The laureate by Laurence Bertrand Dorléac
Art historian, member of the jury
Some books are disturbing; Elisabeth Lebovici’s What AIDS Did to Me is one of those books that could prevent you from falling asleep. In order to discuss the art that was produced in reaction to AIDS, she had to search extensively through her own memories, reacquainting herself with ghosts, rereading articles published at the time, to rediscover their meaning, their fight, their anger.
She describes more broadly the forms, esthetics, and atmosphere of a world deeply affected by a disease that violently affected artists and writers: Hamad Butt, Ron Athey, Mark Morrisroe, Rosa von Praunheim, Zoe Leonard, John Greyson, Félix González-Torres, Catherine Opie, Keith Haring, Lionel Soukaz, David Wojnarowicz, Michel Journiac, General Idea, Vidya Gastaldon, Philippe Thomas, Nan Goldin, Group Material, Alain Buffard, among many others.
By following this process, unearthing memories from her own past—she worked with Act Up-Paris at the time—she brings back to life the dead, whose youth was stolen from them by the disease. She reminds us that those affected were treated as though they were stricken by a plague, relegated to the margins of society, often deprived of the treatments they needed, their humanity taken away from them, as even their bodies vanished from the earth, since the law required their corpses to be incinerated.
Lebovici makes this point: AIDS implies a crisis of representation. First, because everything private became public and political. The epidemic revealed not fears, cowardice, and selfishness, but also the cynical greed of drug-manufacturers, and the dysfunction of disgraceful policies that went against triumphant American liberalism. “In New York, life itself is an illness,” proclaimed a graffiti of the time.
This study of those former plague-stricken times evokes George Perec, especially the inventory “my closet,” full of medicine. This list is melancholic, like the book itself, but it’s a hyperactive form of melancholy. Committed to exploring questions of identity, particularly sexual identity, Lebovici tries to provoke her reader: as evidence, see her blog “le beau vice,” where she expresses herself even more freely than in her articles published in Libération, where she was a staff writer for many years. Each line of her book is an attempt to add a year to the lives of friends taken too soon. Through Lebovici’s work, an era and its crises are brought back to life.
“The purpose of this book is not to make the difference.”
A critic and art historian, Elisabeth Lebovici studies feminism, questions of gender, queer politics, LGBT activism, and contemporary art, in her research, writing, and teaching. She is the author, with Catherine Gonnard, of Femmes/Artistes, Artistes/Femmes: Paris de 1880 à nos jours (Paris: Hazan, 2007) and is the author of the blog lebeau-vice.blogspot.com. She belongs to the research collective Travelling Féministe at the Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir and is the co-director, with Patricia Falguières and Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, of the seminar Something You Should Know: Artists and Producers at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. She is a founding member of the LIG/Lesbiennes d’Intérêt Général fellowship fund.
For the 2017 edition, the jury was composed of:
Former Minister of Culture
Laurence Bertrand Dorleac
Art historian, publisher, university lecturer, director of the Laboratoire Arts et société de Sciences-Po(Arts and Society Laboratory of Political Science)
Former Director of France Culture
Jean de Loisy
Director of Palais de Tokyo
Director of the Picasso Museum in Barcelona
Deputy Director of the National Museum of Modern Art – Centre Pompidou
Laurent Le Bon
President of the National Picasso Museum in Paris
President of AM Conseil, essayist
Former Director of the National Museum of Modern Art – Centre Pompidou
Historian and academic (University Paris-Est Créteil-Val de Marne)