For almost two decades, NYC-based artist Jordan Eagles has been making waves – of blood that is. With his striking, thought-provoking and controversial art, Eagles uses blood to start important and painful conversations.
From honoring the trauma of the AIDS crisis to combating the FDA’s discriminatory blood donation policy, Eagles’ work is illuminating, both literally and figuratively, as light plays a big role in the way he plans, creates and presents his work.
Eagles’ works are not there to shock or fascinate, but to inspire you to ponder the eternal question: What’s in the blood?
In a conversation with LGBTQ Nation, Eagles discussed his philosophy and the technicalities of working with blood, as well as what kind of people collect his works, using his own blood and adding macabre touches to comic books.
LGBTQ NATION: Why blood? What does it symbolize for you?
Blood is a life force and has a powerful energy. The blood in my work is used to address themes of spirituality, the body and regeneration.
In my more politically motivated work, I have used blood donated from members of the LGBTQI+ community to advocate for fair blood donation policy, anti-stigma and full equality.
LGBTQ NATION: Tell me about the projects with which you’ve worked with human blood. Have you used your own blood in your work?
The first project that I ever worked on that involved human blood is Blood Mirror. This work was created with 59 individual blood donations from members of the LGBTQI+ community as a way to address the discriminatory policy and stigma against queer men giving blood and to advocate for full equality. The project was made in two iterations between 2014 and 2016 and includes blood from 50 PrEP advocates preserved inside the sculpture.
I am extremely proud to be among the blood donors in this project.
LGBTQ NATION: Blood is a sensitive thing for a lot of people. Have you met people who protested your art? How do you respond?
Every person has a different connection or feeling about blood. Good or bad, people have strong opinions about this substance that we all share and need to live. People often have preconceived ideas about blood that are based on personal experience, and frequently, it is in relation to violence or pain.
But blood is working in so many different ways in our bodies. For example, when a man has an erection, that is partially blood at work. Women might have a different relationship to blood than men, based on experiences with menstruation and childbirth.
Many members of the LGBTQI+ community have a more intimate and consistent relationship with their blood, having it drawn often to monitor HIV, adhere to prescribed medications or because they are on PrEP.
As far as my work is concerned, I have had very little pushback. Early on I had a couple minor incidents, but for the majority of my career it has not been an issue. I treat the materials with respect and the way the blood is preserved makes it very approachable. The work is created to engage with viewers on many levels.
When I think of your question about protest and my work, I would flip it. The artworks and the process are meant to be a form of protest. The donors who have contributed their blood, and in turn their voices to my work, are joining together to protest discriminatory policies through art.
Most individuals from the LGBTQI+ community still cannot donate blood despite the inadequate and shortsighted attempts by the FDA to make the policy more inclusive. There is still HIV stigma and no cure. Not everyone has access to life-saving or preventative medications and LGBTQI+ rights are constantly under assault.
The fact that all of these individuals have shared their blood through the art is an action of protest against the dangerous stigmas and unnecessary policies facing our community, and when merged together through the work, becomes an expression of unity in support of science and equality.
LGBTQ NATION: What are some of your other projects that touched upon the issues the community is facing?
All of my artworks that involve blood donated by members of the LGBTQI+ community address this in some way because the ban on queer blood is directly linked to the perpetuation of fear and stigma of HIV and the notion that queer people and our blood – and bodies – are somehow tainted and dangerous.
Some recent projects involve pairing American pop culture with queer blood, including comic books, a WWII poster and an image of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci of Jesus Christ, as a way to look at historical blood discrimination and HIV stigma today.
One of the works incorporates a vintage comic book, The Incredible Hulk #420: In the Shadow of AIDS, released by Marvel Comics in 1994, paired with blood from two donors with different serostatus.
One storyline focuses on the Hulk’s longtime friend Jim Wilson, an African-American man dying of AIDS, who begs the Hulk for a transfusion so that his blood can give him super strength. From his hospital bed, Jim pleads to the Hulk, “Blood transfusions aren’t illegal are they?”
The Hulk doesn’t want to risk his gamma-radioactive blood mutating Jim into an uncontrollable monster and chooses not to do the transfusion and his friend dies in the end. In my work, the original comic book is laser-cut to each hold two blood collection tubes, from an individual who is HIV+ and undetectable, and from a gay man on PrEP. Preserving the tubes side-by-side is a statement about how both donors for the project take medications that prevent the transmission of HIV through sex and how the evolution of science, since the early days of the epidemic has changed, such that Jim Wilson could now be alive and thriving.
Another project called Our Blood Can Save Them, uses a 1943 WWII Red Cross poster depicting a soldier on his knees with a bullet hole through his helmet with the bold words “Your Blood Can Save Him.” For this project, the poster image was screen-printed using a pint of donated blood from a transgender, pansexual, active U.S. Service Member. Every drop of his blood was used and, as it dissipated, the image gradually fades–a visual metaphor of individuals or communities being erased by discrimination or apathy.
The project is also a reference to the origin of blood banking and its connection to the racial segregation [of blood]. In the early 1940s, Dr. Charles R. Drew, a prominent Black surgeon, developed blood storage techniques as part of a successful program to collect blood in New York City hospitals and export the plasma to the Allied forces in Europe.
Dr. Drew eventually resigned his position in protest of the racial segregation of blood. This project, first shown inside The Keith Haring Bathroom at The Center, and in the window of every Housing Works in NYC, further connected this dark history to issues of HIV/AIDS.
LGBTQ NATION: What’s the philosophy behind your VIRAL\VALUE project?
The works in the exhibition VIRAL\VALUE combine an image of Salvator Mundi, a painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci that sold at auction in 2017 for $450.3 million, making it the most expensive artwork in history. In this work, the image is paired with blood from an individual who is HIV+ and undetectable, a long-term survivor and AIDS activist. The idea for this series is to consider the value systems of art, religion, and healthcare in relation to our collective principles.
This project was recently exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art in St. Louis and opens on March 28th through April 28th at the Henry Luce III Center for the Arts & Religion in Washington, D.C.
LGBTQ NATION: Were you ever refused any opportunities simply because you’re working with blood?
LGBTQ NATION: What are the technicalities of working with blood? Pros and cons compared to more conventional materials? And are there any special requirements for preserving and showcasing your art?
Working with blood requires using specific processes to achieve the desired creative effects in my work. Preservation is a key factor. Unlike paint, which you can leave to dry and return whenever you might like, blood is an organic material and it took me many years to develop the preservation technique.
The organic material is fully encased in many layers of glasslike UV resin so the blood retains its natural colors, patterns and textures. Time is also a crucial element. The patterns, textures and colors of the blood will be different depending on the age of the material and the related layers of resin. Blood has a translucent quality and therefore lighting helps illuminate the blood’s vibrant colors and create an intense glow. As light projects through the work, it vibrates the shadows and patterns onto the wall behind the work, making it feel as though it’s illuminated from within and radiating outwards.
LGBTQ NATION: I know that your work is not limited to exhibitions and personal collections. Tell me about your most interesting collaborations and projects. And is there a dream collaboration?
I consider all of my projects and art created with blood donated from LGBTQI+ individuals as collaborations. In addition to the actual donors, these works require collaboration with a community of people including medical supervisors and phlebotomists. The extraordinarily talented filmmaker, author and activist, Leo Herrera, documented the entire process for the Blood Mirror project. And, the DJ duo, The Carry Nation, created the music for Leo’s films and was part of that initial creative team.
Blood Equality is a collaboration that was co-founded by myself, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and FCB Health that originated as a campaign based on my art and the men involved. It has since evolved to have a Medical Advisory Board and continues to advocate for fair blood donation policy based on science.
I’ve worked with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on a project called Blood Sure. One of the most exciting collaborations was with fashion designer Jonny Cota and his early brand Skingraft. We used high-resolution details from my art to create patterns that were printed on fabric. The runway show was presented at Lincoln Center during New York Fashion Week. It was very exciting and fun! I very much enjoy collaborating when the opportunity arises and feels natural. As an artist, so much of my practice is intense and focused solo work in the studio. It can be a welcome change to engage with other creative individuals and organizations.
LGBTQ NATION: Would you say that your work attracts a weirder crowd than more traditional art?
Not at all! I find that most people who collect my work are quite passionate, thoughtful and curious individuals.
LGBTQ NATION: In 2010 you said your main buyers come from the financial world. Did that change over time?
Yes. Today, the individuals who collect my work come from all facets of society. The continued growth of social media since that time has created greater visibility for my work and connects me to a wider public of people who are interested in supporting the activist component of my work devoted to LGBTQI+ equality issues.
LGBTQ NATION: Did COVID-19 pandemic change your art and your outlook on life?
During the early days of COVID, when everything was locked down, including galleries and museums, there was a shift to online programming and virtual exhibitions since it was all that was possible. At the same time, because of the pandemic, there were massive blood shortages! This prompted the FDA to change the policy from one year of celibacy – for men who have sex with men – to three months.
In response to this discriminatory policy change – with the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, and curated by Andy Warhol scholar Eric Shiner – we launched an exhibition of one of my projects called Can You Save Superman? The works in this project merge a pre-AIDS era comic book in which Superman is depicted lying lifeless on a gurney in need of a blood transfusion from the citizens of Metropolis. For this work, I paired this image with the blood donated by a gay man on PrEP splashed across the surface. This project shows how a gay man in the 1970’s could have helped save Superman, but today, despite major medical advancements and testing, discriminatory restrictions still in place make donating blood for many queer men impossible.
Another project released during COVID called Queer Blood America was launched as a virtual exhibition and NFTs, with an essay by Lucas Museum of Art curator Ryan Linkoff. This work looks at the early comic code banning homosexuality in these publications in relation to prohibiting queer blood donations. This project uses an illustrated book of Captain America who is battling the villain Baron Blood, paired with a tube of queer blood.
In 2022, at the tail end of COVID restrictions, but with an emergency blood shortage still in full effect, I was commissioned to produce an in-person installation, Our Blood Can Save, held inside a former armory in Brooklyn. A component of this project included a blood drive in connection with New York Blood Center inside the Brooklyn Community Pride Center. The pandemic highlighted the negative impact and risk implications leading to bad policy and contributing to blood shortages and continued discrimination towards the LGBTQI+ community.
Is death something you think of on a daily basis?
Death is a subject that we all confront as humans on a daily basis. Over the past few years, a global pandemic has illustrated this dramatically the world over, harkening back to earlier challenges and death from HIV and AIDS. Further images of carnage and destruction are ever present in our media-saturated world, including the rampant destruction caused by gun violence in the United States. Through my work, I try to find beauty and hope in materials and concepts that are often challenging.
Tell me about any of your other upcoming projects.
I am in the process of creating two new series. The first involves using blood/resin shards to create hybrid sculptural works. I’m also working on a series that involves photography. Later this year all the queer blood works will be shown together for the first time in a solo exhibition, ONE BLOOD, at the Springfield Art Museum in Missouri.