyone would be celibate for that length of time in order to donate blood.
When you first started using human blood, was it your own or someone else’s? If your own, what was that experience like for you personally?
Blood Mirror was my first project with human blood. The project was done in two stages over the course of a few years. The first stage involved blood donated by nine individuals, The second phase involved 50 men, all of whom were on PrEP, myself included.
Are there any upcoming artists exploring the HIV/AIDS epidemic for a new generation that you have on your radar?
I thought the Cell Count exhibition last year, curated by Kyle Croft and Asher Mones for Visual AIDS was handled really great, especially given the sensitivity of the topic, and there were a lot of artists in that show worth checking out. I am also always interested in seeing what Leo Herrera is working on, especially his new, ongoing Fathers project, imaging if AIDS had never happened.