In 1985, during the HIV epidemic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration implemented what it deemed a necessary restriction on blood donation by gay men: Any guy who’d had sex with another man, even one time since 1977, could not donate blood. Many other nations followed suit, and that remained donation policy — at least in the United States — until 2015, when the gay blood ban was made somewhat less restrictive. As of 2015, in America, a man can only donate blood if he’s abstained from sex with a man for at least one year.
If you ask Jordan Eagles — a 41-year-old, NYC-based sculpture artist — that current policy is bullshit. And his striking art, some of which combines actual vials of gay blood with pieces of pop culture, strives to make that point. Eagles’ work can currently be seen at the Museum of the City of New York and the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, both in New York City.
According to this recent profile piece by Vice, Eagles experimented with using animal blood from slaughterhouses in his sculptures before his disdain with the FDA’s gay blood ban led him to focus his artistic energy on dismantling it.
One piece Eagles has received much attention for is called Blood Mirror, and it’s a seven-foot block of resin originally filled with the bisexual, trans and gay blood of 59 men. Years later, following both the FDA’s less restrictive gay blood ban and the advent of PrEP, Eagles added to Blood Mirror the blood of 49 men on PrEP and his own blood. You can find it at the Museum of the City of New York through April 28, 2019, as part of an exhibit titled Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis that explores how disease affects city life.
(In the artist’s statement for Blood Mirror, Eagles cited a 2014 study estimating the amount of gay blood turned away by the FDA’s lifetime ban could have saved 1 million people annually.)
But we’re even more enamored with Eagles’ later pieces that combine actual vials of gay blood with pop culture references as a way to address how (little) society values health care — and perhaps gay men themselves.
Eagles’ piece titled Jesus, Christie’s, created in 2018 and on view at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art through February 10, includes a catalog from the famed auction house’s 2017 sale of Leonardo da Vinci painting Salvator Mundi — the most expensive painting ever sold, at more than $450 million — and has embedded 12 vials of blood into it. Those vials, each one representing a month of the FDA’s current celibacy requirement on gay blood, contain blood donated by an anonymous, HIV-positive, undetectable man.
Another work by Jordan Eagles that similarly combines pop culture with gay blood is the one below, which consists of two vials of blood embedded into an original 1994 issue of The Incredible Hulk. In the issue, a friend of Bruce Banner is dying of AIDS and asks the superhero for a blood transfusion from the Hulk, which would save him. Banner ultimately refuses, not wanting his friend to be burdened with his own version of the angry green Hulk, and the friend dies.