60 Unit; Bruise

60 Unit; Bruise
Kenneth Fletcher, Paul Wong, 1976
5.25 min., stereo, colour, English, single-channel w/ credit

Part performance, part document, Paul Wong’s friend Kenneth Fletcher withdraws sixty units of blood from his own arm, then carefully injects it via syringe into Wong’s naked shoulder. A purple bruise spreads slowly over the artist’s skin.

Intended then as evidence of their friendship, the work has taken on different overtones. With the dangers of mixing bodily fluids now known, sharing needles is a shock on screen.

Fellow video artist Richard Fung writes: “Six years before ‘gay cancer’ was reported, and almost a decade before the identification of HIV, 60 Unit: Bruiseportrays a homoerotic blood-brother ritual with allusions to drug culture. But from a vantage point of two decades into the AIDS crisis, when new strains of hepatitis are constantly being identified, the audacity of its play between youth and decadence, pleasure and danger becomes a document of irretrievable innocence. It evokes nostalgia for a present no longer possible.” (Fung 38)

Wong’s first colour videotape, specifically conceived for colour as part of the series The Mainstreet Tapes, bears the influence of several artistic genres popular in the 1970’s, including performance and body art. We see Ken Fletcher draw several milliliters of blood from his arm and inject the contents of the syringe into Paul Wong’s back, just under the skin. The camera closes in on this, observing the slow response of the immune system as the skin turn red and purple. What was originally intended as a sort of ritual uniting the young men as blood brothers, with implicit references to drug use, has become a disturbing and dangerous act over 30 years later in an era where aids evokes our deepest fears and anxieties.”The making 60 Unit; Bruise happened at a “magical time” – the innocent youth of the two collaborators – together with the magic of early video – the ability to record sound and image onto magnetic tape.

Tha magic of being in the moment – two young men in a studio willingly share a blood – brother ritual.  Using what we readily have available, what is ours: our bodies and our bodily fluids. A once private action for the camera has become a public act now shared by several generations of viewers. An ephemeral performance of it’s time has been captured and preserved. Being copied from master to submaster, it has survived generational loss, transferring from multiple consumer tape-to-tape formats: 1/2 in. tape, 3/4 in. tape, Betamax, VHS, Betacam to DVD. Recently the work was digitally remastered and now stored as data.

This work remains long after the death of Kenneth Fletcher in 1978. Caught on tape, he lives on fresh, not just in my fading memory. He lives within my body.”

- Paul Wong Interviewed by Luis Jacob, Commerce By Artists, Art Metropole, 2011.

Digitally Re-Mastered in 2008, 60 Unit; Bruise is available with titles in English or French (Ecchymose de 60 unitês).

This seminal classic has been widely screened, collected, and studied internationally. Public collections include Museum of Modern Art (NYC), National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), Vancouver Art Gallery.

Credits:
Recorded in Vancouver          
Kenneth Fletcher/Paul Wong
Western Front Video w/ the assistance of Canada Council Camera

Distributor: Vtape, Video Out

Performance, Video