Artist Jordan Eagles has been working with blood for years, usually cow’s blood.
“It has a lot of symbolic references and aesthetic qualities that I find quite beautiful,” Eagles tells NewNowNext. “The idea of taking something that was once living and creating work out of it makes the material regenerate and vibrate a certain kind of psychic energy.”
In 2014, discussion about the FDA’s ban on gay/bi men was heating up and Eagles, an out gay man, was inspired to try something different: Working with a medical supervisor, Eagles enlisted nine gay men to donate blood—including an 88-year-old priest, a Nigerian activist, an Army captain, and Gay Men’s Health Crisis co-founder Larry Mass—and transferred their plasma into a seven-foot tall clear resin case.
“I wanted to find people whose lives reflected a bizarre nuance in the policy and who had different perceptions of blood,” Eagles explains.
Blood Mirror, as the piece is titled, debuted in 2015 in Washington, DC, before moving to New York’s historic Trinity Church, the site of ACT UP’s first public action 20 years ago. The following year, the FDA announced it was lifting the lifetime ban—in favor of requiring 12 months of abstinence.
For many the change was a difference without a distinction, especially with the rising popularity of preexposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. So in 2016, Eagles added the blood of 50 additional men who were all on Truvada.
“People showed up a Sunday afternoon, the night after Horse Meat Disco and donated blood. You know that means they wanted to be there,” he jokes. One of those contributors was Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, Deputy Commissioner for the Division of Disease Control at the NYC Health Department.
“Using science over stigma to make the FDA’s blood donation policy more equitable while maintaining safety is a moral imperative,” says Daskalakis. “Blood Mirror is a piece of art that shows the unity created by this important goal. I am honored to have been among the 59 men who donated blood for this project.”
While the FDA’s one-year moratorium still stands, Eagles is proud to be able to show that art can have an impact on policy. He partnered with the NYC Health Department on a graphic for the #PlaySure safer sex campaign that was distributed during New York Pride. By including “NYC Blood Sure,” the DOH was also able to advocate for changing the regulation.
“Replacing the FDA’s current ban with a screening process based on science, not stigma, will maintain the safety of the blood supply, increase donations and save lives,” says NYC Health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett.
Eagles also partnered with GHMC on Blood Equality, a campaign to fight the FDA rule, which costs blood banks an estimated 615,000 pints of blood each year. A social-media initiative launched on June 14, World Blood Donor Day—visitors to BloodEquality.org can take a “Blood Selfie” and post it on social media.
Today is World Blood Donor Day. In the wake of the #Orlando attack and seeing the out cry and need for blood donations…and that gay men couldn't help their own brothers!!! We must stand in solidarity for equality, peace, love and generosity inherent in this civil act of giving!! It's time for science not stigma as we are all one in our blood!!! Join us at the High Line, 14th St passage, tonight 8-1030 #bloodequality
And Blood Mirror can still be filled with more blood. Eagles says should the occasion rise, he’s ready to accept more donations.
“We have to hold our ground and still make strides,” he says. “Continue to raise awareness, continue to talk to your family, your friends. Stand up for what you believe in but pick something. There’s no sitting on the sidelines anymore.”
Blood Mirror will be on view at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama from September 22 to December 1, World AIDS Day.