Today is one of those perfect early summer Vermont days, complete with warm breezes, bright sunlight, and dazzling blue skies. Our yard is a profusion of color as the perennials all burst wildly into bloom at once. The woods are thick with brilliantly green leaves, and owls now hoot insistently well into the evening twilight.
Last night I was reading about Nan Golding’s iconic group exhibition, Witnesses: Against Out Vanishing. This show took place in late 1989 and early 1990, addressed the AIDS crisis and the refusal of the political elites to address it, and, predictably, led to a socio-political maelstrom.
Living through the Eighties meant, if one was engaged in the arts, losing friends, colleagues, and acquaintances to AIDS, sometimes at an alarming rate. Vermont often seemed far from the epidemic’s epicenters, yet the virus found its way here and changed our social landscape. Well into the 1990’s, by which time AIDS had sliced deeply into the white, heterosexual population, it seemed as though even here politicians were content to let people die.
Perhaps not so oddly, we now find ourselves facing an even more immersive threat of vanishing, one we share with most of Earth’s living organisms. Once again the politicians are refusing to address the issues that threaten catastrophe. So, I wonder, how might we voice, through the arts, the immediacy of the need as well as the failed political response? What might witnessing look like now? How might we communicate the great beauty of all that is imperiled?
Certainly people in the arts have taken on the challenge, especially as concerns climate change. Yet we know that warming is just one of a cascade of crucial problems we must address if there is to be a future for most organisms on the planet. What is your vision for a revisited Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing and who is the Our that is threatened with vanishment?