AIDS Quilt for an Imagined Genealogy of Michel Foucault

Collaboration as a member of LabSynthE (Laboratory for Electronic and Synthetic Poetry)

What: Collaborative AIDS Quilt block for Michel Foucault.

When: Fall 2018 – present (in progress).

Statement by LabSynthE:

We are making a 12 by 12 foot AIDS Quilt block in honor of Michel Foucault (1926-1984) for registration and circulation by the National AIDS Memorial. The AIDS Memorial Quilt is the largest ongoing community art project in the world. It has been displayed on the Washington DC Mall six times with immeasurable aesthetic and political impact. People create two by three foot panels on which the names of loved ones who died of HIV/AIDS complications are written and memorialized. The panels are sewn together in configurations of 8 to create 12 by 12 foot blocks. Across the changing landscape of the past decades, the Quilt has been and continues to be an important tool of education and political action, raising awareness and pressuring government and other stakeholders to look for solutions to the AIDS epidemic.

We are making the first complete 12 by 12 foot block to honor Foucault’s wide-ranging scholarship. We have invited participants to submit a 12 inch by 12 inch square that we will sew together, and a letter accompanying each square. Participants were encouraged to submit a design that resonates with the scholarship and impact of Foucault’s work across disciplines and generations.

We did not worked on this project during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. In the time we had to think about the Quilt and about several things that were happening in the world and in the United States during this period, we began to reconsider some of our initial proposals for this project. We considered that there are many other people who died of HIV/AIDS and that were and are completely invisible. We compared that situation to the great visibility of Foucault through his own theory, and discussed if we wanted to continue on a project that made someone already very visible even more visible. These discussions led us to restructure the final parts of the project. The main piece on the center of the Quilt will now receive the names of trans people memorialized in the AIDS Quilt database. Those names are a very small representation of the actual number of trans people who died of HIV/AIDS during the AIDS pandemic in the U.S., which makes us think about the (mis)representation and the subjectivity of archives. The block will be in exhibition in mid-October 2021 at the New York University library. Visitors will be invited to read the names at the center of the quilt out loud, and to record them in paper cards with voice recorders.

We have sewed all the parts of the Quilt together, and are now finishing to hand quilt it. The next steps are to sew the front pieces.