Artist Mary Coble Protests FDA Policy on Blood Donation at the Corcoran

During a four-day installation in August, the performance artist will write on the curtains of a makeshift theater using her own blood.

By: Sophie Gilbert

For four days starting August 7, artist Mary Coble will protest the FDA’s ban on blood donations from gay men in “Deferral,” the latest performance art installation in the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s contemporary NOW series. Coble and a handful of gay male collaborators will work inside a makeshift anatomical theater crafted from hospital curtains inside the Corcoran’s atrium, covering their space with words and images. While Coble will use her own blood as a medium, her team will use red thread to draw awareness to the legitimacy of their own bodily fluids.

There’s a lengthy history of using blood and other bodily fluids in art, from Marc Quinn’s “Self” (a sculpture of Quinn’s head made from 4.5 liters of his blood) to musician Pete Doherty’s blood drawings, in which he uses his own “arterial splatter” technique. In 2005, Coble had the names of 436 LGBT individuals who were killed in hate crimes tattooed on her body without ink in a marathon 12-hour performance art installation at what was then Conner Contemporary. She pressed a sheet of paper against each name after it had been completed, making a blood painting for each one.

In a statement on her website, Coble says, “The seriousness of intolerance that I see in our society is one of the driving forces that leads me to create work. I want to challenge people to reevaluate overly simplified and narrow understandings of a much more expansive reality.”

The FDA has banned blood donations from men who have sex with men since 1983, during the early days of HIV awareness. Critics of the policy point out that donor blood is screened for sexually transmitted diseases, and that blood banks are continually short of supplies. Earlier this month, gay men attempted to give blood at 53 sites across the country after testing negative for HIV in protest against the policy. In June, the American Medical Association called for the FDA to change its official doctrine in light of advanced technology for screening purposes, saying, “It is antiquated to keep this policy in place and to keep those units of blood from entering the blood supply.”

“Deferral” begins August 7 and runs through August 10, from 10 to 9 the first day and until 5 PM for the last three days of the performance.