Why is this artist covering a New York City park with queer men's blood?

Image courtesy of artist Harold Julian/Jordan Eagles

Ever heard an artist compare the creative process to squeezing blood from a stone? Well, now an artist is actually making art with blood in order to squeeze new exemptions from a stone age law. How’s that for a twist? In honor of World Blood Donor Day, next week artist Jordan Eagles will project images made from the blood of gay, polysexual, and transgender men onto the walls of New York City's High Line park—for a very good cause.

The installation comes as part of LGBTQ activists' broader #BloodEquality campaign, which protests the FDA’s absurd policy on blood donations from gay and bisexual men—a policy that bans sexually active queer men from donating blood unless they have been celibate for a full year. Previously, the FDA had maintained a draconian lifetime ban on all donations from the queer community, which in 2014 was confirmed as “discriminatory and unscientific.” With the roll out of the medication PrEP, a daily pill that has proven to be 99% effective at preventing HIV, gay rights activists are now pushing for new donation rules and regulations.

For his installations, Eagles uses an analog projector to illuminate blood samples taken from queer men.
Image courtesy of Jordan Eagles

The High Line projections are the most recent addition to Eagles’ ongoing project Blood Mirror, in which he has transformed donated blood from the LGBTQ community into sculptures, immersive installations, and even flags. For the seven-foot-tall "blood mirror" itself, he collected and preserved the vital fluids of queer male donors on glass plates in which visitors were then able to see themselves reflected. For the High Line projections, these same plates will be placed on an overhead projector and “blasted” onto the park. Attendees will also be able to get their portraits taken by artist Harold Julian, with the patterns projected directly onto them in a gesture of solidarity with the movement. The High Line, it should be noted, is housed in the historically LGBTQ-friendly neighborhoods of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District—a ground zero for AIDS and gay rights awareness—and today attracts millions of visitors of all genders, races, and sexual orientations each year.

The installation is being held in collaboration with the advertising firm FCB Health and the activist group Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

“I started the Blood Mirror project as a way to help raise awareness of this issue,” Eagles told me this week. “I found that a lot of people didn't realize the FDA had such a discriminatory policy in place. And then when the FDA changed its policy last year, from a lifetime ban for gay and bisexual men to donate blood to a one year celibacy deferral, it became even more ridiculous and evident that science was not at the root of their decision making.” Eagles found that art has a way of engaging a conversation in a more open and inclusive way, “so I felt that if we could gather the right group of men who could articulate the issues and impact, we could hopefully make a difference—even if that was shedding light on the value of blood donation and absolute necessity for equality.”

Activist and filmmaker Leo Herrera documented Eagles’ process behind Blood Mirror for an original film (seen above) that will be screened on the High Line throughout next week. The 50 men who donated their blood for the project range in age from their mid-20s through mid-60s and include such illustrious figures as Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the assistant commissioner for the New York City Department of Health's HIV bureau; Kelsey Louie, CEO of Gay Men’s Health Crisis; and Dr. Howard Grossman, an HIV specialist and the medical advisor for the project.

Eagles' previous Blood Mirror projection at the Trinity Wall Street Church, 2015

“There is a huge group of individuals in our country who could easily be saving lives, but—due to the FDA's discriminatory and outdated policy—these individuals are banned from doing so because of who they choose to love and who they have sex with,” said Eagles. “I hope the event can continue to help raise more awareness of this issue and make it even more evident that this is something that effects us all, regardless of sexual orientation. When discrimination is at play, everyone is affected.”

Eagles' 7-foot-tall monolith "Blood Mirror" allows viewers to "see" themselves in the reflection of queer blood donations.
Blood Mirror, courtesy of Jordan Eagles
Instead of paint or clay, Eagles' art utilizes blood collected and housed in glass vials.
Image courtesy of Jordan Eagles

If you’re in New York next week and would like to take an active part in the project, the artist has helped organize a meeting at City Hall on June 14 at 11 a.m., at which representatives from Gay Men's Health Crisis, community leaders, and supporters will stand up for the men who are “not yet welcome on World Blood Donor Day.” FCB Health and Gay Men's Health Crisis will also announce plans for a Medical Advisory Board and other actions designed to reverse the current ban on gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

To learn more about donating to the installation, you can check out Eagles’ website here.


Laura Feinstein is the Head of Social Stories at Fusion. Formerly, she held staff roles as the East Coast Editor of GOOD Magazine and the EIC of The Creators Project at VICE, and has contributed to The Guardian, T/The New York Times, Paper Magazine and many others. She specializes in the niche, the esoteric and the un-boring.

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