David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night

Solo en Inglès

David Wojnarowicz, WOJO NEA #1, c. 1990. Courtesy the Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University

Running time: 00:07:25

David Wojnarowicz: In a startlingly clear mood and sat down, and I had this journalist friend of mine, a journalist and now artist friend of mine, Phil Zwickler, who came over and was pacing and pacing and pacing and wondering what the fuck he was going to do because of the state of his T-cells.

And coincidentally, I was asked to write a catalog essay pertaining to a show dealing with AIDS in a community of people of friends of the curator. And so I started talking about what I was experiencing right there in my life and dealing with image, and representation.

And since my place is such a mess, you can see my table, I described my table and, lo and behold, upon my front . . . right on my front table was a newspaper that featured Cardinal O'Connor on the cover saying that he just wishes ... he was chomping at the bit to join Operation Rescue. But alas, his lawyers were advising him against it.
And so I talked about the issue, the cardinal's and the church's stance on safer sex information in terms of the American public and their suppression of that information over the last eight years or seven years.

Phil Zwickler: What kind of show is it that the museum was putting on?

David Wojnarowicz: Well, I don't know if it's a museum, but at this point, they call it a gallery. But I think it's an institution or an institute or something like that. Well, the show is a show curated by Nan Goldin, who's a wonderful artist-photographer, and it's a show that she curated dealing with the issue of AIDS and sexuality in a community of her friends. And since I've known her loosely over time, she called me and asked me if I would contribute to the show and possibly write something.

Phil Zwickler: So what exactly did you write for the show?

David Wojnarowicz: I wrote an essay dealing with image, identity, invisibility, representation, media and health and everything seen through the framework of having a taboo disease in this society.

Phil Zwickler: So you talked about your personal experiences having HIV?

David Wojnarowicz: Yeah. I talked about my anger at living in an environment that's extremely hostile and makes  and that shapes AIDS as something with a particular sexual orientation, with a particular moral, etc., etc., and what that feels like to not be able to make a gesture that reverberates the same way that media does.

And, as the man from The Times said, "But now, you have a chance. Now, you have a chance," and my argument with him was that he basically wanted a sound bite and that I could not give him a sound bite from my catalog essay that it would have to be, at the minimum, 500 words that they would have to print in order for me to feel that I have a fair representation on what I wrote and the issues involved.

Phil Zwickler: But it's going to come out publicly next week anyway

David Wojnarowicz: Supposedly, and I guess it'll be . . . maybe I'll catch an early plane to Europe or get a car, fill it full of gas and point it towards Mexico.

Phil Zwickler: Well, what is it also about the NEA and the conflict between Artists Space that has you particularly upset?

David Wojnarowicz: Well, I think that Frohnmayer, who is chairman of the NEA is making a cheap, cheap censorship tactic by pretending, one, that the NEA is still funding the catalogue, which it clearly was arranged by Susan Wyatt.

Phil Zwickler: So the catalogue, the catalogue, explain. The catalogue . . .

David Wojnarowicz: The catalogue in the show was funded by the NEA like eight months ago or something, something to that effect.

Phil Zwickler: What-

David Wojnarowicz: Susan Wyatt looked at the nature of the essay and decided that it might be best if the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation funds it rather than the NEA, so she arranged for the Mapplethorpe Foundation to fund it, sent a letter to the NEA way back like three weeks ago, four weeks ago, saying that they will not be using NEA money to fund the catalogue.

But they will continue using NEA funding for the show. And she was generous to them by showing them the materials involved of the other artists and the writings in order to show them what they can expect to be dealing with if it becomes an issue.

Phil Zwickler: What did you contribute to the show? An essay?

David Wojnarowicz: Well, I contributed an essay to the catalogue, and I contributed, I think, four pieces of the Sex Series that I did back in February, copies of them and also the AIDS [inaudible 00:04:51] painting I did might be in the show, and also three photographs of Peter Hujar after he died that I took moments after he died in the hospital.

Phil Zwickler: What do you think really frightens them the most?

David Wojnarowicz: The bottom line, what frightens them is information, and that's the total bottom line, the information and representation of people who are affected by legislated morality, visibility, etc.. I mean, people who are made invisible in this country, people who are silenced in this country. Basically the bottom line, that's the information pertaining to those people or from those people, there's an attempt to silence it in any forum.

And if the news deals with it, although journalists promise that it's very important that I, in particular, if they manage to get through to my phone line, that they try to assure me that it's very important that I speak. And yet, what they're really angling for is a sound bite from my essay that they can throw onto the fire and fan the flames even further.

Phil Zwickler: Do you feel you've been treated fairly by the media through this?

David Wojnarowicz: No, I don't. To think that anybody could be treated by the media fairly is a joke. Ann Northrop said it very clearly. Someone who has had experience in media for years said that the media and journalists do not go after the light, they go after the heat or after the flame, and I think that says it clearly. Another statement that I haven't yet made, but I would make to a media, either a news media or a newspaper, is simply this. It's very short:

This country has been in this climate before, and during the heyday of Joe McCarthy, the press and more visible members of the American public, as well as politicians, sat back and were silent witnesses to the hypocrisy and borderline fascist activities of that period. It did finally come to a halt when Mr. McCarthy was confronted by people of conscience. When will the press and politicians confront Jesse Helms? And that's as clearly as I can say it.