03/05/2004: "Inspiration from Angels"
Last night I went to Xenon, a movie theater, to see “Before Night Falls”. Xenon shows a lot of films with gay content. Most recently I had seen Yossi and Jagger there; a film about two Israeli soldiers, their lives and love. Before I had seen a documentary film there about the isolation of gay men in rural Germany. Its easy to get to Xenon from where I live. Down the steps and around the corner, up Nollendorfstrasse, past the building where Christopher Isherwood lived when he wrote his Berlin Stories, to the bus stop. Get on the #187, pass what used to be Anderes Ufer (Other Shore). It is still a gay coffeeshop, but it now has a different name, and is no longer the Café Wyrd of Berlin as it once was. One stop later get off and around the corner to Xenon. Mass transit in Berlin is so good.
I had seen part of this film at the Uptown, but for some reason came late and had to leave early. This time it was great to see it in Spanish with German subtitles, and see the whole thing. When there wasn’t a lot of background sound I could understand most of the Spanish from my Portuguese. Reinaldo Arenas’ story (Before Night Falls is his autobiography) reminds me a lot of my friend Rene, who use to live in Minneapolis. Rene came to the US on the Mariel boatlift in 1980. He had been a student at the university, studying architecture, until he was kicked out for being gay. Then he got a job in the sugar industry, until they came to tell him that sugar was too vital to Cuban national security to risk having a homosexual work in it. Finally they came to tell him to go to Mariel, where he got on a boat, like thousands of other unwanted Cubans, including Arenas, to sail to Miami. Rene ended up in Minneapolis, and became lovers with Bruce Brockway, the first man to die of AIDS in Minnesota. Reinaldo ended up in New York, where he died of AIDS.
Like me, Rene is still alive. The film got me thinking about AIDS and my legacy, which I see from two sides. One side is work I have created on this theme. The other side is work created by other artists who had AIDS and are no longer with me physically. Next fall will mark twenty years that I have known that I am HIV positive. I plan to do a show to mark these two decades. Watching the film, I got inspired to create a performance/installation collage for the anniversary: I would create new work, and remount some things I have done before. I would commission artists to remount work created by people like Poonie Dodson, David Lindahl, Chasen Gaver, Bill Harren, Jack Gidone, Hector Teo… (artists I have known who have died of AIDS), or new work inspired by their creations. I would invite other artists living with HIV to create work. I started to imagine the Southern Theater without any seats, using the mainstage, the stage behind the proscenium, the lobby, the upper lobby, the greenroom, the sidewalk in front, the open area outside - off the ememrgency exit…My mind started to race. Different scenes would happen simultaneously, the audience would have to choose where to go. It would be impossible to see everything, returning a second time it would be highly unlikely to have even close to the same experience as the first time.
I remembered shows where I swung wildly on ropes with David Lindahl while Diamanda Galas screamed Leviticus verse. Remembered lying under dirt and sod, waiting to sit up and announce “I am not dead yet.” Remembered showing “Too Soon Lost” for the first time before several hundered at an Arts Over AIDS confernece in the Guthrie Lab before a keynote speech by my good friend John Killacky. Remembered creating that piece on a bitter cold December night in my 24th street storefront apartment, in the days before I built the inner wall of glass. Rembembered shows by David, Chasen, Asotto and Eric and so many others who now sit on my shoulder lightly and say clearly, “Patrick, you are here for a reason. You must continue to do our work.”
I thought of performances and spaces I have seen here these months in Berlin that have inspired me. Especially dance works that have broken open boxes and crossed disciplines. “Insideout” by Sascha Waltz and “d’avant” by a group of 4 men who sang as beautifully as they danced. I realized I have been subconsciously working this whole time on a big new show.
Waiting for the bus home, I again noticed the odd line of the buildings across the street. Some were three stories high, and down at the heels. Others were the standard 6 stories, and quite beautiful. And in between was a single story commercial storefront, feeling like a temporary filling from the dentist. It then occurred to me that this odd set of teeth was likely the result of bombs that fell in World War Two. Nina Simone crooned “Everything Must Change” in my imagination, just as she had on my cd player on the way to work in the morning.