Interview: Artist Sarah Schulman talks activism and AIDS

2015-10-17
Producer Jeremy Goldstein (pJeremy red jacket copyictured, right) is bringing legendary performance artist Penny Arcade to the Soho theatre for a month with her show Longing Lasts Longer, after its smash hit, award-winning run at the Edinburgh festival this summer. Here he interviews artist Sarah Schulman, who will present a talk during the run, about activism and AIDS. Of the many artists I’ve worked with over the years, only a handful have truly changed the way I see the world. Sarah Schulman is one of those artists. A longtime AIDS and queer activist, filmmaker, playwright and the author of 17 books including ‘Gentrification of the Mind (Witness to a Lost Imagination)’ and ‘Israel/Palestine and the Queer International’, Schulman raises consciousness levels to new heights, and in doing so is awakening a renewed sense of queer solidarity from New York to London to the Middle East and beyond. I invited Sarah to London for a series of events to coincide with Penny Arcade’s ‘Longing Lasts Longer’ at Soho Theatre in November. In a world first Arcade and Schulman will partake in an onstage conversation for the very first time, filling it with vivid memories of the AIDS years (1981-1996) and the vibrant downtown New York city arts movement which they have both been apart of for nearly 80 years between them. Sarah will also join Dan Glass, the new generation of AIDS activist and an organizer from within London’s queer resistance movement for an anarchic celebration of both worlds. And finally no visit to London would be complete without a screening of the film Sarah co-produced with Jim Hubbard ‘United In Anger: A History of ACT UP’ with a special Q&A with Sarah after the film. Recently I caught up with Sarah in New York to ask her a few questions... In your book ‘Gentrification of the Mind’ you say that the AIDS activist culture of the 1980s was the opposite of Gentrification culture. In a post-gentrified landscape what is the future for campaign groups like ACT UP? Right now the most important movement in America is #BlackLivesMatter, which - like ACT UP- is entirely a reflection of its contemporary moment. Just the fact that it was constructed out of cell-phone video and twitter hashtags is enough of a parallel to ACT UP's use of advertising graphics to convey our messages. Do you still feel part of a political movement? Hey, I am very active on a number of fronts, most notably as a friend of Palestine. Where do you think the next frontier lies in international LGBT rights? Sarah Schulman To get away from the ideology of "rights" - The most inspiring international queer movements are the ones that are organically anti-imperialist, parts of larger collections of people with large social visions. Your film ‘United in Anger’ has touched many thousands of lives. Is there one particular story or action from the film, which means a lot to you? Well, of course I knew most of those people. Those are our dead friends, after all. Probably my favorite screenings were in Palestine, when the audiences reacted to ACT UP's Day of Desperation opposing the first Gulf War. There was usually a gasp of recognition when we come on screen yelling "Fight AIDS, Not Arabs." Tell us about your new book ‘The Cosmopolitans’? I don't usually say this about my own books, but ‘The Cosmopolitans’ is a good one. It is a novel, in the traditional sense, a plot driving, character driven, page-turning novel, being published by The Feminist Press. It's set in Greenwich Village in 1958 and is inspired partially by Balzac's Cousin Bette- the spinster wronged by her family who is determined to get revenge, and partially by Baldwin's Another Country - the messy dynamics of the mixing between races and sexualities that was New York before gentrification. It is coming out in March in the States, no British publisher yet, but I would love for that to happen. For years my books were published in the UK, first by Sheba and finally Rat Bohemia was published by Penguin. But none of my subsequent novels: Shimmer, The Child (one of my favorites) or The Mere Future have appeared in British editions. I hope ‘The Cosmopolitans’ will change that. How do you feel about taking the stage with Penny Arcade? Penny Arcade It's about time! This year I’m relaunching my company London Artists Projects with a mission to speak truth to power for audiences hungry for live and authentic moments of joy, beauty and meaning. What does speaking truth to power mean to you? Who has the power is an interesting question, and sometimes we sit on both sides of that equation. I tend to be interested in why something happened, and usually try to focus on the order of events. This comes from being a fiction writer, perhaps, where each moment is a consequence of the previous moment. But unfortunately there is often a refusal to speak, and this power play inhibits anyone from understanding the ‘why’ of a conflict and therefore makes solutions impossible. In politics the oppressed often have to fight for years for the right to simply say what they are experiencing, and in personal relationships that artificial barrier is also tragically in place. So if you have an approach to allowing the conversation to happen, then the chances of change occurring are much higher. Jeremy Goldstein is a creative arts producer and writer behind two decades of seminal queer theatre. In June he re-launched his company LONDON ARTISTS PROJECTS with a mission to speak truth to power with ACT UP FOR LOVE on Trafalgar Square. His first production, the world premiere of Penny Arcade’s ‘Longing Lasts Longer’ won both major theatre awards at Edinburgh Fringe Festival and opens at Soho Theatre from 2-21 November prior to a world tour in 2016. SPECIAL OFFER TO ATTITUDE READERS: GET £10 TICKETS FOR ‘LONGING LASTS LONGER’ FROM 2-14 NOVEMBER WITH OFFER CODE ATTITUE10 and £3 TICKETS TO PLATFORM EVENTS ON 11, 12, 13 NOVEMBER WITH OFFER CODE ATTPLAT3 Wed 11 Nov, 5.45pm PENNY ARCADE AND SARAH SCHULMAN: GENTRIFICATION OF THE MIND Recalling the rebellious queer culture, and downtown New York city arts movement during the AIDS years (1981-1996) Thu 12 Nov, 5.45pm MATTHEW TODD AND GUESTS: THE RISE OF ‘CHEMSEX’ with David Stuart, Pat Cash, William Fairman, and Max Gogarty In partnership with Peccadillo Pictures and VICE Fri 13 Nov, 5.45pm DAN GLASS’ DE-GENTRIFICATION HAPPY HOUR Sarah Schulman joins an anarchic celebration from within London’s queer resistance movement Sat 14 Nov, 3pm @ Hackney Attic UNITED IN ANGER: A HISTORY OF ACT UP plus Q&A with SARAH SCHULMAN In partnership with ACT UP London, ReShape and Cinema Museums’ VITO Project and Hackney AtticTickets from £5 from Hackney Attic 650px X 150px ATTITUDE TV BANNER