Theo Gordon - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Theo Gordon

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Theo Gordon

PhD student

‘Sex and Violence: A New Psychoanalysis of Art of the American AIDS Crisis’

Supervised by Prof. Mignon Nixon

In this thesis I examine art made in the United States between 1987 and 1996 that addresses the socio-political crisis of the AIDS epidemic. Through my consideration of three distinct artistic projects, I argue that AIDS is a crisis of sexuality and aggression that exposes the violence of bodily intersubjective relationships at the end of the twentieth century in America. I work my appreciation of sex and violence through psychoanalytic theory, with a particular focus on the writings of Melanie Klein. I argue that we cannot consign the AIDS crisis to the past and that it remains important to our socio-political situation.

In my first chapter I discuss Gregg Bordowitz’s video work Fast Trip, Long Drop (1993), in the contexts of the history of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), critical AIDS discourse, and Kleinian theory between psychoanalytic feminism and queer theory. I attend to his depiction of activist despair in the early 1990s, with a particular focus on destructive bodily fantasy and collective responsibility in a time of socio-political crisis.

In my second chapter I account for the photographic representation of women with AIDS in Ann P. Meredith’s ‘Until that Last Breath!’ (1989). I describe the invisibility of women with AIDS as exposing the psychotic reaction to the AIDS epidemic in the United States and the violence inflicted on women’s bodies during the crisis.

In my third chapter I interpret orality in Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s candy piles (1991). I focus on oral eroticism and oral sadism in bodily fantasy as the foundation for political coalition. I argue that the candy piles explore the continual mourning for lives lost to AIDS through a visceral understanding of bodily contact and mutual responsibility during the AIDS crisis.



  • MA History of Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art
  • BA English, University College London

Research interests

  • international histories of HIV/AIDS
  • modern and contemporary art
  • feminism, sexuality and queer culture
  • histories and theories of psychoanalysis
  • lived humanties // humanities outside ‘the academy’

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