First viewed during Chuck Ramirez’s solo exhibition at Artpace’s Hudson Showroom in the Spring of 1999. Since the AIDS crisis began, artists have responded overwhelmingly to this disease. The graphic activist worked of the collective Gran Fury, the narrative assemblages of David Wojnarowicz and the meditative installations of Felix Gonzalez-Torres have placed AIDS into a cultural and visual context. At ArtPace, Ramirez continued this trajectory of art history in an installation of digitally enhanced photographic works, entitled Long Term Survivor. The individual pieces explore the rituals of sustaining life and desire in the context of the AIDS crisis. Images range from abstractions of erotic toys to day-of-the-week pill boxes to leather chaps. Ramirez also presents a video piece on three monitors that display a spinning chrome ring—a seductive form that recalls corporate logos—against a bright red wall. Working with materials and images that are part of his daily life—a life impacted by the AIDS crisis—Ramirez transforms the language and power of advertising into a call for action and compassion, expression and self-actualization.
In the words of John Ewing,”Not quite a decade ago, art addressing the AIDS crisis was more often than not a memorial to the dead and dying (e.g. Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ billboard of a slept-in but empty bed). Ramirez’s Cocktail indicates a cultural change. This series of sturdy, architecture-like forms housing health-sustaining medications has no beginning or end. Regardless of the medical uncertainty about protease inhibitors, Cocktail represents a spirit of confidence new to the cultural landscape. Even the punning title suggests something leisurely, a divertissement.
Depending on the perspective, one viewer will look at “Long-Term Survivor” and see the gay experience inscribed within stereotypes of deviance and disease. Another viewer will see graceful images of hope and personal endurance. Still others will identify with remnants of the closet and cultural traditions of concealment. Lastly, there will be those who see nothing but photographs, all enigmatic and none particularly gay. Like beauty, meaning is also in the eye of the beholder.”
Ewing, John, “Of Cocktails and Cockrings, Chuck Ramirez at Artpace,” San Antonio Current, March 25-31, 1999.