New media artist Sharon Daniel collaborated with Casa Segura/Safe House, (Casa Segura) an HIV education and prevention project based in the Fruitvale District of Oakland. Casa Segura provides harm reduction services for intravenous drug users. The artist planned to give its clients disposable still cameras and inexpensive audio recorders to document their stories and then bring them to a small computer lab at the safe house for inclusion in an online archives. These documents would become the basis for public art works—accessible on-line and as transit posters and billboards situated across the neighborhood.
Casa Segura/Safe House faced opposition from district city council representatives and others interested in the economic development of the neighborhood. The project partners hoped to increase awareness and understanding of its value and services. External factors altered the project. An arson fire destroyed Casa Segura’s facilities on New Years Day. The organization’s lacked a stable home after the fire, and the clients’ transient lives made it impossible to collect their images and audio stories. Casa Segura was concerned that increasing its visibility through billboards would make it more vulnerable.
Ultimately Daniel created Blood Sugar, a gallery exhibition and web-based piece that examines poverty, alienation, and addiction in American society. It incorporates an online audio archive of conversations with 24 former injection drug users recorded at the HIV Education and Prevention Program of Alameda County and in California state prisons. Blood Sugar has been exhibited in a number of galleries and at film festivals and the Web version was included as a special project publication in Vector’s journal (2010).
Sharon Daniel is an Assistant Professor of Film and Digital Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research and artistic practice uses new information and communications technologies as media for the creation of collaborative systems. She seeks for public art to be re-defined as “processes of individual and community interaction within sustainable, open systems of communication.”