One Day This Kid

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Day This Kid..., 1990. Photostat mounted on board, 30 x 41 inches. Edition of 10. Courtesy of the Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W, New York

One Day This Kid…, 1990
Photostat mounted on board, sheet: 29 13/16 × 40 1/8 × 3/16 in. (75.7 × 101.9 × 0.5 cm); image: 28 1/8 × 37 1/2 in. (71.4 × 95.3 cm)
Edition of 10

About

One Day This Kid… is one of Wojnarowicz's most well known works, a powerful condemnation of societal homophobia and celebration of the innocence of gay sexuality. It features a school portrait of David Wojnarowicz from his childhood, (the type that is traditionally encountered in wallet-sized prints or framed on family mantelpieces), surrounded by black text. The school photo is blown up and rendered in black-and-white, like a newspaper broadsheet, removing the photograph from a more intimate and traditional school or family context. In contrast with the image of the smiling child, the printed text surrounding the portrait embeds the image in a network of social, institutional, medical, and physical violence. Beginning with the words “One day this kid will get larger…” the text goes on to narrate a series of events in this child’s growing awareness of his sexual desires, and the lifetime of persecution, resistance, and struggle that come with his identification as a gay man. With each declarative statement, Wojnarowicz catalogs the homophobic violence perpetrated against gay men by governments, religious institutions, families and neighbors.

Full text:

“One day this kid will get larger. One day this kid will come to know something that causes a sensation equivalent to the separation of the earth from its axis. One day this kid will reach a point where he senses a division that isn’t mathematical. One day this kid will feel something stir in his heart and throat and mouth. One day this kid will find something in his mind and body and soul that makes him hungry. One day this kid will do something that causes men who wear the uniforms of priests and rabbis, men who inhabit certain stone buildings, to call for his death. One day politicians will enact legislation against this kid. One day families will give false information to their children and each child will pass that information down generationally to their families and that information will be designed to make existence intolerable for this kid. One day this kid will begin to experience all this activity in his environment and that activity and information will compell [sic] him to commit suicide or submit to danger in hopes of being murdered or submit to silence and invisibility. Or one day this kid will talk. When he begins to talk, men who develop a fear of this kid will attempt to silence him with strangling, fists, prison, suffocation, rape, intimidation, drugging, ropes, guns, laws, menace, roving gangs, bottles, knives, religion, decapitation, and immolation by fire. Doctors will pronounce this kid curable as if his brain were a virus. This kid will lose his constitutional rights against the government’s invasion of his privacy. This kid will be faced with electro-shock, drugs, and conditioning therapies in laboratories tended by psychologists and research scientists. He will be subject to loss of home, civil rights, jobs, and all conceivable freedoms. All this will begin to happen in one or two years when he discovers he desires to place his naked body on the naked body of another boy.”

Themes

Pre-invented world


Wojnarowicz was deeply concerned about the power of mass media to reinforce the myths of what he called the “pre-invented world,” the “official reality” whose social rules, regulations, definitions, and expectations he sought to interrogate. As he wrote in an unpublished manuscript, “We are living in the midst of a schizophrenic period in which mass media/mass hypnosis as engineered by rich white straight men and fake religious types uses language and symbols to manipulate emotions and distract us from the reality at hand” [1] By taking advantage of print-making technologies to make multiples and widen the distribution of his art, as he increasingly turned to in the late 1980s, Wojnarowicz turned the tools and techniques of mass media against the pre-invented world to develop new narratives.

Childhood


Wojnarowicz spoke and wrote frequently about his childhood, but this is the only time he used an actual childhood photograph of himself in a visual artwork. [confirm] Elsewhere in his work, imagery of babies and children recur, such as Burning Child, 1984, a child mannequin covered with map fragments and acrylic paint, which was photographed by Wojnarowicz in different settings, and included in various installations, including the 1984 solo exhibition at Gracie Mansion. Drawing from his own personal experience, Wojnarowicz often depicted childhood as a time of danger and oppression.

Activism


Although he is primarily remembered today for his fierce AIDS activism (particularly after the death of his mentor Peter Hujar in 1987 and his own diagnosis with AIDS shortly afterwards), Wojnarowicz's art and writings evidenced a broad social critique of injustice throughout his lifetime. He identified with marginal figures - drug addicts, homeless people, prisoners, people with AIDS, queer people - and sought to make obvious the cruelty and hypocrisy of powerful people who persecuted them. In his work, Wojnarowicz targeted specific groups who, through ignoring AIDS crisis or criminalizing homosexuality, were directly complicit in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. His contribution to Nan Goldin's 1989 exhibition Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing, an essay “Post Cards from America: X-Rays from Hell,” was a particularly controversial piece that spoke directly to the rage, sorrow and indignation about the AIDS crisis and the callousness of the establishment, and it led to the National Endowment of the Arts withdrawing its financial support for the catalogue. This was a deeply upsetting experience for Wojnarowicz that weighed heavily on his mind during this period, as he continued to fight for AIDS awareness, the rights of artists, and freedom from censorship. One Day This Kid… has a searing political message, juxtaposing the innocence of Wojnarowicz as a child with the cruelty of those who would persecute him for his sexual desires, and insisting on the potential of art to act as political instrument. One Day This Kid... would eventually be turned into poster and postcards sized versions, vastly increasing its reach as a piece of agitprop.

Media and Techniques

One Day This Kid… is an edition of 10 Photostats produced between 1990 and 1991. Photostatting is a commercial process in which a camera is used to make direct copies. [2] The Photostat machine camera photographs the desired image (a document, another photograph, or a collaged layout) directly onto sensitized paper, without using film. This produces a paper negative that is then re-photographed onto the same type of sensitized paper in order to produce a positive print in as many copies as desired. Photostat was an early form of document reproduction that largely went out office use by the 1950s. The Photostat process continued to be used, however, by graphic design industry that needed to create large print copies of irregular layouts of image and text.

Wojnarowicz learned how to use a commercial Photostat machine at a short-lived summer job at an ad agency in 1979, and he used the machine at the agency to create Rimbaud masks for Arthur Rimbaud in New York (1978–1979). [3] For One Day This Kid…, Wojnarowicz did not produce the Photostats himself, but rather enlisted the help of Jean Foos, and the production department at Artforum. According to Foos:

I was employed as the designer at Artforum and had received permission from the publishers* to use their facilities to work on the exhibition catalogue David Wojnarowicz: Tongues of Flame. Their in-house set up included Compugraphic typesetting equipment and a photostat camera as well as help from the staff. The plan was to design and produce David’s catalogue during the off-weeks when the magazine was not on deadline. As the catalogue for the Illinois show project grew ever larger, David started getting ready for a show at PPOW as well.

One Day This Kid… was originally planned and produced to be just a page for Tongues of Flame. This was shortly before Macs were available so the process of setting the type required sketching the layout on tracing paper, counting characters, and measuring each line so it would break exactly in the right spot. Typesetter Nicole Potter patiently and expertly set and reset the text to David’s satisfaction. Once we had assembled the mechanical for that page with the silhouetted halftone photo, David was able to use that for bigger prints, as in the edition printed later at Giant Photo, New York.[4] At the time, Wojnarowicz was spending a significant portion of his materials budget printing Photostats.[5]

David also had us work on typesetting for the texts on his flower paintings. I can’t recall if we worked on this while the catalogue was in production or shortly after. David typed out the text and then Nicole Potter and I worked to set the type in the proportions to fit each painting—so they could be blown up and silkscreened over each painting. He sent 9 texts which I have in my archive [see photos below], but I don’t know how many flower paintings he completed, some of the paintings have 2 texts on them.

  • Antony Korner, Knight Landesman, and Charles Guarino were the publishers who allowed us free reign of the facilities—mostly at night and off hours. The project grew far beyond our expectations. I remember some tense moments when Barry Blinderman was daily faxing us corrections—past our deadlines we set—and while we were trying to get our magazine to the printer.[6]

Wojnarowicz had previously experimented with other forms of combining image and text through collaging printed text onto paintings and through silkscreening text on top of photographic prints. Though he had worked with Xerox and Photostats in the past, Wojnarowicz had only recently begun making editioned prints via his work with the Normal Editions Workshop at Illinois State University as part of his preparation for the Tongues of Flame exhibition. In contrast to his earlier photo/text works, with the Photostat images printed at Giant Photo and with the lithographic work he was producing at Normal, text and image were printed via the same process, lending a commercial poster-like quality to the resulting prints.

While creating the work, Wojnarowicz experimented with different Xerox prints of the childhood photograph, on varied types of paper. These can be found, along with versions of the text in progress, in the David Wojnarowicz Papers at Fales.

One Day This Kid… was also produced as a German edition, with German text, in 1990 under the title Eines Tages…, published by ACT-UP Berlin and the artist (edition size unknown). Posthumously, it was released as a letterpress edition of 100 as a fundraiser for Printed Matter in 2012, in collaboration with the Estate of David Wojnarowicz. It sold out in one day.

Locations

New York City, East Village Wojnarowicz did the primary production of this work in New York, during a period in which he was increasingly involved in political activism around the AIDS crisis, public debates around medical research, arts funding, and legal rights of artists (see “Activism” theme above).

Normal, IL Although this work was not included in Tongues of Flame, the work is published as a full-page plate on page 30 of the exhibition catalogue, and was used as the primary image on the announcement card for subsequent venues. Wojnarowicz produced it while working with Barry Blinderman on the exhibition and with Jean Foos on the catalogue. The catalogue also includes an excerpt from Close to the Knives by Wojnarowicz that echoes One Day This Kid… and seems to refer to its genesis: “A number of months ago I read in the newspaper that there was a supreme court ruling which states that homosexuals in America have no constitutional rights against the government’s invasion of their privacy…When I read the newspaper article I felt something stirring in my hand…Realizing that I have nothing left to lose in my actions I let my hands become weapons, my teeth become weapons, every bone and muscle and fiber and ounce of blood become weapons, and I feel prepared for the rest of my life.” [7]

People

Barry Blinderman
Blinderman organized Wojnarowicz's 1990 solo retrospective Tongues of Flame at llinois State University Art Galleries. One Day This Kid... was not included in the exhibition, but was included in the accompanying catalog.


Jean Foos
Wojnarowicz worked with artist and graphic designer Jean Foos on the layout and production of this work, preparing it for inclusion in the Tongues of Flame catalogue.


Nan Goldin
Goldin was a contemporary of Wojnarowicz in the Lower East Side art movement of the nineteen eighties. Goldin asked Wojnarowicz to contribute to an exhibition she was curating for Artist's Space Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing, about the ongoing AIDS crisis. Wojnarowicz's contribution became the center of an NEA controversy when the NEA withdrew funding for the exhibition, in part based on the language in Wojnarowicz's catalogue essay "Postcards from America: X-Rays from Hell."


Jason Woodson
Woodson is a visual artist, whose work One Day This Kid (20 years on) was inspired by Wojnarowicz's One Day This Kid..

Curatorial Information

Provenance

Institutional collections include Jersey City Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, Wadsworth Athenaeum, Smith College, and Whitney Museum of American Art. Note that Art Institute of Chicago lists their version as a gelatin silver print from an edition of 10. The US National Museum of Medicine has a poster print of the German language version, Eines Tages...

Exhibition History

One notable exhibition of One Day This Kid… during Wojnarowicz’s lifetime was its inclusion in his installation America: Heads of Family/Heads of State, produced for The Decades Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 1980s at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City in 1990. One Day This Kid... anchored the installation, hung (unframed) on the back wall of a small room lined with unframed photographic portraits of politicians (including Ronald Reagan and Jesse Helms) and his own family. At the center of the room, a large, blindfolded papier-mâché head was suspended from an altar of branches, painted with the word “QUEER” over its forehead. Underneath the head, two video monitors played footage from ITSOFOMO. On the floor, a child skeleton in a white dress was placed on a bed of twigs and flowers, and a village constructed of small model houses, twigs, and other found objects was strewn across the back half of the room. In his private notes, Wojnarowicz described this installation as “formal pieces unravel into chaos + noise” [8], suggesting that One Day This Kid… was a “formal piece” that nonetheless encompassed the range of chaos represented by the installation.

Critical reception

As critic Maurice Berger wrote about encountering the piece in 1990, “The juxtaposition of freckle-faced, jug eared kid with the poisonous reality of homophobia moved me deeply. And while I have been ‘out’ for almost a decade, the work helped me to accept a part of my queer self that I had never before owned; the gay bashed, self-hating kid that struggled to survive.” [9] Since its first exhibition and publication, One Day This Kid… has been a powerful icon for gay rights, and has found new resonance in the wake of continued violence and discrimination against the gay community in the twenty-five years since its publication. It is among Wojnarowicz’s most well-known works, in part because of its circulation as a postcard at progressive bookstores throughout New York City. It now finds further distribution through digital channels; many Twitter and Tumblr users shared images of the work in response to the Orlando nightclub mass shooting in June of 2016, for example.

Other artists and activists have used the work to create their own renditions, such as the artist Jason Woodson, who created One Day This Kid…(20 Years On) (2010), which recasts the central photo in a rainbow gradient, and rewrites the text to address continued violence amidst newer concerns of the hypocrisy of the simultaneous commodification of the gay community.

Archival Material for One Day This Kid... from the Wojnarowicz Papers at Fales Library

Related Works

America: Heads of Family/Heads of State

References

  1. Journal, Series I, Box 2, Folder 28, David Wojnarowicz Papers, Fales Library & Special Collections
  2. See Joy Bloser’s paper on this topic on this site. [hyperlink]
  3. Cynthia Carr, Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz (London: Bloomsbury, 2012): 133.
  4. One of Wojnarowicz’s phone logs notes “Bring childhood text piece to giant.” (David Wojnarowicz Papers, Series IV, Folder 23) Deborah Wye, Chief Curator Emerita, Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, has also noted that Wojnarowicz printed his Photostat work from this period at Giant. (Deborah Wye, Thinking Print: Books to Billboards, 1980-1995, New York: MoMA, 1996) Wendy Olsoff concurred that this was likely the printer in an interview on this site.
  5. A phone log tracking his budgeting for the month in circa 1990 notes $500 spent on Photostats, the same amount as he spent on paint and canvas. (Phone log notes, David Wojnarowicz Papers, Series IV, Folder 10)
  6. Jean Foos, email to DW Knowledge Base editor, March 7, 2017
  7. David Wojnarowicz, “Being Queer in America: A Journal of Disintegration,” in David Wojnarowicz: Tongues of Flame, ed. Barry Blinderman (Normal IL: Illinois State University, 1990): 87
  8. Phone log, David Wojnarowicz Papers, Series IV, Folder 23.
  9. Quoted in Carr, 449.

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