About the same time that I learned that Chloë Sevigny had agreed to be our April cover story, I got a call from a college friend of mine that someone we both knew, a fellow member of the class of 1984 (Brown University), had died from AIDS-related complications. This eighties friend of ours had gone on to a successful career on Broadway and Off-Broadway and was even nominated for a Tony Award for his supporting roles in several AIDS-related productions. This handsome and charming regular in productions at Brown’s radical Production Workshop wasn’t gay. In fact he was known as one of the few straight actors in such then-radical transgender Brown University productions as Jean Genet’s The Maids.
The reason why his death rattled me so much was that his was a most-welcome friendship in the still nascent time when AIDS was a very scary reality for so many of us in the fluid sexual reality of those seemingly innocent times—call it undergraduates exploring the sexual identities of their youth. Brown, known as the most liberal of the Ivies, was a perfect place for an artist like myself to paint sexually charged paintings that I was then allowed to hang in the lobby of the List Art Center. Obviously I was thumbing my nose at the art establishment, professors and students alike. Experimentation in both my paintings and affections were a sign of the times. But I digress.
For me, experimental actor, humanitarian, and solid AIDS activist Chloë Sevigny is one of the most interesting and risk-taking creative spirits to come out of Hollywood. Her pictures, from her debut in Larry Clark’s Kids (don’t miss Senior Editor Sean Black’s exclusive interview with the auteur director and photographer in this same issue), to more recent hits like Beatriz at Dinner and TV’s Bloodline are proof that this artist has never stopped evolving her artistry. My affection for the cutting-edge career of this month’s cover story has continued unabated through the years. Never one to forget how many visual artists we have lost to AIDS, she recounts to A&U’s Sean Black how important it is to remember the extensive loss to the American arts community: “There are so many photographers [like Mapplethorpe] who’ve brought attention to the AIDS movement. I mean [the early days] weren’t pretty but the work is very effective and moving.” Explaining the importance of staying connected with the early losses in the arts community in a fundraising project for the nonprofit Opening Ceremony, “I wanted to highlight that period of time and have them [the kids] look at the images, be struck by them and then go and do research on their pocket computers and find out who he [Mapplethorpe] was and how he died. I was hoping to open up a conversation among young people through the power of a T-shirt campaign.” Sevigny’s commitment to honoring the AIDS dead is both energetic and genuine; her belief in the arts to bring about change and awareness are refreshing in these tiresome times of looming cuts.
Along with Sevigny and Larry Clark, this issue honors artists who take creative risks and prove that there is more than one story about how HIV/AIDS impacts our lives. Editor at Large Hank Trout interviews director Tom E. Brown about his new movie, Pushing Dead, which deftly puts a comic spin on long-term surviving. (The film is also reviewed in The Culture of AIDS, along with a new play, High Fidelity Transmission by Rajesh Talwar.) Mr. Trout also talks to Tim Pinckney about his play, Still At Risk, which examines AIDS activism in the early days of the epidemic as well as the present day. And although Denny Tedesco chose session musicians, including his father, as his subject for his documentary The Wrecking Crew, he explains to Senior Editor Dann Dulin why AIDS advocacy became a family affair.
We need to support the power of the arts to at once document our AIDS history and also shine a light on where we need to go, bridging past creative losses and spotlighting current gains dealing with the AIDS crisis.
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.