chapter  14
19 Pages

Years Yet Yesterday

Translating Art, Activism, and AIDS across the Visual and the Verbal
WithMark Addison Smith

Compared to the linearity of speech, in which a listener receives information via an ordered and temporal word structuring from another speaker, visual art possesses a communicative nonlinearity in which the viewer ultimately controls the disbursement of language. In tribute and in activism, New York—based artist Mark Addison Smith has translated Larry Kramer’s 2004 incendiary, verbal speech, The Tragedy of Today’s Gays, into a handwritten, visual-art abecedary (alphabetized set) of 24 grayscale eye charts, collectively entitled Years Yet Yesterday, to explore a decade of queer representation and power (mis)alignments amid the AIDS pandemic. Each drawing is dedicated to a letter in the alphabet, and drawn using three words—rewritten hundreds of times to push agendas of immediacy and urgency—that appear in Kramer’s source speech. The drawings communicate antithetical statements about the past decade of the AIDS crisis depending on the viewer’s reading order of each drawing’s three words. The Years Yet Yesterday series becomes the intralingual and intersemiotic translation of The Tragedy of Today’s Gays: both share the same thoughts; however, the linear order of Kramer’s verbal speech has now become another queer language through Smith’s nonlinear, visual-art-as-activism medium.