Jordan Eagles’ preferred medium has earned him a memorable nickname: “the blood artist.” Emphasizing patterns, textures, and luminous, glowing shades of red encapsulated in the liquid, the New York–based artist has created his own method of preserving and displaying blood, which he usually sources from slaughterhouses. However, for his latest show, “Blood Mirror,” on view this month at the American University Museum in Washington, D.C., he used the blood of openly gay and bisexual men—a particularly fraught and suggestive substance at the moment.
From 1983 through May of 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration forbade men who identified as gay or bisexual from donating blood in the United States; a policy initiated out of fear of AIDS. The FDA lifted the restriction this past spring, but despite the sharply declining numbers of individuals who live with AIDS or are HIV positive—and regardless of the fact that the virus is detectable in donated blood— the newest reform remains discriminatory: these men may donate blood only if they have been avowedly celibate for at least a year.
For the project, Eagles requested blood from nine openly gay and bisexual men who would not have been allowed to donate it for medical use. The men represent a broad and impressive swathe of the population: a priest, a member of a transgender couple, an army captain, an identical twin (whose straight brother can donate), the former director of the American Academy of HIV Medicine, a Nigerian gay rights activist on political asylum in the U.S., both a cofounder and the CEO of Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), and a bisexual father. Eagles has encased their blood in reflective resin slabs and Plexiglas, with which he has constructed a 7-foot-tall rectangular column.
In the accompanying film, Blood Mirror: Raw Footage by activist and filmmaker Leo Herrera, Reverend John Moody, one of the blood donors, explains the dehumanizing effect of this continued policy of exclusion, especially within the context of charitable giving: “It is a spiritual thing. Sharing and giving blood is really more than symbolic, it’s the real aspect of bringing all people together. All human beings are one in their blood.” By preserving the donated blood of these men within a surface that reflects the viewer’s own image, Eagles physically places a barrier between the two parties, but also connects and implicates them within this wider culture of discrimination.
Since he first started working with blood while a student at NYU, Eagles has embarked on increasingly sophisticated experimentations with color, texture, and technique. In Blood Mirror, he adds another layer to that complexity, its significance as a politically loaded symbol.
“Blood Mirror” is on view at American University Museum at The Katzen Arts Center, Washington, D.C., Sep. 12–Oct. 18, 2015.