In July 2020, Avant Arte and Jenny Holzer launched an edition in collaboration with the New York City AIDS Memorial. The piece, titled URGE AND URGE AND URGE, consists of condoms in a handblown recycled-glass pharmacy jar. The condom wrappers feature some of Holzer’s signature phrases, such as “PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT,” “EXPIRING FOR LOVE IS BEAUTIFUL BUT STUPID,” and “MEN DON’T PROTECT YOU ANYMORE,” as well as excerpts from Walt Whitman’s poem, “Song of Myself.”
A majority of the proceeds from the sale of this edition will benefit the New York City AIDS Memorial, with which Holzer has long been involved — most notably as the designer of the granite paver installation at the memorial and as the instigator of Light the Fight, a mobile LED intervention for World AIDS Day 2018.
The memorial, erected in Manhattan’s West Village near the former site of St Vincent’s Hospital, which held New York City’s first and largest AIDS ward, aims to honor those lost to the epidemic and to inspire and empower current and future activists, health professionals, and people living with HIV. The presence of the permanent, architecturally significant memorial in such a poignant location continues the mission to eradicate the disease while also promoting awareness and action through educational and cultural programming.
Holzer was living and working in New York in the early 1980s as the AIDS epidemic began to emerge, and many of her friends died from the disease. Of this period she says: “Various friends, associates, and I waited to learn if we would die. Some died, and the rest of us were changed and do not forget.”* Ever since that time, Jenny has been involved in the fight against the disease — including through her instrumental role in the creation of the New York City AIDS Memorial.
In 2016, the memorial was completed and Jenny’s contribution was revealed under the white triangular steel canopy comprising the main structure of the site. For this installation, poet Henri Cole suggested the 1855 poem “Song of Myself,” a transcendent celebration of hope, unity, and human dignity by Walt Whitman, an icon of American literature who is thought to have been gay. Holzer and a trusted collaborator, Nick Morgan, chose and arranged passages from the poem to be engraved in the memorial’s granite pavement.
Today the memorial is a place of contemplation, providing a shelter for reflection and remembrance of those lost to AIDS. It also serves as a gathering place and reminder of the work that remains to defeat the disease. Most recently, the only remaining medical building at the site, a major emergency room opposite the memorial, has been a haunting reminder of the implications of infectious disease in New York as the city braves the harrowing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the impact of the pandemic has been crushing to all, it has been acutely felt by those living with HIV given the ramifications for testing, treatment, medication, employment, and insurance of patients as well as the halting of promising research for HIV treatments and vaccines. Today, 38 million people are living with HIV worldwide and 690,000 died of AIDS-related diseases in 2019. We hope that our project with Jenny will shed light on the continuing fight against AIDS.
A majority of the proceeds raised by URGE AND URGE AND URGE will go to support educational and cultural programs and fund the ongoing maintenance of the New York City AIDS Memorial.
(*) “Jenny Holzer talks about her NYC AIDS Memorial,” Phaidon website, Nov 21, 2017