Listen to This

Tom Rubnitz

This video is no longer available

Staff Picks Listen to This
Tom Rubnitz

15 Minutes

Staff Picks

October 1-31, 2023

Listen To This is a fragment of collective memory that finds critical relevance in contemporary queer discourse. Tom Rubnitz weaves narration, image, and a form of temporality dislocated from real time into a video where artist and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz’s loss, rage, and desire is palpable.

This document, not definitively finished or unfinished at the time of Rubnitz’s death, elicits various modes that trace their origins to oral history traditions: repetition, non-linear narrative construction, and disruption. In the video, Wojnarowicz sits alone facing the camera, infected with a plague (AIDS) that prevents him from abstracting his own mortality to some point in the distant future. He speaks to the present and in the present. Fragments of popular mass culture—Madonna, the Newscaster, a military helicopter—cut through Wojnarowicz’s impassioned performance, acting as visual prompts for the “diseased society” he has contracted.

Rubnitz constructs the work utilizing the aesthetic framework of the non-site of television, the dominant vessel for mass culture. He marks time and place through Wojnarowicz’s visceral attacks on Western power structures, and commonly held conceptions of the past and present. Listen To This is not an obituary, nor a memorial to its creator and featured performer, but a biting condemnation of homophobic HIV/AIDS policy and at large, the societal terms in which such death and mystification have become routine and necessary.

Co-presented with Video Data Bank (VDB) as the October 2023 edition of e-flux Film’s Staff Picks.

Video Data Bank began distributing Tom Rubnitz’s video work in 1989 and still today maintains its preservation and circulation along with raising awareness about its immense cultural and historical significance. Over the years since the work entered the collection, VDB developed a relationship with Rubnitz’s mother, and in the early aughts, VDB’s then Director, Abina Manning, and Archive and Collection Manager, Tom Colley, drove up to the northern Chicago suburbs to visit her and gather a car load of old videotapes that she needed to clear out from storage. Many of these tapes were raw footage, or copies of titles already in distribution with VDB, but a few stuck out as unfamiliar. It took a bit of time to catalog, research, preserve and digitize these tapes, but eventually Listen To This, made in collaboration with David Wojnarowicz, was identified as a “lost” title that had likely only screened once in 1992. It is uncertain if this single screening occurred before or after the month-apart deaths of Rubnitz and Wojnarowicz. Despite being the last known video work by Tom Rubnitz, little documentation and ephemera surrounding its creation has surfaced. A typed draft from 1989 of Wojnarowicz’s monologue, and a storyboard and shot list covering a portion of the tape’s contents, currently provide the entirety of the context surrounding this tape’s creation. This ambiguity also extends to the nature of the relationship between the two artists and the impetus for this collaboration.

For more information, contact program [​at​] e-flux.com.

Film, LGBTQ+
Video Art, AIDS, Death, Media Critique
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Tom Rubnitz was born in Chicago, IL on April 2, 1956. He graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1978 and moved to New York City where he resided as a painter and video/filmmaker. A quintessential New York underground film/video artist, the late Tom Rubnitz took a bite out of the Big Apple and spat it out in a wild kaleidoscope of unequivocal camp and hallucinogenic color. Ann Magnuson, the B-52s, Lady Bunny, and the late John Sex are but a few of the stars that shine oh-so-brightly in Rubnitz’ glittering oeuvre. A genre artist par excellence, Rubnitz treated the sexy-druggy-wiggy-luscious-desserty qualities of the 1980s downtown club scene with the loving care only a true hedonist could show. His work has been featured in screenings and exhibitions at the Whitney Museum, The Kitchen, European Media Art Festival, Berlin International Film Festival, and Oberhausen International Short Film Festival among many others. His work has also been broadcast on PBS, Channel 4, and MTV. In the queer film festival circuit of the 1980s and ‘90s, including The San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and The New York International Festival of Lesbian and Gay Film, Rubnitz’s videos were a celebrated staple. On August 12, 1992, Rubnitz died from an AIDS-related illness.


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