Blood donations, HIV testing part of Remai exhibit exploring connections through blood

When you see blood in art, it usually evokes images of violence. But a new solo exhibition at Saskatoon's Remai Modern is using blood to connect people.

Blood is 'a thing that unites us all as human beings,' says artist behind Remai Modern's Body Fluid exhibit

Jade Kuriki Olivo's Body Fluid exhibit is on at the Remai Modern until Nov. 17. (Jade Kuriki Olivo)

When you see blood in art, it usually evokes images of violence.

But a new solo exhibition at Saskatoon's Remai Modern aims to use blood to connect people.

The exhibit, Body Fluid, is a new work by Los Angeles-based artist Jade Kuriki Olivo, who also goes by Puppies Puppies.

The exhibit goes beyond art, including free on-site HIV testing by Saskatoon Sexual Health, and also giving visitors the opportunity to donate blood.

Olivo said the idea for the exhibit came from having parents who regularly donated blood.

"My mom worked in a hospital and so she was around human blood quite often. And so I think from an early age I was, like, 'Oh, I want to do that one day myself,'" Olivo told Saskatoon Morning's Jennifer Quesnel.

"I also think it's a thing that unites us all as human beings, something that exists within all of us. And so I really try to find things that bring a similarity to the surface that makes humans all the same in some ways."

Community connections

Visitors to the exhibit will encounter a variety of objects, images and boxes, said Rose Bouthillier, a curator at Remai Modern.

Red stress balls used during blood donations are scattered throughout the entire space, for example. Visitors can pick them up and put them in different spots.

"Red is obviously a theme that extends throughout the exhibition, but then there's also a sort of minimal esthetic as well," Bouthillier said. 

Knighton Hillstrom is a peer mentor with AIDS Saskatoon and was at the Remai Modern to offer pre- and post-HIV testing counselling as part of the Body Fluid exhibit. (CBC News)

Olivo said it was also important to also get the community involved through the exhibit.

"This project has brought together a lot of different organizations that are doing amazing work within the community," Olivo said.

If people want to sign up to donate blood there will be a bus leaving the Remai every Saturday at 11 a.m. to take them to Canadian Blood Services.

"So simultaneously there will be blood donation happening through transportation that brings you back to [Canadian Blood Services], and then Saskatoon Health is also going to be doing HIV testing on-site and counselling and whatever is necessary," Olivo said.

"There's a specific facility that is for testing and counselling, and so we've created a kind of private space for that to exist within the gallery space," Olivo added.

"I think as a queer artist and a trans woman, it was important to create a dialogue around HIV testing and blood donations."

Olivo noted in the U.S., as in Canada, gay men and trans women face challenges to donating blood.

Bouthillier said the Remai has had a had a positive response to the exhibit, HIV testing and blood donations.

"We had six donors [the first Saturday], including some first-timers," she said.

And although the number of people getting tested for HIV is confidential, she said there was a steady stream of people coming in.

"The goal of the project is to have people feel comfortable getting tested — the idea of destigmatizing and normalizing it, to make sure people think about it as part of an annual health routine."

Peer mentors provide guidance

There is also a group of peer mentors who give pre- and post-testing guidance.

One of those mentors is Knighton Hillstrom.

Hillstrom said the mentors talk to people before they get tested to let them know what it is all about, and then after the test to give guidance on next steps.

"They have the option of being able to speak to an individual who has knowledge about it and living experience," Hillstrom said.

"It's so important to have somebody there to be able to comfort you and let you know it's OK, and there are a lot of services available."

He said having the testing at the Remai brings it to the general public and helps remove the stigma that surrounds HIV.

"It is sort of shock therapy to let people know it is out there and we need to all be tested," he said.

Hillstrom, who has been a peer mentor with AIDS Saskatoon for the past two years, said the virus can be arrested through medication.

"In Saskatchewan treatment is free, the medication is free, so there is no reason why a person shouldn't be getting tested."

The exhibit runs until Nov. 17 at the Remai Modern.


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