pdf club

PDF Club: Forgetting ACT UP by Alexandra Juhasz, Hosted by Theodore Kerr

« Back to Events
This event has passed.
PDF Club: Forgetting ACT UP by Alexandra Juhasz, Hosted by Theodore Kerr
February 12, 2015 7:30 PM
February 12, 2015 9:30 PM
646 457 0859
January 18, 2015
Bureau of General Services—Queer Division @ The Center
646 457 0859
Google Map
208 West 13th Street, Room 210, New York, NY, 10011, United States
pdf club

In her essay “Forgetting ACT UP” (Quarterly Journal of Speech, 2012), filmmaker, activist and academic Alexandra Juhasz explores the idea that, “When ACT UP is remembered—again and again and again—other places, people, and forms of AIDS activism are disremembered.”
At this event we will explore Juhasz’s essay, as well as discuss what her argument means at this moment when some responses to early AIDS activism are being remembered, while much of what has happened has yet to be remembered, reclaimed, and acknowledged. How does this lack of remembering fit into current discussion and action around #blacklivesmatter and how does it impact work being done presently around HIV/AIDS? 

Everyone is welcome. People are encouraged to read the essay beforehand. Email the organizer if you do not have access to a copy.

Theodore Kerr is a Canadian born, Brooklyn based writer and organizer. He was the programs manager at Visual AIDS. He is currently doing his graduate work at Union Theological Seminary.


Ted Kerr writes:
“On February 12th I will be hosting an event called PDF Club: Forgetting ACT UP by Alexandra Juhasz. To be clear: Alex is not coming. I am sorry if the title is misleading. It was never the plan. Since she wrote the essay I thought it was important her name be in the title. Alex has a full and busy life in California where she is a filmmaker, academic, and more. Instead I will be facilitating a conversation where we discuss Juhasz’ 2012 essay where in which—as an early member of ACT UP—she explores the ongoing important and warranted historicization of the activist group by tapping into her own thoughts and feelings and those of others who were not members around the revisitation. A key line of the essay is when she asks: “ When we continue to remember ACT UP, whom do we forget and how does this feel?”

Neither the essay nor our event is a slight against ACT UP. Rather both are opportunities to ask questions: Why do histories – if told at all – often get reduced to one story? What is lost when we simplify history? Whose histories are remembered? How does our awareness of the past impact our present?

To prepare I have compiled a bookshelf of suggested titles (most of which are currently available at the Bureau of General Services—Queer Division) that you may have already read, or may want to look at before or after the event.

Head, Bill Kushner

Long Distance, Steven Cordova

Viral, Suzanne Parker

A few years ago I heard Bill Kushner read his poetry. It was a pleasure to hear a grown man talk about lust, pain and living. Head is a collection of poems he wrote in the early 80s, giving a reader a sense of one man’s experience of bodies, streets and heat in New York City in the years before ACT UP. Fast forward and you get Long Distance, of which one reviewer said, “Those who have wondered how to write about AIDS now that it is a treatable disease need only to turn to Steve Cordova’s smart, funny and haunted poems.” Existing beyond these two moments and beyond is Viral by Suzanne Parker. Dedicated to Tyler Clementi, it is a collection that explores the webbedness of tragedy. Death has a way of bringing a community together, as ACT UP illustrates, but what about those on the margins of what we may understand as community? How does the experience of tragedy move?


Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill and the Battlefield of AIDS, Martin Duberman

Safe Sex Bang: Buzz Bense Poster Collection, Alex Fialho

Check Your Vernacular, Dirty Looks,

Shade: An Anthology of Fiction by Gay Men of African Descent, edited by Bruce Marrow and Charles H. Rowell

What does activism look like when it does not including ‘acting up’? Martin Duberman’s Hold Tight Gently is a dual biography of Michael Callen and Essex Hemphill, figures that loom large in the world of art, activism and HIV and who were around at the same time as ACT UP, but were not part of the group. In the Check Your Vernacular catalog, the fine people of Dirty Looks write about the amazing short film Liberaceón in which Liberace’s attempt at activism around HIV is imagined by filmmaker and star Chris E. Vargas. In Safe Sex Bang, another catalog, Alex Fiahlo interviews Buzz Bence about his extensive HIV/AIDS related poster collection. In reading the dialogue one gets an intimate story about the early days of the virus. The publication includes mention of “gay-staching”, a term coined by Fiahlo that is worth the price to learn it’s meaning. Uncovering other experiences from the time is Shade, a compilation of short works by African American men published in 1996, just as AIDS was changing. I think, in Michael Warner’s sense, we can understand AIDS as generating publics and counterpublics, including, but not limited to, ACT UP. What these books show us are other ways in which people organized around the virus. How silly of us to try and contain AIDS as a thing of the past, through the lens of only one group.


Duets, Visual AIDS

Memories Cant Wait, edited by Malene Dam, Bridget de Gersigny, and Kate Levy

A few years ago I had the pleasure of interviewing writer David Deitcher about art, AIDS, and memory as part of a publication called Memories Cant Wait. As a member of ACT UP himself Deitcher sheds light on memory, and how as we live the mind makes sense of the past in ways we need to be attentive to. Also in conversational form is Duets, a new series from Visual AIDS. Each title is a conversation with or about an artist with HIV. In the first book, Gregg Bordowitz and Stephen Andrews discuss living long term with HIV, the universe, and Frank O’Hara. The second Duets is a conversation between photographer Alice O’Malley and people’s academic Che Gossett discussing the life of artist, muse and legend Chloe Dzubilo. Getting a sense of Chloe and her impact through the conversation is one thing, getting to know Chloe through her work is another. These readable pocket-sized volumes are rich with details about life from the early days of the AIDS crisis to now, and in those stories are things we don’t even know we don’t know.


The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination, Sarah Schulman

Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence, Christina Hanhardt

Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law, Dean Spade

Anti-Black Racism and the AIDS Epidemic: State Intimacies, Adam Geary (unavailable at the Bureau—priced for academic institutions: $90!)

What Matters, Wrrqshop

Sarah Schulman’s The Gentrification of the Mind is a must read. She makes clear the ongoing and far reaching impacts HIV has on American life, not least of which is people choosing a narrow suburban idea of security over anything else. Dealing in similar yet divergent ideas, written in a different register is Christina Hanhardt’s Safe Space, which explores the relationship between race, class, gender, sexuality, activism, the government and development providing a foundation around which a reader interested in Forgetting ACT UP can see how HIV is exasperated by public policy, and ideas of whose comfort matters. Safe Space is part of the conversation Dean Spade initiates in his book Normal Life, which for me includes the take-away message that there is a thing called “administrative violence,” and when we name it and organize against it we are having a generous and productive conversation not about exclusion or equality but about liberation. Reading Spade’s book is helpful in understanding where Adam Geary is coming from in his book Anti-Black Racism and the AIDS Epidemic. Building on Cindy Patton, Geary is suggesting that instead of the AIDS movement continuing to focus on queer intimacies in a Spadian way, we should look at ways the state is responsible for the ongoing AIDS crisis. So enamored am I by Geary’s book I quote it in my contribution to WHAT MATTERS, the zine complied and created by the fine folks at WRRQSHOP.


I have not read everything at the Bureau, and the Bureau can’t possibly have every book known to humanity, so this is a biased, non-exhaustive bookshelf. Do you have titles you want to add? Contact us or join us on February 12th and be part of the conversation.”