Last Address

Added by Kristine Thompson on May 7 2010, at 5:57 pm
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  • I recently discovered Ira Sachs’s film Last Address.

    This 8-minute work, made in 2009, is an elegiac homage to a group of New York-based artists who died of AIDS-related causes between 1983 and 2007. It consists of footage of the exteriors of buildings—the last known addresses of these artists. It is an incredibly moving film.

    As Sachs travels from one neighborhood to another, one building to another, various names and addresses appear on the screen. Keith Haring: 542 LaGuardia Place, Robert Mapplethorpe: 35 W. 23rd St., Charles Ludlam: 55 Morton St., Peter Hujar and David Wojnarowicz: 189 2nd Avenue, Felix Gonzalez-Torres: London Terrace, W. 23rd St., Cookie Mueller: 285 Bleecker St., Klaus Nomi: 103 St. Marks Place, Jack Smith: 21 1st Ave., Vito Russo: 401 W. 22nd St. (building gone). From the ground-level vantage point, looking up or from across the street, the various buildings become almost tombstone-like in nature; it is difficult not to feel a sense of reverence toward these sites.

    As the names appear, visions of their artworks are triggered.

    I think about the streets and what happens there. In the film, people walk to work; they walk home; they talk on cell phones; they smoke cigarettes; they wait for the bus. Birds chirp; contractors transform neighborhoods; kids play; wind rustles through the trees; pigeons nest; police cars and taxis speed through the streets. Lives continue to unfold. Sachs's film is impetus for us to pause, pay our respects, and remember those who once inhabited and transformed these spaces.

    As the film transitions from address to address, I meditate on a legacy of AIDS activism that happened in these NY streets: ACT UP protests at City Hall, kiss-ins, demonstrations in front of the stock exchange, outrage directed toward insurance companies, political funerals. I think about the early films, videos, and television programs made about HIV and living with AIDS and the artists who created them: Testing the Limits (an AIDS activist video production group), DIVA TV (Damned Interfering Video Activist Television), LAPIT (Lesbian Activists Producing Interesting Television), Gregg Bordowitz’s Fast Trip, Long Drop.

    My concentration moves from the streets to the imagined interiors. What lovers shared the beds? Who had access to necessary medications? What did Jack Smith keep in his refrigerator? What books might have been piled near Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ bedside? What did Klaus Nomi sing in the shower? Which of these people died in their home, and who was by their side? What constituted their last audible address?

    A.A. Bronson’s haunting portrait of Felix Partz, taken a few hours after his death, (Felix, June 5, 1994) comes to mind. I can remember seeing this billboard-sized photograph in person. Felix, in his black and white patterned shirt, lies amongst multi-color pillows and dotted sheets. A remote control, tape recorder, and cigarettes are all positioned within reach. His eyes remain open. My immediate and peripheral vision is pulled into this room. To look at this photo is to meet the gaze of a dead man. It is simultaneously a memorial and a call to action. Bronson, reflecting on making this particular portrait and on the AIDS-related loss of both of his General Idea collaborators, suggests a different notion of a house:

    "These bodies are our houses. We live in them as temporary tenants for a few years,

    for this short lifetime. We inhabit physical structures which mimic our physical form:

    windows to see, temperature controls, waste disposal systems. We gather these houses

    to form towns and cities. By day we live in these dream cities as if they were permanent, relatively unchanging, while at night we inhabit the continuous flux of the dream world

    without questioning its fluidity.

    But in fact both are dream worlds, both equally fluid: we might wake up at any time from

    one and find ourselves in the other."

    It is to Sachs’s credit that such a deceptively straight-forward film can evoke such a variety of memories, individuals, visions, and histories. Please, watch for yourself.

    Image credits:

    Top to bottom: Last Address, film stills, Ira Sachs, 2009

    Police Arrest ACT UP member for civil disobedience at City Hall, NYC, March 28, 1989. photo by Tom McKitterick

    ACT UP members carry placards behind a banner asking "If not here, where?" in the gay pride march, NYC, June 25, 1989. photo by Ellen B. Neipris

    ACT UP demonstration at Federal Plaza, NYC, June 20, 1987. photo by Donna Binder

    Felix, June 5, 1994, A.A. Bronson, 1994

    AA Bronson quote found on 2000 La Biennale de Montreal website.


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