British artist John Walter has created Alien Sex Club, a major multimedia project which will explore the relationship between visual culture and HIV today. Alien Sex Club will use the spatial device of the cruise maze to bring together works that address the complex subject of contemporary sexual health. The exhibition will consist of a large-scale installation based on the shapes of cruise mazes, found in sex clubs and gay saunas. It will comprise sculpture, painting, video, performance and installation. Visitors will be immersed in a multisensory world in which they can watch videos and live performances, get lost in the maze and have food and drink in the performance bar.
Alien Sex Club will use popular forms including hospitality, fortune-telling, comedy and the aesthetic of carnivals and festivals to introduce issues to a wide audience and make the subject palatable, interesting and fun, while grounding it in cross-disciplinary research. The project is part of Walter’s AHRC funded PhD at the University of Westminster and will be shown at Ambika P3, the University’s exhibition space in central London. His research in epidemiology is grounded in a collaboration between Walter and Dr Alison Rodger, Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Infectious Diseases and HIV at University College London, supported by a Small Arts Award from the Wellcome Trust.
Alien Sex Club will involve artists, activists and HIV specialists, clinical academics and scientists in collaborations for a public programme of talks and performances that will provide audiences with a new vocabulary for understanding and talking about HIV and the factors contributing to its transmission. The public programme will be free to visitors. The architectural installation will also offer visitors free rapid HIV testing facilitated by Terence Higgins Trust.
Background and context for the project
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.
John Walter (born 1978, Dartford) works in a range of media including drawing, painting, performance, video, music and sculpture. His installations are grounded in theoretical and empirical research, and they seduce visitors into engaging with complex and often uncomfortable subjects such as sexual health through his exuberant use of colour, humour and hospitality. Walter creates fictions that begin with his personal experience and quote the voices of others, weaving them together into new epic works. The term ‘Maximalist’, which best describes his work, refers to an additive practice that values the relationships between things rather than their qualities in isolation. Walter’s work is visually intricate, returning to specific lexicons of imagery such as tarot cards, which allow meanings to develop within multiple contexts.
The project travels to Liverpool in Autumn 2015, where it will be part of the Homotopia festival.
LONDON 24 July – 14 August 2015 Ambika P3 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS Open Wednesday – Friday 11-7pm Saturday – Sunday 12-6pm
LIVERPOOL 30 October – 1 December 2015 Homotopia, venue to be announced Open Thursday – Sunday 12-6pm