15

– Spring/Summer 2007

Infect the Public Domain with an Imagevirus: General Idea's AIDS Project

Joshua Decter

General Idea, AIDS (A Project for the Public Art Fund, Inc.), 1989, 4, 500 posters placed in the New York subway system, one card in every second carriage. Courtesy of the artists.

General Idea, AIDS (A Project for the Public Art Fund, Inc.), 1989, 4, 500 posters placed in the New York subway system, one card in every second carriage. Courtesy of the artists.

In the network society everyone puts together their own city. Naturally this touches on the essence of the concept of public domain. The modern city is most easily understood as an archipelago of enclaves, and if the citizen is continuously occupied with maintaining his or her own small network with as little possible friction with other groups, then that does indeed ostensibly spell the demise of any form of public domain. However, that is not how the private space of the archipelago resident looks.The paradoxical fact is that many people are still searching for that experience of intensely felt public places. Public domain is, in our firm opinion, not so much a place as an experience. Public domain experiences occur at the boundary between friction and freedom. On the one hand there is always the tension of a confrontation with the unfamiliar; on the other, the liberation of the experience of a different approach. In the main, our public domain experiences are in fact related to entering the parochial domain of 'others'.

- Maarten Hajer and Arnold Reijndorp 1

When we put the AIDS posters in the New York subway system, we were interested in the fact that they passed through every geographic and ethnic barrier within the urban context.

- AA Bronson 2

Preamble

Throughout their three decades of activity, the Canadian artists' collective General Idea crossed through various cultural boundaries and discursive systems, presciently understanding the art world as a microcosm of the broader popular culture, and in the process redefined what it meant for visual artists to generate new kinds of public-domain experiences. They injected the language of visual

Footnotes
  1. Maarten Hajer and Arnold Reijndorp, In Search of the New Public Domain, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2001, p.116.

  2. AA Bronson was interviewed (along with his General Idea collaborators, Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal) in 1991 by Joshua Decter.

  3. The first AIDS painting, followed by the poster project, appeared in 1987. The project continued through to 1994 when Partz and Zontal died, but in a sense still continues, as permission is given to anyone who wants to use the logo.

  4. 'General Idea Editions: 1967-1995', shown, among other venues, at Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Seville, 2007; Kunstverein München, Munich, 2006; Kunsthalle Zürich, 2006 and the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, 2005.

  5. Gregg Bordowitz, 'Picture a Coalition', October , vol.43 [Douglas Crimp (ed.), AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism], Winter 1987, p.192.

  6. Simon Watney, 'The Spectacle of AIDS', October, op. cit., p.82.

  7. The exhibition first opened at Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart in April 1992, and then travelled to Centre d'Art Santa Mònica, Barcelona; Kunstverein Hamburg; The Power Plant, Toronto; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

  8. Joshua Decter, 'The Theatrics of Dissemination: A General Idea Model', in General Idea (ed.), Fin de Siècle (exh. cat.), Stuttgart: Württembergeischer Kunstverein, 1992, pp.23-24.