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Explaining the ‘X’ in Capitol Hill’s AIDS Memorial Pathway

The artists and community collaborators behind Capitol Hill’s forthcoming AIDS Memorial Pathway have a different approach to building a memorial. For starters, the AMP, working with the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, is steering clear of a monolithic or singular representation of Seattle’s early AIDS crisis. To that end, adding more contributors to the public art installation ensures more experiences are represented. That vision was reflected last week when the AMP announced Christopher Paul Jordan, Horatio Hung-Yan Law, graphic design studio Civilization, and Storme Webber as the artists selected to contribute four permanent art installations on the plaza above Capitol Hill Station and in Cal Anderson Park.

“I think the AMP is a very unique way to remember and memorialize HIV and AIDS and its history here in Seattle,” AMP project manager Jason Plourde said. “I have been really excited by the fact that it’s not just a singular thing that’s representing a history or commemorating what happened. There are four different artists doing four unique, connected pieces. I think it makes it more interesting and will make it more impactful.”

The as-yet-unnamed centerpiece is a giant X made from speakers, a 20 foot by 20 foot structure, designed by Jordan. He points out the X is a +, or positive symbol, turned on its axis to erode the perceived binary between HIV positive and HIV negative people and symbolizing a solidarity between the two. Jordan said that “the general attitude that a lot of folks have is, ‘Well it doesn’t really affect me, I’m negative.’ There’s a respectability culture around HIV negative status that sees itself as separate from the crisis, as some people have access to healthcare and support they need.”

He added, “What concerns me is the more that the disease is associated with Black people, with communities of color, with people at risk, the more neglected it becomes. Where will it hit an equilibrium? When middle class white folks have access to a vaccine that they can pay for, that they can afford, all our efforts to prevent and end this crisis will come to a standstill. That’s just how capitalism operates.”

The speakers that make up the X are a representation of the clubs and discos that were meeting places for the LGBTQ+ communities, the birthplaces of techno and house music.

Law has been working with the AMP for the last two years as the lead artist and planner for the installation. His “Ribbon of Light” is composed of three stations, made from glass panels, laminated together and frosted over, at different areas of Cal Anderson. Having experienced the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 90s, Law took inspiration from the poets of the time, particularly lines from a poem by Michelle Cliff in the Poets For Life collection, “the morning you died, a piece of blue sky, a piece of blue glass fell out of the sky. When it’s all over, we became light,” Law quoted.

Etched on the glass at each station will be “Murmurs.” Law explained, “All those unspoken communal feelings like love and loss and rage, they were unspoken or silenced, or just too difficult to sustain those feelings and had to be put away for a while. These words gently prompt people to open up.”

Civilization is a Seattle design studio focused on “cause, culture and community,” and are involved in nonprofit and activist work. The studio is contributing “We’re Already Here,” three groupings of sculptures commemorating community activism. The sculptures are based on protest signs actually used in Seattle LGBTQ+ demonstrations in response to, and predating the AIDS crisis. “In the late 70s there were a couple of anti-gay pieces of legislation that were introduced, and what you had was a lot of people coming together and creating demonstrations and public spectacles to fight against this,” Gabriel Stromberg, Civilization’s creative director, said. “What this did was create this community of queer people, and their supporters. This community and this network was in place so when the AIDS epidemic hit Seattle, there was already this infrastructure, and that really led us to being this kind of model city in the way that we responded to the epidemic.”

The protest signs are all taken from historical references. “The messaging is actual messaging,” Stromberg said. “We didn’t make anything up. They’re all artifacts that we’re memorializing.”

Named a Seattle Living Legacy, poet, teacher, and interdisciplinary artist Storme Webber will contribute “In This Way We Loved One Another,” artwork for the walls of the community room inside Capitol Hill Housing’s Station House affordable apartment building. The work will incorporate text from people directly affected by AIDS, prioritizing women and people of color. Webber’s recent work includes Casino: A Palimpsest, drawing on a personal history and connection with one of the oldest gay bars on the west coast, Pioneer Square’s Casino.

With COVID-19-related disruptions to construction, Plourde estimated the project is about a month behind schedule, but anticipates the AMP will be on track to open at the end of the year.

You can learn more at theamp.org.

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4 thoughts on “Explaining the ‘X’ in Capitol Hill’s AIDS Memorial Pathway

    • Seattle is sort of defined by its ugly public art.

      Look at the ugly as f^$k Chihuly knock off outside of the the new Bauhaus.

      Or that ugly polished stainless steel monstrosity in the middle of the side walk at the corner of 23rd and Union.

      Or the ugly murals around the hill.

      I just wish we had better taste, esp. in public sculpture.

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