queer/disrupt gained insight on this piece by reading the abstract, as well as through an interview conducted by Hannah Ayres with Dante.
"...most of the added pictures are photographs I took myself, of myself and my things. Because, I needed to be present in some way in this work. Because it's not just an outside commentary on the queer community in the pandemics, it's my own subjective vision of it, and also of myself within it. Because it's also about my snot, about my blood, about my cum. Because it's about my guilt."
Dante is a gay man in his 20s from Paris and at the time of submission was studying for a masters in bioengineering. In our interview, he spoke about his relationship to queer and how he didn't feel necessarily in tune with it. He is trying to expand this knowledge and do more research when he is able.
"If I'm not afraid of getting AIDS, why should I be afraid of COVID" - the central text of this piece reads. When Dante heard someone say this during the summer of 2020, he was shocked. He originally felt this a really strange way to compare the two pandemics and felt that there should have been a fear present. This rhetorical question pointed out how similar these two pandemics are, but also how queer people's experience with HIV is deeply influencing their relationship with other diseases and their own health. Despite the death toll from HIV, some people developed a sort of desire for the virus, leading to the culture of bug chasing and gift giving. Desires of live were intertwined with desires of death. In a way, this is what is also happening with COVID-19 as we all want to live life to the fullest but there are sanitary measures that are necessary to preserve life, just like condoms and PrEP. This statement was used as a justification for breaking the lockdown rules for random hook-ups. Dante spoke about understanding lust, wanting to live, and not just surviving. He also understands not caring that you are endangering your own health. What he cannot understand is the absence of guilt when it comes to the possibility of infecting others. He wishes they felt guilt because he does. He feels guilty for not respecting social distancing. He lived with his parents, but his own desires for freedom gave him COVID and he realises the danger he put his family in.
Dante has been interested for a while in the painting "Vanitas" by painter Jan Sanders van Hemessen. He saw the painting in real life and felt an attraction to it; as well as liking the imagery generally, Dante felt this piece perfectly represents queer vanity, which is why he used it as the base for this work. He wanted it to be seen as a double reflection of this vanity, diffracted by the central statement. In the piece, he plays with symmetry and antisymmetry, since for Dante, these are central notions when it comes to infecting others, and the underlying responsibilities and guilt. The mirrors reminded Dante of a cell phone and he drew connections between the way both allow us to perceive ourselves. This work is very personal and graphic, it contains a number of different images such as cum stains, dildos etc. To contextualize the painting into both the COVID and AIDs pandemics, he complemented it using symbols of each, but also queer symbols. The masks have a double purpose, as they reflect the idea of anonymity, which is constantly present in the queer community, as well as the masks used throughout the pandemic. Dante talked about the number of times he saw a picture of someone's genitals before their face, and so integrated one of these anonymous "dick pics" into the piece. The penis and dildo represent the two options available during both COVID and AIDs - sexual encounter with others or masturbation. They included blood, snot and cum as the "holy trinity of bodily fluids". The image of the moon points to the night and the movement to and from hook-ups.
Dante felt a lot of contradictions in their relationship towards the pandemic, particularly with regards to sexual relations. There was the danger of it juxtaposed with the positive and pleasurable nature of consensual sex. The paranoia and uneasiness connecting with the annoyance at having to take care being offset by the knowledge that you also have a responsibility to keep others safe. Dante expressed throughout that the quote at the centre of the piece showcased to them the lack of care some queer people approached the pandemic with and reflected that although he had made his own mistakes, he felt deeply guilty about this and stated that people should care about other people's health over their own. How do we hold others accountable when people approach the pandemic differently and there is disagreement over which rules to follow. This is a difficult issue to tackle, and this piece represents some of the contradictions, difficulties and emotions present in queer responses to the pandemic.