Anything involving blood is usually provocative, and sometimes meant to shock. Jordan Eagles’ “Blood Mirror” may do both, but his intent is to create a dialogue about the stigma still attached to being a gay or queer man in America. Specifically, it’s about the FDA’s ban on men who have had sexual contact with other men donating blood – a ban that has existed for more than 30 years. If this ban didn’t exist, more than a million more lives could be saved annually. While the FDA recently amended their ban, their new policy will only accept donations from men who have been celibate for a year. Out of this anger and frustration, “Blood Mirror” was born, a 28”x28” two-way mirror filled with the donated blood of nine queer men that literally forces viewers to look at themselves and question the blood ban the FDA has enforced.
Eagles has been working with blood since the late 90s, and typically his work revolves around the representation of life that blood symbolizes. This project signals his first move into using human blood. His fascination with what many would consider an unnerving and morbid medium began out of intrigue – the unique quality and specific color of blood that sets it aside from paint or water, as well as its preservation over time. His intrigue further developed into examining the relationship every human being has to it in some form or another – from paper cuts to menstruation. “Blood Mirror” chose to focus on this relationship in gay or queer men.
Stigma of gay men has always existed, but the blood ban speaks to a specific kind of stigma – the fear of HIV and AIDS that resulted in the illness and deaths of thousands in the 1980s, and its continued prevalence today. The underlying tinge of homophobia that the ban elicits isn’t the only distressing thing about it. “Blood Mirror” demands that one ask uncomfortable questions: why does the blood ban still exist, when all donated blood is tested? Why was it amended to allow celibate men to donate, with no proof if they are being truthful or not? And perhaps most importantly, why the ban existed against gay men in the first place, when individuals who don’t fit into this category can also have come into contact with blood-related diseases? Eagles, who is gay himself, makes note of all of these questions, and hopes that his piece can spark a conversation – especially since it can hold the blood of 170 people.
“Blood Mirror” dually stands for another striking and unnerving thought: all of the blood used in the project could have been donated, potentially saving the lives of several people – or even just one.
“Blood Mirror” will be on view at the Katzen Arts Center at the American University in Washington, D.C. from September 12 – October 18, 2015.