A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Montreal artist Vincent Chevalier for Nightlife Magazine. We discussed his ever-growing body of work, tumblr, and a forthcoming artist’s residency at the Banff Center. For the sake of brevity, some of our dialogue didn’t make it into the Nightlife article. Here are some “out-takes,” so to speak, of my discussion with the artist.
MAH: Your artistic practice germinates into a variety of mediums, but a prevalent theme in your work is the idea and action of disclosure. Can you talk about the significance of disclosure, and how it affects those who interact with your work?
VC: Disclosure often serves to open up or shift something for the viewer when viewing my work. For example, in Pictures of Me Taken By My Father In His Bed, the disclosure that my father has taken these photos of me almost half-naked, once as a child and then again a grown man, opens up a space for contemplation of that relationship for the viewer. A shift occurs and the two photos enter into a dialogue together within the viewers mind. This is important for me because of the way that disclosure operates in my daily life.
As for reactions that stand out, I guess one of the things I notice is that a lot of people consider the work that I do to be brave, or noble, or out of the ordinary. And in a way, I guess for a lot of people, it is. But this is my everyday; my every interaction is affected by my choice to disclose or not disclose. I have no choice in this. Don’t get me wrong, I am terrified of the stigma and ignorance that I come across in disclosing my HIV. Still, I don’t see it as courageous. I think we all should be talking about our sexual, emotional, and physical health and well-being more often, and not just those of us who are compelled to because of this notion that poz people need to advertise themselves for the health and safety of everyone else. Sometimes choosing NOT to disclose is radically important as well, for your own safety as well as for the safety of those around you.
How do you see the role of Strip within the larger body of your catalogue?
Strip, and my other video Cover, were both shot as part of this series where I was doing these performative actions for video based around words that were both verbs and nouns. There were five in total but Strip and Cover were really the only ones that held up in relation to my other work (ah, art school!). I see them both as speaking to the idea/performance of drag. In Cover I perform a “cover” of a rock song by PJ Harvey by covering a set of speakers hooked up to an iPod, with my body. I’m performing a version of the song through a physical gesture that alters the sonic character of the music. I read this as a type of drag performance in which I embody the song and thus the performance of the song by PJ Harvey. In Strip, I strip off a strip of my chest hair while trying to stifle a cry of pain. The gesture speaks to a performative masculinity.
You have a tumblr, hfml (Hyper Flesh Markup Language), which is also the name of the project you’ll be working on at the Banff Center. I frequently experience your tumblr on a visceral level, most often through laughter, or arousal inspired by GIFs. Can you talk about your fascination with GIFs?
OMG GIFs are just so exciting and fun! Basically, an animated GIF is a low quality (and low sized) set of images that play as a looped animation. There are many styles and uses for animated GIFs. Some consist of short clips from film, television, or video (say of some porn or a kitten or a scene from Harry Potter), some are very beautiful pixel art works, some are short photosets (like two or three frames), some are textual, some are little clip-art objects (think rotating 3D female or male symbols). The possibilities are endless! The best GIFs are economical, meaning that they produce their intended effect with very little. I think that’s what makes them so powerful for me. They communicate so much with so little data. They leave a lot of the space for the imagination to fill in. I have never laughed so hard as looking at animated GIFs.
Have there been any surprising responses to PWIFd?
This project is characterized by a pseudo-anonymity that is slowly fading as I become more public as an artist and people find out about it more. I think it’s a work that some people find challenging. For one, by posting all of the places I have had sex (170 and counting), I am coming out as quite a slut. This is contentious for a lot of people because of my HIV status. I think a lot of people think that poz people shouldn’t be having sex at all, let alone being sluts. There is also the question of ethics. I capture the images from Google Street View in such a way that makes it difficult to read what site is the place where I fucked.
I once had sex with someone who knew about the blog and wasn’t comfortable with the fact that I would post a picture of his building. I never posted it out of respect for our conversation, but most people don’t know about it and I don’t tell them. This other time, I hooked up with a guy at his place, posted the image of his apartment building, and then never thought about it again. However, a few weeks later I ended up going to another friends house for a get-together and the guy was sitting right there in his kitchen. We said hi to each other and I sat down next to my other friend who began asking me about my PWIFd project, unknowingly asking me to describe it to my former hookup sitting across from me. That was very awkward. But I like that about the project. It lays bare some of the ways that we, as queers, are interconnected through sex, community, cruising, and the Internet.
Help send HFML to the Banf Center: indiegogo.com