Sunday, August 04, 2013

Deferral at the Corcoran

Starting August 7 and lasting for four days, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design presents Deferral, a site-specific performance by Mary Coble that addresses the Food and Drug Administration’s policy of refusing blood donations from men who have had sex with men since 1977. 

The performance is the latest in the NOW at the Corcoran series – the Gallery’s contemporary art program dedicated to showcasing the work of emerging and mid-career artists. NOW Performance addresses issues central to the local, national, and global communities of Washington, D.C. 

Over four days, Coble and her collaborators encode the curtains of an anatomical theater—formed by hospital curtains in the Corcoran’s Atrium—with text and images from blood donor campaigns, regulations, and debates. The artist writes using her own blood, drawn onsite, while her collaborators work with thread as a stand in for their “illegal” blood. 

Over the course of the performance, their actions create an increasingly tangled web, enveloping and impeding their shared space while reclaiming the image of the male hero. 

Deferral is a reaction to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration policy of refusing blood donations from men who have had sex with men (MSM). The FDA’s deferral policy started in 1983, and since 1992 the FDA has permanently deferred MSM donations, explaining: “A history of male-to-male sex is associated with an increased risk for the presence and transmission of certain infectious diseases, including HIV…” 

Non-monogamous heterosexuals who have knowingly engaged in intercourse with an HIV/AIDS-positive partner are subject to a one year deferral before they may donate blood. 

For Coble, Deferral is a commentary on the FDA policy and marketing slogans from blood donation campaigns that laud donors as “heroes” and as “special” while calling those who do not donate “wusses.” According to Coble, “gay men are never allowed to be heroes.”

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