Tribute, Terror, and Trauma
Jim Hodges’s Untitled (2010) opens with gracefully kinetic images of clouds and waterfalls against the melancholy soundtrack of Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice.” It’s apt, given González-Torres’s short tenure on Earth as well as the ineffable life he persists in sharing with us through his work: “You only live twice / or so it seems, / One life for yourself / and one for your dreams.”
Next comes news footage: Harvey Milk, Act Up demonstrations and the AIDS quilt. A stony Reagan, and a haunting, anonymous, bullhorn-wielding man on the street embodying religious intolerance. A scene from Wigstock, on the other hand, passionately reifies the soul’s need for fun. For those who lived through that epoch and for those who barely remember it, this montage serves as a gut-level reminder of the heroism, gravity, and tragic ferocity of a whole generation of gay men, evincing a wave of gratitude, awe, and grief.
Then the video jumps from gut-level reminder to gut-punching. Hodges verges into all-atrocity, all-the-time territory, juxtaposing clips of Cheney with mutilated Iraqi children and burning cadavers, Bushes I and II fishing and playing golf and the bloated corpses of New Orleanians, the oil fires of Gulf War I, the WTO Seattle riots, the abominations of 9/11 and Abu Ghraib — horrors enough to make Sue Coe cry “bummer.”
I didn’t know what to make of it, and came out of the building feeling tearful, brutalized, and pissed-off … at Jim Hodges, as though he’d personally hurled me into PTSD. Which, given the depth of his social consciousness and his perceptive, affable presence in interview, confused me. Surely Hodges meant for Untitled (2010) to feel like propaganda for … what? Isn’t it already consensus among people of good faith that (a.) brutality leads to brutality and (b.) is morally reprehensible and painful to look at? Untitled (2010) struck some viewers as particularly ironic in tone, given González-Torres’s gentle and allusive appeals to our shared humanity and our individuality. The bus tour afterwards of the González-Torres billboards felt like a lovely memorial after a butchering. — Sarah Fisch