Artist's Notes on Vigil!, A Day with (OUT) Art: A Memorial Love Letter to David Wojnarowicz on World AIDS Day:

After having catapulted through the 2 series of Unbridled!, the Coma State pieces, and I am Too ___ To Be the Demographic, all in less than a 2-year period, I felt it vital to take a break to refuel… This was not to be. While preparing for a reading hiatus at City Lights Books, I was re-introduced to, Memories That Smell Like Gasoline, written by David Wojnarowicz, which made me immediately realize that I had one more artistic and social message to share through my work in observance of World AIDS Day (A Day Without Art). While I was already felt entrenched with an understanding of Wojnarowicz’s life and work, what the book provided for me was a reminder of how the death of David and his generation specifically impacted contemporary arts and myself 13 years later.

I’m using a portion from the SF Center’s press release, because I feel it does a masterful job of physically explaining the performance piece:

“All are welcome to view this non-traditional multi-media art exhibition which includes paintings, collage, recorded voices and printed images of artwork of historical significance.  Stout will also perform a live reenactment of the Jacques –Louis David painting, “The Death of Marat.” 

On December 1, 1989, the arts community in New York, in response to the loss of a generation of artists, organized the first "Day Without Art," - a day of mourning. Art galleries shrouded paintings, and theaters went dark to recognize the silence of the artistic voices extinguished by AIDS. This day, now generally referred to as World AIDS Day, has become a sad and necessary reminder of the continued fight against this fatal disease with no known cure.

Viewers of The Center’s exhibit will be greeted by a curtain shrouding the space, the symbol that is generally associated with "A Day Without Art." This is where all similarities between the traditional commemoration will end. At this point, the viewer will have the opportunity to walk behind the veil and into a large shrine built by the artist. The perimeter of the shrine will encompass "memorial hangings" and a live reenactment of the painting, "The Death of Marat.”

Through the impact of live performance encapsulating the emotional qualities of the artwork created at the beginning of the plague, it is the intent of the artist and The Center to once again ignite a sense of urgency and hope around the battle of bringing a finality to the AIDS epidemic. Although we cannot recapture the things that we have lost, we can unite together in honoring the dead and in building a hopeful future.” End of Press Release…

In addition to the topics of eulogy, activism, and remembrance, my extended premise for this performance was that AIDS had not only extinguished the most revolutionary voices of a generation, but also by their deaths, prohibited them from teaching the power of their art to the next generation of artists (such as myself).

In tandem, my theory for consideration by the academics vis-à-vis this performance was to consider that the aesthetic of late 90’s/New Century Contemporary work, with it's yang-imbalanced preoccupation with prodigious scale, luxury, and the absurd was on some level the direct result of the AIDS epidemic of the late 80's, which extinguished the voices providing the counter arguments of embracing the radical, non conformity, and social/political accountability.

Footnote: I’ve not performed this piece since World AIDS Day in San Francisco, 2005. I’d love to bring this work to be performed in an appropriate context in New York.

To see more work from Vigil!, A Day with (OUT) Art: A Memorial Love Letter to David Wojnarowicz on World AIDS Day or to read the artist statement, please e-mail me at

Description: "Vigil, A Day with (OUT) Art: A Love Letter to David Wojnarowicz, World Aids Day," 2004: Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Gallery, San Francisco. (Film still printed courtesy of Elizabeth Cook)
© CHRISTOPHER STOUT — All rights reserved