Do you have AIDS?" a woman whispers to Rebecca Guberman at the Artist’s Space in Soho, as her work is unveiled in New York City for the first time.
“Nope,” Guberman says matter-of-factly. “I’ve never been sick, and I’m not planning on it.”
Guberman, however, has been HIV positive for seven years. Wearing a shocking-red dress coat and tails, she stands out in the crowd of dark winter coats. As friends and family greet her, she kisses them and leaves her mark -- blood-red lip prints on one cheek.
At 25, Guberman is the youngest artist in the show, “A Living Testament of the Blood Fairies,” which includes works by 10 artists living with HIV and two PWAs who have died.
One of the works, Guberman’s “Dirty Bird,” features a photo of a bird with its wings nailed down. The image is glued to a large copper plate, and the text, written in pencil, reads: “In control of pain. In reality, severe depression.”
“That’s a bird my cats were eating,” Guberman explains. “There’s this cackling the bird’s mate does. It’s really frightening. These birds were haunting me that day, just like this sickness haunts me.”
She takes another sip of her red wine and adds, “I had to kill that bird so it wouldn’t suffer. I can’t stand to see any human being or animal suffering. I’m incredibly sensitive to my surroundings. When I see something suffering, I suffer.”
Many of Guberman’s photographs include images of her own blood. “It’s cheaper than buying paint,” she says half-jokingly. “I love the color red. Red is passionate and violent; it’s more truthful than most colors.”
“Blood Book II” includes images of Guberman’s blood under a microscope interspersed with her medical reports. Most recently, though, Guberman’s blood is flowing from her photography to film. After attending the first national conference for HIV positive youth in Washington, DC in 1995, Guberman and Jennifer Jako, a 23-year-old PWA, decided to make a documentary about youth with HIV. They have interviewed more than 70 young people in the United States and Europe. They plan to release the film, currently titled Blood Lines, on World AIDS Day (December 1) this year. It, too, will be interspersed with footage of blood filmed under a microscope.
“I fear for our generation,” Guberman says. "I want [Blood Lines] to break the misconception that AIDS is a gay male disease. In every rural part of the United States, that misconception is as bad now as it was in the ’80s."
Colorado Springs, home to four military bases and a host of right-wing religious groups, as well as the Guberman family, is certainly no exception -- a lesson Guberman learned at age 18. She found some strange bumps on her head, and her parents took her to their physician, a family friend. The bumps were swollen lymph nodes, the diagnosis HIV. The doctor told her parents the news before telling her. “I had absolutely no support,” Guberman says. “Doctors were afraid to touch me.”
The recollection makes the artist’s blood boil: “I want to rip open what is destroying me, to find the truth in that. I need to examine what is causing so much pain and destruction.” She’s out for blood.