In April 2020, the CDC made an announcement regarding blood donations: instead of requiring celibacy from gay men for a year before donating blood, the requirement would decrease to three months. Unlike the United States’ healthcare system, AIDS does not discriminate based on sexual orientation: numerous risk factors can lead to HIV transmission, but there are no celibacy requirements for donors outside of the gay community –– an archaic remnant of the homophobic myths that surround the disease.
In his new exhibition Can You Save Superman? II (now open by appointment and online through the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham) artist Jordan Eagles explores the politics of blood donation and the residual ignorance surrounding HIV/AIDS by queering enduring figures of Americana through juxtaposition and thoughtfully subversive uses of blood as an artistic medium.
Attack of the Micro-Murderer, a 1971 Superman comic, is the basis for Eagles’s two-dimensional assemblages. In the comic, the hero becomes afflicted with a mysterious disease, requiring blood transfusions from every citizen of Metropolis. Eagles appropriates the cover in “American Carnage 6/14 – II” (2018) enlarging it and converting its bright colors to a dramatic grayscale, coloring his digital prints with the donated blood of a gay man on PrEP, a life-saving drug that prevents HIV transmission. At once evoking violence and vitality, the splashes and smears of blood on the injured body of a superhero in need of blood donation offers a poignant juxtaposition, exposing the US’ long-standing medical restrictions and practices as not just arbitrary but rooted in systemic bias.
Using the literal blood of gay men to explore these practices is not a new phenomenon — think back to radical body art performances like Ron Athey’s controversial and misunderstood performance at Minneapolis’ Patrick’s Cabaret in 1994. Eagles’s broader artistic practice is similarly focused on utilizing blood to explore inequalities queer men face in donating blood, and he has used art as a means of activism by parterning with the group Blood Equality for pubic arts projects.
In the Abroms-Engel galleries, the artist expands his imagery beyond superheroes to include wartime propaganda with “Our Blood Can Save Him” (2018), a screen print of a kneeling soldier made with blood donated by a transgender and pansexual armed service member. It is an absolutely striking image that clearly highlights the harmful hypocrisy at the core heart of these policies while referencing recent bans on transgender people serving in the US military. Yet, the appropriation of army propaganda limits the political impact of the piece considering how the neocolonial violence perpetuated by the US military persists even if queer people are allowed to serve.
At its core, Can You Save Superman? II is an incisive analysis of the anti-queer sentiments that guide our prejudiced national health policy.
Jordan Eagles: Can You Save Superman? II continues online and by appointment through June 24 at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (1221 10th Avenue South, Birmingham, AL). The exhibition was curated by Eric Shiner.