Limits...
Visual objects and universal meanings: AIDS posters and the politics of globalisation and history.

Stein C, Cooter R - Med Hist (2011)

Bottom Line: Revealed, contrary to postmodernist expectations, is how today's application of aesthetic display for the purpose of making 'global connections' does not radically break with the virtues and morals attached to the visual at the end of the nineteenth century.Otherwise, historians fall prey to seductive aesthetics without being aware of the politics of them.This article submits that aesthetics is politics.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Dr Claudia Stein, History Department, Warwick University Coventry CV4 7AL, UK . Email: claudia.stein@warwick.ac.uk.

ABSTRACT
Drawing on recent visual and spatial turns in history writing, this paper considers AIDS posters from the perspective of their museum 'afterlife' as collected material objects. Museum spaces serve changing political and epistemological projects, and the visual objects they house are not immune from them. A recent globally themed exhibition of AIDS posters at an arts and crafts museum in Hamburg is cited in illustration. The exhibition also serves to draw attention to institutional continuities in collecting agendas. Revealed, contrary to postmodernist expectations, is how today's application of aesthetic display for the purpose of making 'global connections' does not radically break with the virtues and morals attached to the visual at the end of the nineteenth century. The historicisation of such objects needs to take into account this complicated mix of change and continuity in aesthetic concepts and political inscriptions. Otherwise, historians fall prey to seductive aesthetics without being aware of the politics of them. This article submits that aesthetics is politics.

Show MeSH

Related in: MedlinePlus

Oliviero Toscani’s 1992 billboard image of the death of David Kirby for Benetton’s ‘Shock of Reality’ advertising campaign. By permission of the United Colors of Benetton.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection


getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC3037216&req=5

fig5: Oliviero Toscani’s 1992 billboard image of the death of David Kirby for Benetton’s ‘Shock of Reality’ advertising campaign. By permission of the United Colors of Benetton.

Mentions: ‘Against Aids: Posters from Around the World’ was a modest, low-budget affair. Primarily, it was staged in order to exploit the Museum’s recent acquisition of over a thousand HIV/AIDS and safe sex posters from a private dealer, a purchase that enabled it to join the club of institutions harbouring such collections.16 The organisers of the exhibition selected only a hundred of the posters to display, choosing those that were most visually arresting, and others that, even after three decades in some cases, still had the power to shock, titillate, and/or amuse (such as that used on the front of the flyer for the exhibition, Figure 1, or ‘condoman’, Figure 2). In part to enhance these effects, realist anti-homophobic posters (Figure 3), were mixed with erotic ‘body-beautiful’ ones, such as ‘Semen Kit’ (Figure 4). Posters were also connected through novel imagistic and ironic associations. ‘Semen Kit’, for example, joined nautical space with a poster of a condom disguised as a life-saving ring,17 which, in turn, was hung alongside a Russian poster advert for rubber tyres. These striking juxtapositions were intended to reveal the variety of aesthetic choices that governments, charities, commercial bodies, and private artists employed in their efforts to inform the public of the threat of HIV/AIDS and incite onlookers to ethical behaviour (safer sex). Dramatically, at the entrance to the exhibition, the visitor was confronted with a full billboard-size reproduction of Oliviero Toscani’s iconic image of 1992: his re-conception of the prize-winning photograph from Life depicting the death of the American AIDS activist David Kirby, turned into an advertisement for the United Colours of Benetton (Figure 5).18 Other less dramatic images played on popular solidarities around AIDS, as prefigured in the socially integrative ‘Against Aids’ in the title of the exhibition. These images could serve to counter any charge that might be levelled at the Museum for its use of the more erotic and more humorous and ironic ones, namely, that it was denying the pain and suffering of HIV/AIDS victims, or trivialising the world’s most devastating disease. ‘Against Aids’ was also literalised in the predominance of posters promoting the use of condoms. It was through the display of these posters in particular that the exhibition sought to exemplify regional variety and similarities in aesthetic styles. Condoms, the viewer might come to see, were globally an unambiguous symbol for, and the warning against, unsafe sex.19Figure 1


Visual objects and universal meanings: AIDS posters and the politics of globalisation and history.

Stein C, Cooter R - Med Hist (2011)

Oliviero Toscani’s 1992 billboard image of the death of David Kirby for Benetton’s ‘Shock of Reality’ advertising campaign. By permission of the United Colors of Benetton.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC3037216&req=5

fig5: Oliviero Toscani’s 1992 billboard image of the death of David Kirby for Benetton’s ‘Shock of Reality’ advertising campaign. By permission of the United Colors of Benetton.
Mentions: ‘Against Aids: Posters from Around the World’ was a modest, low-budget affair. Primarily, it was staged in order to exploit the Museum’s recent acquisition of over a thousand HIV/AIDS and safe sex posters from a private dealer, a purchase that enabled it to join the club of institutions harbouring such collections.16 The organisers of the exhibition selected only a hundred of the posters to display, choosing those that were most visually arresting, and others that, even after three decades in some cases, still had the power to shock, titillate, and/or amuse (such as that used on the front of the flyer for the exhibition, Figure 1, or ‘condoman’, Figure 2). In part to enhance these effects, realist anti-homophobic posters (Figure 3), were mixed with erotic ‘body-beautiful’ ones, such as ‘Semen Kit’ (Figure 4). Posters were also connected through novel imagistic and ironic associations. ‘Semen Kit’, for example, joined nautical space with a poster of a condom disguised as a life-saving ring,17 which, in turn, was hung alongside a Russian poster advert for rubber tyres. These striking juxtapositions were intended to reveal the variety of aesthetic choices that governments, charities, commercial bodies, and private artists employed in their efforts to inform the public of the threat of HIV/AIDS and incite onlookers to ethical behaviour (safer sex). Dramatically, at the entrance to the exhibition, the visitor was confronted with a full billboard-size reproduction of Oliviero Toscani’s iconic image of 1992: his re-conception of the prize-winning photograph from Life depicting the death of the American AIDS activist David Kirby, turned into an advertisement for the United Colours of Benetton (Figure 5).18 Other less dramatic images played on popular solidarities around AIDS, as prefigured in the socially integrative ‘Against Aids’ in the title of the exhibition. These images could serve to counter any charge that might be levelled at the Museum for its use of the more erotic and more humorous and ironic ones, namely, that it was denying the pain and suffering of HIV/AIDS victims, or trivialising the world’s most devastating disease. ‘Against Aids’ was also literalised in the predominance of posters promoting the use of condoms. It was through the display of these posters in particular that the exhibition sought to exemplify regional variety and similarities in aesthetic styles. Condoms, the viewer might come to see, were globally an unambiguous symbol for, and the warning against, unsafe sex.19Figure 1

Bottom Line: Revealed, contrary to postmodernist expectations, is how today's application of aesthetic display for the purpose of making 'global connections' does not radically break with the virtues and morals attached to the visual at the end of the nineteenth century.Otherwise, historians fall prey to seductive aesthetics without being aware of the politics of them.This article submits that aesthetics is politics.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Dr Claudia Stein, History Department, Warwick University Coventry CV4 7AL, UK . Email: claudia.stein@warwick.ac.uk.

ABSTRACT
Drawing on recent visual and spatial turns in history writing, this paper considers AIDS posters from the perspective of their museum 'afterlife' as collected material objects. Museum spaces serve changing political and epistemological projects, and the visual objects they house are not immune from them. A recent globally themed exhibition of AIDS posters at an arts and crafts museum in Hamburg is cited in illustration. The exhibition also serves to draw attention to institutional continuities in collecting agendas. Revealed, contrary to postmodernist expectations, is how today's application of aesthetic display for the purpose of making 'global connections' does not radically break with the virtues and morals attached to the visual at the end of the nineteenth century. The historicisation of such objects needs to take into account this complicated mix of change and continuity in aesthetic concepts and political inscriptions. Otherwise, historians fall prey to seductive aesthetics without being aware of the politics of them. This article submits that aesthetics is politics.

Show MeSH
Related in: MedlinePlus