Catalog as Zine as Tome
December 6, 2016
by Alex Fialho
For our purposes, this catalogue has to a greater or lesser extent been shaped by the aesthetics of the zine. We offer a tumble of texts and images from our generous contributors—reprints, originals, poems, photos and slogans. As this book shifts vernacular from choreography to theory to poetry to image, our hope is that the bindings of collective memory will also shift and multiply, into limited and mass editions.
—Will Rawls, “Letters and Numbers,” Platform 2016: Lost and Found Catalogue
I’ve been carrying the 268-page catalogue for Platform 2016: Lost and Found around with me for over a month now. Though it’s heavy thickness has weighed my bag down during that time, the inspiring collection of material it contains has lifted me up and taken me to countless places—past, present and future. As the events for Danspace Project’s most ambitious platform to date come to a close, the energy and emotional intensity of the wide-ranging Platform will continue to live on in the impressive catalogue, edited by Ishmael Houston-Jones, Will Rawls and Jaime Shearn Coan. Platform co-curator Will Rawls’ introductory essay effectively uses the framework of zines to consider the collection of material that comprises the tome-sized catalogue. Similar to the ethos of a zine, the substantial publication brings together dozens of contributions in multiple manners of address, ranging from poetry, recollections, essays, drawings, photographs, reprints of canonical essays, and much more. The stories that unfold within these pages exhibit a range of immensely moving narratives about the ongoing AIDS epidemic and its impact on individuals and the collective communities of New York City’s dance and performance scenes and beyond.
Rawls’ zine metaphor is particularly fitting given that a zine was the initial provocation for the Platform itself: Platform co-curator Ishmael Houston-Jones has recounted the story behind the impetus for the Platform, now three years in the making, in his introduction to multiple Lost and Found events. On August 28, 1998, the tenth anniversary of the death of artist John Bernd from AIDS-related complications, Houston-Jones and others close to Bernd came together for a dinner to reconnect over their friend’s life and legacy, and created a zine in Bernd’s memory. When Houston-Jones came across this zine about three years ago, he approached Danspace Project’s Executive Director and Chief Curator Judy Hussie-Taylor, and the idea for Platform 2016: Lost and Found, with its dual focuses on those lost to AIDS-related complications and the ongoing impact of AIDS on the contemporary moment in which we now find ourselves, was formed.
The John Bernd Zine is republished in the Lost and Found catalogue, providing a glimpse into Bernd’s impact on the lives of those closest to him. The zine contains multiple emotional reflections on Bernd’s performances and personality, reproductions of Bernd’s “simple evocative line drawings that suggest journeys, horizon, home, heart” (Linda Austin), an image of an $8,000 check from the National Endowment for the Arts for a grant which Bernd never deposited (the unused funds point to the performative possibilities lost with Bernd’s passing), and a weekly schedule devised by Bernd’s caretaking cadre, among other items of interest. DANCENOISE’s Lucy Sexton describes Bernd as the “caretaker” of PS122, that performance space so central to the experimental downtown dance community, as well as one of its “chief spiritual architects.” She recounts stories of Bernd cleaning PS122 in exchange for rehearsal time, and cites his central role in creating the vision for the space as it grew into a producing organization. Performance artist Tim Miller recounts courting Bernd and the emotional connection they shared. Bernd’s performance pieces are described as well, including Be good to me (1985), Surviving Love and Death (1982), and Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life Parts One – Three (1982–1985), all of which figured into Ishmael Houston-Jones and Miguel Gutierrez’s reimagining of Bernd’s work for the Platform performance highlight Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and other works by John Bernd. Houston-Jones’ “Memories of John Bernd at St. Mark’s Church” concludes the zine reprint, centrally situating Bernd in the context of St. Mark’s Church’s Sanctuary and Parish Hall, where so many engaging performances and insightful conversations took place over the course of the Platform. Houston-Jones details Bernd’s memorial at St. Mark’s Church—“the first memorial service I’ve ever helped plan”— as well as a heartwrenching anecdote of resilience in which Bernd snuck out of NYU Hospital’s Co-op Care Unit to perform in the Parish Hall. The zine reprint is the heart of the publication, pointing to the inspiration for the Platform and the many multi-faceted paths traveled over the course of the performances and catalogue for Platform 2016: Lost and Found, whose title itself derives from the eponymous Bernd performance.
Another central aspect of the catalogue is the Memory Palace section, for which 25 diverse contributors recount and conjure memorable people and places in short reflections across time and space. Artists are fittingly remembered—in Muna Tseng’s familial reflection on her brother Tseng Kwong Chi; when Arthur Avilés highlights Arnie Zane’s choreographic brilliance even in his final year of life; by Eiko Otake when she describes her collaborative dynamic with Bob Carroll, by noting “When I perform, I think of Bob, who so loved performing;” as Lucy Sexton recalls Tom Rubnitz’ emotional memorial service; and when Stephen Petronio reminisces about Klaus Nomi’s “goth opera charm.” Memorable events are highlighted in this section as well, such as The Remember Project by Denise Roberts Hurlin, Founding Director of Dancers Responding to AIDS, who tells the story of that organization and its “showcase of strength of unity” through the emotional outpouring of a marathon of dance. All told, the reflective Memory Palace section, with its pithy, powerful texts, gives a sense of the resounding impact of AIDS in countless, affecting ways.
New narratives as well as interventions into the historical record of HIV/AIDS are also a part of the wide-ranging Lost and Found catalogue. In Mimi’s Last Dance, artist Kia Labeija, one of the most promising emerging voices in contemporary HIV/AIDS cultural production, details the narrative behind her intense identification and ultimate transcendence of the character Mimi from Rent, a woman of color living with HIV who Labeija revered while growing up. Labeija’s two-page photographic self-portrait alone, with her dancer’s body in repose in a red dress in front of the New York City skyline, stopped me in my tracks, while Labeija’s accompanying statement on her artwork brings the struggles and resilience of children born with HIV to the fore.
On the other end of the spectrum, Ted Kerr mines the untold history of “AIDS before AIDS” in his personal essay on the process of tracking down the burial site of the first known AIDS-related deaths in Europe, which occurred in 1976, well before the commonly associated dating of AIDS’ “beginning” in 1981. Kerr’s essay rewrites our assumptions about HIV/AIDS and its timeline, and in so doing points to implicit biases in the telling of history itself, calling into question whose stories are privileged and whose untold. Kerr’s reflection: “When it comes to HIV/AIDS, we have a lot of history but not enough stories. We need more of both, and we need to ensure the stories circulate, because history will always be limited in its reach,” was quoted throughout multiple events as a touchstone for Lost and Found. Indeed, the many stories that emerged throughout the Platform brought a multitude of histories into Danspace’s performative spotlight. As a result of this catalogue, those stories will continue to circulate even as the lights turn off on this moving Platform.
* I dedicate this and all of my responses as writer-in-residence for Danspace’s Platform 2016: Lost and Found to the late Buzz Bense, who passed away on November 19, 2016; coincidentally, the final day of Platform 2016: Lost and Found. Buzz was an ardent activist, seasoned performer and sex-positive force in San Francisco throughout the ongoing AIDS crisis. He has been the single most influential gay mentor in my life, and working closely with Buzz to co-curate the exhibition “SAFE SEX BANG: The Buzz Bense Collection of Safe Sex Posters” with Dorian Katz at the Center for Sex & Culture in 2013 was where I found my voice in relationship to writing about HIV/AIDS. If it weren’t for Buzz, I don’t think that any of my Danspace responses as writer-in-residence, or my work at Visual AIDS for that matter, would have happened. I am deeply grateful for his presence and impact on my life, and I miss him dearly already. [Alex Fialho]
 Rent is a musical based loosely on Puccini’s La Boheme, which premiered in 1993 and opened on Broadway in 1996. It was written and directed by Jonathan Larson and concerns the lives of a group of young artists living in the East Village, many of whom are living with or impacted by HIV/AIDS. [JSC]
As part of our online Journal, Danspace Project has invited artists, curators, scholars, historians and others in our community to contribute entries as Writers in Residence and guest Respondents. Each contributor has been offered an open invitation to respond to work presented by Danspace Project; writings gathered here do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Danspace Project, its artists, staff, or Board of Directors.