David Wojnarowicz Felix Guattari

Translation from: Rethinking Marxism,
vol 3 #1, Spring 1990
(no original source nor translator given)

David Wojnarowicz’s creative work stems from his whole life and it is from there that it has acquired such an amazing power. It could even be said that it is through his plastic work and literary texts that he has turned himself into what he is today. The authenticity of his work on the imaginary plane is quite exceptional. His "method" consists in using his fantasies and above all his dreams, which he tape-records or writes down systematically in order to forge himself a language and a cartography enabling him at all times to reconstruct his own existence. It is from here that the extraordinary vigor of his work lies. David Wojnarowicz’s intention is explicitly ideological: his aim is to affect the world at large; he attempts to create imaginary weapons to resist established powers.

To better understand how he connects his singular fantasies to a historical scheme, listen to his comments on his major themes, from the steam engine to the gear wheel: "History has been written and preserved by and for a particular class of people so in my work I want to rewrite or give new meaning to the histories that exist in textbooks using present day experience as a departure. For example, in a painting about the American West, I focus on the steam engine; the train that carried white culture through the land inhabited by the Indians. Obviously, judging by the current state of Indian affairs, there was intense exploitation and eradication by white people of anything or anyone that resisted their ‘cultural’ expansion. Given that I wasn’t born at that time, I can only speak of these elements in terms that exist today - I gather them by traveling, or from written works, images in popular culture, dreams and other symbols that will help me construct a discourse about this reality rejected or hidden by the white culture.

"Using gears or machines as symbols is important to me because in the early part of the century the Futurists thought that the machine was God. They placed all their hopes and the hope of civilization on the machine. They thought the machine would liberate people from the slavery of unnecessary labor and leave them free to truly live their lives.

"Take a walk along any river in any country and you can see that the machine is almost defunct; God is rusting away leaving a fragile shell - factories - like the shell of an insect that has metamorphosed into an entirely different creature and flown away. So now if we take the Futurists’ idea of God and make it current I guess God has metamorphosed into the microchip of the computer. So, for me, the image of the gear or the defunct machine is the image of what history means reached through the compression of time. Scientists have discovered that if the head of a moth is cut off it can still continue to lay its eggs; somehow I don’t think civilization is all that different; we are fossilized before we can even make further gestures; society is almost dead and yet it continues reproducing its madness as if there were a real future at the end of its collective gestures. Until the rude shock becomes magnified enough to wake us from this sleep we will continue to have more tiresome dreams..."

What is important is that, through the concatenation of semiotic links he forges, he manages to produce a singular message that allows us to perceive an enunciation in process; a singular vocation can thus be transferred on another plane. The image is not only meant to exhibit passively significant forms, but to trigger an existential movement, if not of revolt, at least of existential creativity. When everything seems to be said and repeated at this point in Art History, something emerges from David Wojnarowicz’s chaos which confronts us with our responsibility to intervene in the movement of the world.

This painter-writer is unique in the sense that he fully subordinates his creative process to the daily disclosures in his life.Thus, he concretely reinstates a principle of singularization in a universe that has too much of a tendency to give in to universalist comfort. This singularization today is all the more dramatic that David Wojnarowicz has the increased possibility of an encounter with death. He knows he has the Aids virus in his body and he integrates this sequence of his life into what may be the ultimate phase of his Aids virus; he reinvents on the way the inspiration of the great ‘60s movements.

His revolt against death and the deadly passivity with which society deals with this phenomenon gives a deeply emotional character to his life work, which literally transcends the style of passivity and abandon of the entropic slope of fate which characterizes this present period.

Paris 1989