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Blood Mirror
Jordan Eagles’ "Blood Mirror" sculpture

This sculpture contains the blood of nine gay men

‘Blood Mirror’ is a statue that draws attention to the FDA’s ban preventing American homosexuals donating blood

It’s been a hell of a year for the LGBTQ community. The fight for equal rights has taken centre stage; the Supreme Court’s decision on same sex marriage is testament to that. But there’s still one problem that has us lingering in the dark ages – the U.S’s Food and Drug Administration’s ban on men who’ve had sexual contact with other men donating blood. The FDA did announce a recommendation in 2014 which would allow these people to give blood, but only if they were celibate for a year before donating.

Campaigns to abolish the blood ban are ongoing, but there’s one that’s towering above the rest, and that’s “Blood Mirror”, a seven foot tall 28x28 inch two-way mirror filled with the blood of nine queer men. The work has been made by gay, New York-based artist Jordan Eagles, who came up with the idea and put it in motion with the help of Leo Herrera, gay rights activist and the project’s filmmaker.

The nine men who gave their blood for the project all have their own stories. Oliver Anene is an LGBT activist from Nigeria afforded political asylum in New York City. Blue Bayer is the biological father of two children. Kelsey Louie and Lawrence Mass both work is the CEO of Gay Men's Health Crisis. Reverend John Moody, 88, is an openly gay priest. Loren Rice is a transgender man married to a transgender man called Ethan. Ty Spicha is a twin with a straight brother. Lastly, there’s Captain Anthony Woods, who’s married and has served two terms in Iraq. He was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before being reinstated in 2014.

The participants in “Blood Mirror” all have their own motivations for being involved, but they all desperately want to erase homophobia. Dazed spoke to Jordan Eagles to find out more about “Blood Mirror”, working with blood and how the American LGBT community is invoking change.

How did you start working with blood?

Jordan Eagles: I started working with blood in 1998, but it was always animal blood. I was a student at NYU when I started experimenting and it was over that period of time that the blood I was working with was starting to turn from red to brown, so I started teaching myself about preservation. I picked up new possibilities of what to do with the blood as well as alter and inform the conceptual components of what the art can be about. 

What are the pros and cons of using blood?

Jordan Eagles: Blood is a challenging behaviour because it's so different to paint. If you want to maintain certain colours and textures you can’t just come back to it tomorrow. You have to preserve very precise moments. There’s an element of time involved in the work. Resin is as equally temperamental. I have to know exactly what I’m going to do. 

Aesthetically, blood is gorgeous. It doesn’t look like paint or anything else and has it’s own personality and it’s true to itself. Philosophically, with my larger body of work, there are interesting questions for me: regeneration, how the body and spirit interact, being able to present something that viewers are quick to perceive it as quite macabre, but when seeing the material there’s a sensibility with the work that’s not macabre at all. There’s a very personal relationship with it. I share that in a way that people aren’t used to experiencing it. 

How do people respond to your general body of work?

Jordan Eagles: We think about when we were injured as a child, with a woman it could be menstruating, or childbirth: everyone has a personal relationship. People tend to be on the defence because you associate blood with tragedy. When people see it in person they realise they have a unique energy, none of my work is graphic. Often in person the response is surprised as to how beautiful blood could be. 

Where did the initial idea come from? 

Jordan Eagles: “Blood Mirror” came about from an evolution of ideas. It was a huge creative process that I let sit for a while. I was asked to do an exhibition in the same place that there was an exhibition on the civil war. My general body of work is usually about life and regeneration so it didn’t connect straight away. I started thinking about how my work connected to the war, and what the context would possibly be. I thought about the revolution and that at the end of the war we were one nation. It didn’t matter your race or sexuality you were. Then I thought, well, actually if you’re gay you still can’t give blood. There’s still the blood ban. I’ve known since I was a young man I couldn’t give blood. It was a combination of the thought that we’re all one blood, and that even past the time of the civil war where we have the access to the information that we do, social media and a global platform, we are still segregating people by their blood. It’s the one thing we all have in common.

How does it resonate with you personally ?

Jordan Eagles: As a gay man the HIV stigma is a thing I’ve grown up with. Last year the Centre of Disease Control made this major announcement that all HIV negative gay men should take PrEP–a daily pill that prevents an individual from becoming HIV positive. But then you have the FDA banning gay people from giving blood and not readdressing what PrEP means we can do. There’s a whole community who should be the best kind of donors. This policy is meant to eradicate HIV but it has some deep-rooted homophobia. 

When I started exploring the issue two years ago no one was talking about it. It wasn’t on the public radar. The FDA didn’t even announce their re-evaluation of their policy until last Autumn. I was already half way through my project when it came out that they were considering the one-year celibacy policy. The current policy means any sexual contact with another man: that means a father of three with a wife in Idaho who messed around with his college roommate once, a totally straight dude, can’t give blood.

How is “Blood Mirror” different from the rest of your art?

Jordan Eagles: “Blood Mirror” is my first project to deal with human blood. It’s unique in that it’s commemorating something that’s happening in politics, with a really important social aspect. The sculpture isn’t complete either. It’s evolving as a work. It’s hollow on the inside as a free standing, seven foot tall, 28 inches by 28 inches sculpture, so people can see their reflection on both sides. The idea is that this sculpture over time can be filled with more blood. It can accommodate the blood of 170 men. Whether or not we go to ask for more participants – we’ve had lots of emails since the video with offers – I’ve always been very conscious in my work not to be gratuitous with blood.

Why is it such an important piece?

Jordan Eagles: If the ban were lifted a million lives would be saved annually. There are also other negative consequences of the activated stigma. We tell people they aren’t eligible because we don’t approve of their lifestyle. Those people live a closeted life and make poor decisions sexually because they aren’t reaching out to the people who are meant to help them. The stigma then perpetuates HIV infections. What is meant to protect the blood supply from infection is the root cause. How can we ask heterosexuals to behave one way and gay people to behave another? How do we know people even tell the truth on these forms either? And all the blood is tested anyway! 

What was most difficult about bringing “Blood Mirror” about?

Jordan Eagles: It was a learning experience. I didn’t expect it to be so hard to pull off. When you’re working with so many people it’s simply scheduling. We had to do two separate blood drives. Half way in the FDA announced the policy change. We had to sit down and think that, okay, we’re half way, but now they’re suggesting the one-year celibacy, do we need to do something? Have the gay community won? But it’s if we’re celibate for a year.

So I sat for a month and meditated on it. I realised that as a man on PrEP, I’m certainly not going to be celibate for a year, but I still can’t give blood. No one’s going to ask what meds you’re on, if you’re married or monogamous. They’re just assuming. People are so afraid to talk about it. We ultimately decided to move forward and finish it.

Did things happen that you didn’t expect?

Jordan Eagles: When the men turned up on the very first blood drive, I didn’t expect the emotional feeling I had. It was like a performance art, the generosity and community in the room, their energy, everyone knew why they were there. People showed up because they hate discrimination. It was personally very moving. They’re the reason the project came to life. 

What should the public take away from seeing it?

Jordan Eagles: I would like people to be aware of how the policy has existed for 33 years. Most straight people have no idea. I would like the gay community to really care for this because it perpetuates misinformation, a lack of trust in science and the stigma. I want us to recognise that our brothers who are HIV positive and negative are in it together. There are standards for keeping the blood supply safe but we need to be addressing it so it’s not about gender or sexual orientation.

I hope from an aesthetic standpoint it captures the imagination so people see themselves in it. I want them to feel closer as a community. What’s also important is that all the blood used in the piece could have been used to donate.