PREVIEW: Homotopia events in Liverpool

Gary Hart October 29, 2015

Alien Sex Club is a major multimedia project by British artist John Walter.

Camp & Furnace
Camp & Furnace

It explores the relationship between visual culture and HIV, introducing serious health issues to a wide audience in a playful and provocative way, “as if Grindr had exploded into being a real building” [John Walter] and is part of the Homotopia 2015 Festival.

Using the spatial device of a cruise maze found in sex clubs and gay saunas, the Alien Sex Club installation is located at Camp & Furnace, 67 Greenland St, Liverpool L1 0BY, and brings together sculpture, painting, video, performance and installation to address the complexities of contemporary sexual health.

Visitors are immersed in a multisensory world where they are free to adventure, have their fortunes read by the tarot reader or share conversations over a drink at the gin bar. There will also be the opportunity for visitors to take an on-site HIV test administered by professionals from the Liverpool Community Health Trust.

Pub Virus
Pub Virus

Continuing Homotopia’s long-standing partnership with National Museums Liverpool, John Walter’s inflatable sculpture Pug Virus will be exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery throughout the festival. This pink, four metre-high inflatable head of Pug Virus is Walter’s attempt to re-envision the HIV virus, making it more accessible than representations of the virus popularised during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

Charlotte Keenan, curator (British Art), Walker Art Gallery, said: “Alien Sex Club draws on a rich legacy of artists, including Keith Haring and Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who have used art as a way of challenging social prejudice and misunderstandings about HIV and AIDS.

“John’s work responds to the virus in the 21st century, using gay and popular culture as a catalyst for discussions about risk, sexual health and drug use. We are delighted to be showing ‘Pug Virus’ at the Walker as part of this year’s Homotopia festival, where it can be seen alongside work by centuries of artists who have similarly used art as a way to open up discussions in society.”

The whole project asks audiences to consider sexual transmission risk in a broader personal and social framework and is the result of a collaboration with Dr Alison Rodger, Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Infectious Diseases and HIV at University College London supported by a Small Arts Award by the Wellcome Trust.

Also as part of Homotopia, at the Bluecoat, Walker Art Gallery and at Camp & Furnace, Alien Sex Club will present a free public programme of associated talks and events from artists, activists and health professionals aimed at providing audiences with a new vocabulary for understanding and talking about HIV and the factors contributing to its transmission.

♦      Friday, October 30, 6pm: The Bluecoat – Artist John Walter talks about Alien Sex Club.

♦      Saturday, November 7, 2pm: The Bluecoat – Artist Frances Disley demystifies the jargon, statistics and modes of dissemination associated with HIV and visual arts in collaboration with Dr Valerie Delpech.

♦      Saturday, November 14, 2pm: The Bluecoat – Artist Mark Scott-Wood creates new work for an event exploring props, tools, habits and rituals associated with HIV in collaboration with HIV nurse Janey Sewell.

♦      Saturday, November 21, 4pm: Camp & Furnace – A collaborative presentation using good old words and pictures from performance artist Susannah Hewlett and clinical epidemiologist Professor Sheena McCormack.

♦      Tuesday, December 1 – World Aids Day – 11am – 5pm: Tarot Readings by Barbara Truvada, Walker Art Gallery. The Alien Sex Club tarot deck gathers together images that allow reader and visitor to discuss subjects including sexuality and cultural transmission. Walter’s set contains 78 cards, with a Higher Arcana of 22 picture cards and four suits – the Bugchasers, the Giftgivers, the Barebackers and the Serosorters – which draw on the mythology of HIV. The tarot reader’s name refers to Truvada® the brand name of a type of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).

During the early AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, many public sex environments (often including cruise mazes) were closed by law. More recently, cruising for sex has moved online with apps such as Grindr, Scruff and Hornet gaining in popularity. However, many men still want to meet in person and anonymously for sex, despite the risks involved.

Gay men remain one of the groups most at risk of HIV in the UK, with 3,250 new cases of the infection diagnosed in this group in 2013. Anti‐retroviral therapy (ART) helps HIV‐positive patients stay healthy with near normal life expectancy but the long‐term physical effects of ART are still unknown and its long‐term cost is of increasing concern. It is estimated that ART costs around £500,000 per person for a lifetime of treatment.

Popular debate around the medical and social implications of ART and HIV in this country is set to increase in the next year, as pre‐exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and self‐testing for HIV will become more available in the UK, changing how people think about risk and unprotected sex.

For more information about The Alien Sex Club, click here:

For more information about Liverpool Museums, click here: