Soon, Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, FL’s Grand Central District will be transformed into a gigantic, 1.25-mile long red ribbon to honor World AIDS Day. Jim Buresch, the artist behind the Rock It Red! St. Pete campaign, will wrap 172 trees with red fabric to create a temporary public arts installation, which he hopes will turn heads, get people talking, and challenge their assumptions about the HIV and AIDS pandemic.
“I want it to provoke thought and dialogue,” he said. “That’s what art is all about, right? I think it’s mammoth enough that anyone who sees it is going to wonder what it’s all about.”
The exhibit will also be interactive. Visitors are invited to use fabric pens to write the names of any loved ones whom they may have lost to the disease, as well as personal messages of hope, on the red wraps.
This aspect of the project is particularly interesting, in that it utilizes an age-old art form. Screen printing, the art of forcing ink or paint onto a surface through a prepared screen of fine material to create a picture or pattern, first became popular during the Song Dynasty in 960-1279 AD. Nowadays, it colloquially refers to the application of ink or other materials to create messages or images on fabric, which, in this case, happen to be memories meant to inspire.
When the wraps come down on December 2, Buresch will sew them together to create either one long piece, or possibly several longer pieces, which will be placed somewhere in the St. Petersburg community.
“To me, that’s what it’s about, creating this lasting piece of folk art,” said the artist.
Such a project could be particularly impactful in a state like Florida, which continues to rank high among the states most affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. According to the Florida Department of Health, about 130,000 Floridians were living with HIV in 2012.
Worse, all six of the Sunshine State’s large metropolitan statistical areas reported having more HIV cases individually than several states as a whole in 2012.
At such a time, in such a place, a project like the Rock It Red! St. Pete campaign is what’s most needed to raise awareness.