Since the 1994 exhibition, Don't Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS, mounted at the National Gallery of Australia, the biomedical, political and aesthetic discourses of HIV/AIDS have changed dramatically. Conversely, many homophobic and AIDS-phobic invectives continue to proffer misinformation about the disease and its effects within global culture. This doctoral project, "With and Without You: Revisitations of Art in the Age of AIDS," maps some of these discursive changes and constants in culture, art, biomedicine and politics. Examining artwork produced from 1980 to 2002, the project illustrates how art has often been produced as a response to binary tensions between seemingly disparate concepts, such as the verbal and the visual, realism and abstraction, wellness and illness. Some of the most pressing issues engaged by the exhibition include the importance of the decorporealisation of disease (and life with HIV/AIDS) in the face of its incurability, the role of art in different cultural and socioeconomic environments, the significance of visual representation in cultures where HIV/AIDS has no semantic equivalent and the interrogation of normatively imposed "iconographies of AIDS."
The thesis examines the curatorial processes that were adopted during the compilation of With and Without You and discusses the complicating factors associated with mounting an international exhibition in a relatively small venue. Moreover, the thesis analyses former HIV/AIDS-related international art exhibitions, such as Nicholas Nixon's People with AIDS and Bob Kelley's Cocktail Hour, to map their underlying rationales and to demonstrate why those rationales were adopted, modified or jettisoned in With and Without You. In addition to explaining the processes of the selection and presentation of images, the thesis critiques queer theory's interface with HIV/AIDS-related art histories and investigates the ways in which HIV/AIDS has affected mainstream art historical discourses. In contrast to some queer theorists, such as Douglas Crimp, who distinguish between "productive" and "unproductive" HIV/AIDS-related discourses, this exhibition and thesis argue for a representational version of Paula Treichler's "democratically determined epidemic" where all social, artistic and medical perspectives about the disease collectively lead to a better understanding of its existence as a global catastrophe. Finally, this thesis interrogates mainstream art historical discourses to establish the degree to which HIV/AIDS has affected and transformed conventional modes of imagistic representation and visualisation.
The exhibition component of this doctoral project took place at the Ivan Dougherty Gallery in Sydney from 3 October to 9 November 2002. The exhibition consisted of 54 works from Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, the Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.