“Ephemera as Evidence”

La MaMa Galleria
47 Great Jones Street
June 5, 2014–June 29, 2014

Kia Labeija, Mourning Sickness, 2014, digital print, 20 x 30."

José Esteban Muñoz’s scholarship catalyzed academics and artists alike around the utopian possibilities of queer world-making. His 1996 essay “Ephemera as Evidence” argued for “traces, glimmers, residues, and specks” as affirmation of minoritarian lives. The essay provides the titular inspiration for this Visual AIDS exhibition, cocurated by two of Muñoz’s former students, Joshua Lubin-Levy and Ricardo Montez. The timely show pays tribute to Muñoz, who passed away unexpectedly in December, through its curatorial emphasis on the performative and pedagogical models at the heart of Muñoz’s thinking.

Queer acts of performance and their material traces figure prominently. Jack Waters and Peter Cramer’s À la recherche du temps trouvé, 2014, is an ecstatic set-piece installation replete with costumes and trinkets that will house performances during the exhibition. Also on display are materials from the archive of the infamous party scene the Clit Club (1990–2002), including an original uniform, a safer-sex handbook for lesbians, and cassettes of DJ sets from the festivities. These indexes—both archival and activated—evince queer worlds and support Muñoz’s conception of their radical potential.

Students from Ricardo Montez’s New School course Queer Art and the Legacy of AIDS have also assisted in curating a significant portion of the intergenerational exhibition. A standout of this pedagogical approach is the up-and-coming Kia Labeija, who curated a display by Jessica Whitbread and also has her own photographs included in the exhibition. Two of Labeija’s stunning self-portraits intimately grieve the loss of her mother to AIDS-related complications: In Mourning Sickness, 2014, Labeija lies huddled in a bathroom staring sorrowfully, while in Kia and Mommy, 2014, Labeija leans in her bedroom with a similarly anguished gaze, clutching a photograph of her mother. Though a palpable sense of loss hangs over the exhibition—evoking Muñoz as well as those who have passed in the wake of the AIDS crisis—the art and ephemera displayed here stands as enduring witness to these vanishings.

— Alex Fialho