Picture dated 17 September 2015, ASHM conference. 64 likes, 1 share
Comment from Sebastian Zagarella: You look happy in my bubble of undetectable white 🙂
As a gay man, I am unashamedly obsessed by this pesky, dangerous and intrusive virus. From the moment I wake until I go to bed at night, it’s not there in the mind back of my mind, but instead in every waking thought. My personal preoccupation became a professional focus for a few years, with a particular focus on encouraging exploration of HIV using art, theatre, dance and other means of artistic expression.
It’s great to see HIV-related content popping up across Midsumma 2018 with the verbatim theatre work ‘We were there’ by Tilted Projects gorgeous duo Dirk Hoult and Gavin Roach +friends, and a personal favourite, the yearly ‘Company of Men’ group exhibition curated by fellow ranga Damian Hinds (make sure you take spending money). And then of course there is my Midsumma debut as Mr Ginger, accompanist to the wonderfully talented Mama Alto at Chapel Off Chapel.
Chapel Off Chapel is worth a visit during Midsumma to see another work which I’m thrilled is being shown in Melbourne for the first time. ‘Inside/Out’ is an installation artwork by Sebastian Zagarella which shares his experience of HIV in what can be described as an inescapable immersive experience, which I found both confronting and strangely reassuring.
The uneasy relationship between HIV/AIDS and the gay/LGBTI community is well documented. Swedish documentary film director and founder of the Face of AIDS project Staffan Hildebrand pointed out to me once that AIDS will be the first epidemic to have been captured on film from start to now, when HIV is both preventable and manageable. If you associate with the LGBTI community then at some stage you will start to define a relationship with the virus. This relationship changes, grows and develops as we do, as our understand, knowledge and experiences inform the way we feel about it.
At the moment you receive a positive HIV diagnosis, that relationship changes. Sebastian Zagarella received his diagnosis in 2002 and uses significant milestones from the journey to acceptance to illustrate his relationship with life defining illness.
Photo of Sebastian Zagarella. Source: http://www.insideoutexhibition.com.au/bio.html
“Creating Inside/Out was in a way therapy for me. It was a great way to process the events and share what it’s like to live with HIV. When you start to talk about things like viral load, the number of viruses alive and active in a tiny drop of blood, your blood, HIV takes on a new prominence in your everyday thinking. Working on how to visualise and represent this was a wonderful challenge and I hope the end result will encourage you to talk to your friends, family and loved ones about the relationship you have with HIV.” – Sebastian Zagarella
Incredibly charming with a sparkling intellect, Sicilian-Australian Seb has dedicated this work to sharing an understanding of the experience of having something as tiny as a virus take over your world, complete with a projection of an ‘HIV downpour’. Applying his refined artistic practice (Seb studied at Sydney’s prestigious COFA), Inside/Out is a completely immersive experience. You step into a world of HIV, almost literally.
Looking more carefully at the individual parts of the exhibition reveals further links between what elements in the installation and what are pretty much milestones of an HIV infection/journey. From ‘the sky falls in’ at the time diagnosis through to a ‘beautiful tomorrow’ with the virus suppressed and an undetectable viral load achieved.
Seb designed the work so that individuals and small groups can experience the space together to encourage conversations which are sometimes difficult. Sometimes finding the words can be difficult, which is why being able to sit in ‘my replica of a safe bubble’ or as Seb describes his ‘bubble of undetectability’ gave me such a thrill. I remember when the doctor explained what ‘undetectable’ meant and then what that meant to me at that time.
We know from surveys of people living with HIV that there is incredible fear about transmitting the virus, with HIV-positive individuals choosing to remain single for life rather than taking the chance of putting another person at risk. Spending some time in a space where you just can’t escape its gentle persistent reminders is challenging, but goes a long way to help our friends and family members understand how this virus looms when we make life choices.
“Inside/Out was a second ‘coming out’ for me. Firstly as gay and secondly as HIV-positive. As the work developed and grew, so did my confidence and ability to think about HIV as now part of me, without shame. That journey is different for everyone. I have had people, friends, who have ‘come out’ to me about their HIV, some of whom hadn’t talked about it to anyone and had been living with HIV for up to 15 years. I spoke to someone who had been moved to tears, who said that the exhibition reflected their experience living with cancer. It is with you all the time, everywhere and in everything you see. It’s in the beautiful things you see around you everyday.” – Sebastian Zagarella
Image: HIV cell ‘Designer Rug’ Blood red’ wool and bamboo silk freelay rug (3m diameter) Source: http://www.stukelstone.com.
‘Inside/Out’ also got me thinking. Just like people living with HIV, people taking PrEP are also immersed in the world of HIV. They too have thought deeply about the impact of HIV and are reminded about it every day, each time they take their medication. Just like people living with HIV, PrEP users have also invested the time to research and understand the science of HIV, what it is and how the virus works. And just like people living with HIV, PrEP users are out there in the community educated and sharing information about HIV with others.
Given that PrEP users are in control of HIV prevention, there is less need for ‘the conversation’ about HIV status or the visible commitment to prevention in the form of the condom (on the penis and not in the packet) during sex. With less conversations about HIV happening in the bedroom, ‘Inside/Out’ provides a great talking point with friends, family, romantic interests or Grindr ‘dates’. I think that’s why I found the exhibition reassuring. That new ways of sharing your relationship with HIV are still being created to keep the conversation alive for as long as the virus is with us.
Before or after you go to, take the time to explore the dedicated website www.insideoutexhibiton.com.au. There is some technical knowledge to understand some of the terminology relating to HIV infection. It’s not difficult to pick up and well worth knowing. The exhibition is FREE and one of two high quality Midsumma shows at Chapel Off Chapel. So don’t just mark it in the Midsumma program but make time in your diary and get in to Chapel Off Chapel to experience it.
Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
17 January – 3 February
Time: Opening Night – Wednesday 17 January 6.30-8.30pm.
Exhibition Hours – Daily Midday-5pm (Except 26 Jan)
FREE EVENT Roundtable ‘There is no longer shame in living with HIV’ 20 Jan 2-4 pm