Sexual responsibility is a topic that can be discussed in many different ways. At Impulse, our goal is to find new and creative ways to bring everyone together to discuss awareness and sexual responsibility. In an effort to ignite breakthrough conversations around HIV and sexual responsibility, we partnered with artist David Meanix for our very first exhibition, Face To Face. On display were twelve surreal facial photosculptures that represent gay men from New York City, each with a different set of views and reality pertaining to HIV. Additionally, twelve graphic images depict scenarios where the topic of HIV is discussed and personally faced in real life. The masks were later used during a performance piece opening night, and also used by David to create a video component that challenges everyone to rethink the way we face HIV. We chat with David about the significance of his interactive presentation, his thoughts on why HIV is not discussed enough, and the importance of revealing our true selves.
Why did you choose to present your message via a performance piece?
They’re really life-like on the shelf and I wanted to show people how life-like they can be when worn. It brings you into the realization of how we wear these different faces and mask ourselves in real life. I wanted to show art imitating life, life imitating art. I wanted to confront people with the realization.
What realization did you want to confront people with pertaining to HIV and awareness?
I feel like it’s sort of been status quo to discuss HIV. Whereas when I became sexually active, around 1986, and pretty much from the start, it was a given that you had to protect yourself despite how awkward it may seem to put a condom on and discuss your status. Now for many reasons it’s not discussed anymore.
It may be harder to get, but it hasn’t gone away yet. It’s important to keep the conversation going so it’s not out-of-sight-out-of-mind causing other diseases to spread.
It’s interesting you used the term out-of-sight-out-of-mind as I’m standing here in the gallery looking at my work, and I’m with these faces and they’re saying, “face yourself and see yourself.” I’m sort of crying for people to take a deeper look at themselves and the faces we show each other publicly and privately.
When I look at it [sex] in terms of this show, I feel like it’s a slippery slope between taking care of yourself and not. My photoscultures are paper thin representations of ourselves. I feel like it’s a paper thin decision that can make all the difference when it comes to sex, being safe and protecting yourself.
When you say you want people to take off their masks and show who they really are what do you mean by that? What would you like people to show?
I’ve always been a believer of showing people your truest self. A lot of people don’t necessarily live that way and I wish they did. Although, we have come a long way. Not living in your truth, health wise, in regards to HIV can lead to you slipping and not taking care of yourself in the moment where you should: like when it’s time to put that condom on or making sure you’re taking your PREP.
Is the glue you use to mold these masks a metaphor for something more personal?
The glue is symbolic to whatever you need or want in order to hold yourself together. Holding yourself together needs to be looked at in a dual way. It doesn’t have to be static. You can hold yourself together while you’re changing and evolving. The glue is the spirit that keeps you going.
What does that photo represent of the couple exchanging masks?
The reason why I think it works so well in that picture is because we are taking off each
others mask and revealing ourselves to each other and stripping away preconceived ways and letting ourselves be seen revealing our vulnerable sides. That most [people] want to be intimate and respectful of each other.
Are there any other topics you’d like to open up a conversation with using art?
I showed the video to straight co-workers of mine and they thought the video was beautiful and that it was meaningful to everyone. It’s not just about gay men and HIV anymore it’s about everyone and HIV. They were saying the video needs to be translated and shown across the world and it would be greater if all walks of life were featured because HIV is nondiscriminatory.
Although this project was about Impulse and bringing awareness around gay men I would love to keep this project going into a larger HIV discussion. And yes, there are other projects in the works. I will be collaborating with dancers in full-body make-up, creating full body photosculptures of them and then applying the sculptures to dancing robots. I have to raise a ton of money first with New York Foundation for the Arts as the non-profit manager. I’m also having a blast with 3-D printing as another sculptural expression. It’s all about creating a graceful balance between humanity and technology.
After the event attendees were asked to fill out a survey and based on those statistics: 95% of the guests were impacted by the show, and 70% now question how they discuss their own HIV status.