Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dispatches from the holy war: 7/25

All 6,000 panels of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt went up online this week, a little more than 30 years after the first deaths were formally attributed to the pandemic that killed many of the best and brightest of my generation, taking to date more than 600,000 lives in the United States --- gay and straight.

It's an amazing digital performance, accessible here, but be warned --- if you decided to look at all 48,000 blocks containing more than 94,000 names, each for a minute, it would take 33 days. This largest work of community folk art ever conceived now weighs 54 tons and, if spread out, would cover 29 acres or, if its blocks were laid end to end, stretch 50 miles.

The online project, in which the University of Iowa's Digital Studio for the Public Humanities played a major role, was launched in conjunction with a month-long exhibit of the quilt in Washington, D.C., now concluding as the International AIDS Conference proceeds there. Other partners in the digital project were Microsoft Research Connections, the University of Southern California's Annenberg Innovation Lab, Brown University, the National Endowment for the Humanities and, of course, the NAMES Project Foundation, custodian of the quilt. You can read more here.

The Washington, D.C., exhibit marks the first time the entire quilt has been on display since 1996, when all panels that had been created by then were spread on the Mall. Size now makes that impractical, so panels have been deployed in various configurations during July until all had been made accessible, concluding with rotating displays of 8,000 panels each over four days.

Since far smaller displays of quilt panels move around the country on a regular basis, I've seen a few --- spread on gymnasium floors, suspended for the ceilings of student and community centers. It's always a moving experience, especially the opening and closing rituals. If you ever have a chance to visit one of these exhibitions, please do.


Although the quilt project was launched by Cleve Jones in San Francisco during 1987, the NAMES Project now is headquartered in Atlanta, oddly enough headquarters, too, for a purveyor of chicken sandwhiches called Chick-fil-A, also in the news off and on lately. I understand the franchise is iconic in the South, where some like their grits and gizzards served with sides of homophobia and other Christian values.

Chick-filet-A promotes itself as Christian business promoting Christian family values, a tactic which generally is fair warning to padlock your wallet to the seat of your pants, guard your private parts and hide your children. Chief Operating Officer Don Cathy, a Southern Baptist as one might expect, is a "guilty-as-charged" opponent of granting legal recognition to same-sex unions and the company, a regular contributor to a variety of anti-gay organizations.

And all that's fine with me. There's something to be said for knowing who the enemy is.

I see there are six franchises now in Iowa, the nearest in West Des Moines. Greasy has-been Mike Huckabee, distressed that so many unkind works have been said about the franchise and its family, has declared August 1 Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. I doubt I'll drive up to West Des Moines to test the fare. If I want greasy chicken, it's available closer to home. But if that's your thing, feel free.


Speaking of same-sex marriage, here's a clip prepared for the British "Out 4 Marriage" organization by the Very Rev. Dr. Jeffrey John, dean of St. Albans (Church of England). Parliament, which approved civil union legislation some years ago, now is moving toward extending full civil marriage rights to same-sex couples, a move opposed by the all-male hierarchies of both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.

John has an interesting history in the church. Gay, he is in civil union with a fellow priest with whom he maintains a celibate relationship. Nominated during 2003 to be bishop of Reading,  his alleged friend Rowan Williams, archibishop of Canterbury, pressured him to withdraw in order to promote unity in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion as a whole.

That was the same year V. Gene Robinson was elected bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, setting off much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Unity has proved elusive, and John as continued to speak out in a low-key sort of way, demonstrated here.

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