Alex Flett; Durban 2000, Barcelona, 2002, Bangkok 2004.

Late in 1999, Lieve Fransen asked me if I would get in touch with the cultural section of the XIII International AIDS Conference in Durban which was due to be held in mid 2000, and act as the European Cultural Advisor. I had no idea at that time that engaging as an artist in the battle against the virus would lead me to visual areas and into visual ideas which have circulated the world, with the first four years of the 21st Century seeing me act as a cultural advisor and exhibiting artist in three International AIDS Conferences, and as a delegate for a South African art charity in another two, Toronto in 2006 and Mexico City in 2008.

Below: Examples from the Bodyworks Suite of prints.

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The Bodyworks Suite were created through using MRI scans of my body which were made in late 99 at a time when I was suffering badly from sciatica. I decided to use these images in some way to underscore the difficulties in medical access within much of sub Saharan Africa where the pandemic is at its worst. I decided to create a series of prints and contacted Xerox (who in Glasgow had helped with the Dancer Suite) in Johannesburg to see if they would be willing to help. Thankfully they did, and so the Body works edition was made in their offices using the best of photocopier equipment, bouncing the original scans through a computer attached to the photocopier, adding and subtracting colours, stretching shapes etc. The idea of using Xerography is not new. It was first undertaken by the American artist Edward Halter Meneeley in the late sixties, but I was lucky enough to have had Ed as a teacher at Winchester and as a friend (Tender Buttons Suite & IBM drawings, Victoria and Albert Museum, London).

Importantly, the prints fascinated the scientists and medics who were at the Conference, and because there was a hesitation among many as to the veracity of art within the HIV battle, were important in helping convince that in order to create awareness and to stop transmission (for both of which one needs to promote human rights advocacy), engaging with societal culture was vitally important if science was to have any success in defeating the viral spread.

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Above: As well as helping with the Bodyworks prints, Xerox sponsored a photocopier machine so that workshops could be held allowing children to make copies of their hands, and arms and started turning these into decorative objects. The aim of the workshop was to make them appreciate that they only get one body and they have to look after it.

Below: In Barcelona in 2002, the workshops were held with delegates and concentrated on designing simple posters using the bed of the photocopier; plus the use of multiples to create large images around the meeting areas of the Conferences. Photography of multiples by Yasmin Flett.

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Images from Bangkok in 2004 will be uploaded in the next few days.

NB: One final aspect of the use of photocopiers was undertaken at the UN Youth Conference in Stirling in 2005. There the students were taught how to create simple but effective photocopier designs for posters, over-write on the machinery, use both sides of the paper, and how to achieve sponsorship for small runs of photocopied posters, fliers and information pamphlets. For small, but regular amounts of this form of Awareness material, the use of photocopiers helps NGO’s by them not having to hire expensive designers and commercial printers. Every office and even small businesses all over the world have photocopiers, and it is much easier for such a business to give an AIDS NGO e.g., five hundred photocopies, than to give money for commercial printing costs. Knowing how to make simple but effective designs can take advantage of that. I have found that even those who work in offices and regularly use photocopiers have no idea of the amount of good strong interesting things which can be done using even the most basic of machines.