Video maker, curator, producer, AIDS activist. New Brunswick-bred Michael Balser was part of the experimental video and Super 8 scene in Fredericton and Ottawa before finally putting down roots in Toronto in 1985. His early video Jerungdu (1986, 13) was already autobiographical, an expressionistic collage, but his diagnosis with HIV that same year suddenly provided him with a life crisis and a personal/political theme that would shape the rest of his prolific, restless and committed artistic career. Continuing in the postmodern collage vein with his two-channel piece Fear of Everything in the Universe (1987, 25), Balser met his life partner, Alberta-bred visual artist Andy Fabo (b. 1953), during production. Their fruitful artistic collaboration led to several of Balser’s best known works, including Pogo Stick Porno Romp (1987, 9), a playful essay on culture and nature, laid over with Fabo graphics and, among many other things, a sexually explicit celebration of the couple’s young relationship. Their Survival of the Delirious (1988, 14), while an equally inventive collage, had a more sombre register, using the personae of the native warrior huntsman and Windigo to narrativize the personal and community crisis around AIDS as well as come out as HIV+: Fabo is seen in dramatized conversation with his doctor discussing the new and controversial AZT therapy options, one element in the poetic mosaic about danger, fear and resolution.
Balser’s later works continue to reflect his AIDS activism, including Toronto Living with AIDS , the cable series he coordinated for cable starting in 1992, whose impact was thwarted by censorship; two compilations of AIDS Public Service Announcements (1993) for which Balser, in collaboration with the Banff Centre, enlisted the contributions of queer video artists from coast to coast; Positive Men (1995, 50) a mosaic of dramatic scenes about a gay male community affected and responding, together with documentary portraits of PWAs; and the autobiographical “cybertour” Treatments—Adventures in AIDS and Media (1996, 43). Late work sometimes returned to the absurdist vein of earlier years, as in two busy, wacky riffs on space travel, acting auditions and the infiltration of Canadian TV by robots, Rocket Science (2001, 11) and Popular Science (2002, 23). Otherwise, two DVD collaborations with Fabo veered towards an almost zen apprehension of the male body, mortality, aesthetics, and desire (Motion of Light on Water , 2001, 12; Imperfect Proportions , posthumous, 2002, 5). Balser continued his prolific output, combining activist documentary with experimental narrative and collage, up until his death in 2002. Dialogue said by an “AIDS Activist Action Figure” in Treatments might be thought of as his parting words: “...if I’m going to go, at least I’m going to go out fighting.”