Testing the Limits (Firm)

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Testing the Limits was a video collective formed in New York in 1987 to document AIDS activism.

The collective produced its seminal work Testing the Limits: NYC, in 1987 and a feature-length documentary, Voices from the Front, in 1991. The collective's final production was a four-part documentary, The Question of Equality, which chronicled the gay and lesbian struggle for civil rights.

From the description of Testing the Limits records, 1987-1995 (bulk 1988-1990). (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 253578332

Testing the Limits was initially formed when Gregg Bordowitz met David Meieran while filming ACT UP's 1987 demonstration on Wall Street. Through the Whitney Museum's independent study program Bordowitz and Meieran met other video artists involved with AIDS activism and founded Testing the Limits as a collective. Joining Bordowitz and Meieran were Sandra Elgear, Robyn Hutt and Hilery Joy Kipnis, who were joined shortly thereafter by Jean Carlomusto. Within the first year of its existence the collective produced its seminal work Testing the Limits: NYC as well as videos for the Gay Men's Health Crisis.

After the completion of Testing the Limits: NYC, Bordowitz and Carlomusto left the collective due to philosophical differences with the remaining members who sought to transform the collective into a fundable production company. Bordowitz and Carlomusto wanted to continue making low cost and quickly produced videos that could serve as a feedback loop to the activist community. Bordowitz later joined Carlomusto as a producer of the Gay Men's Health Crisis cable television series "Living with AIDS." (see the AIDS Activists Videotape Collection. (http://www.nypl.org/research/chss/spe/rbk/faids/aidsvideo.pdf)

From 1988 through 1991 the collective, led by Meieran, Elgear and Hutt as producers, continued work on what became a feature-length documentary, Voices From the Front . With ACT UP's actions as a central force and backdrop, Voices From the Front documented many of the grass roots organizations that developed in order to provide the many services and therapies needed by people with AIDS that both the government and the pharmaceutical industry seemed willfully negligent in providing. These include the People With AIDS Coalition, the People With AIDS Health Group, the Community Research Initiative, and People with Immune System Disorders. Activists are shown demonstrating for the principles ACT UP stood for, including the development of new drug therapies, inclusion of women and minorities in clinical trials, and nationalized health care. The video includes interviews with many leaders in the struggle: Vito Russo, Maxine Wolfe, Keith Cylar and Aldyn McKean, among many others. Like its predecessor, Voices From the Front garnered critical praise on the film festival and art house circuit and was eventually broadcast on the Showtime cable television channel.

The brutal killing of openly gay teenager Julio Rivera in his Jackson Heights neighborhood inspired the collective's next project, Under Attack, a documentary on the homophobic violence faced by gay men, lesbians and transsexuals throughout America. Initially, the collective focused on the community-based organizing that led to the arrest and conviction of Rivera's murderers and on Measure 9, an anti-gay ballot initiative in Oregon. With funding secured with grants from the Independent Television Service and the UK's Channel 4, the project's scope was widened to become a four-part television series, The Question of Equality, which examined the entire spectrum of lesbian and gay civil rights issues in America. The series was shown on PBS stations in America and on Channel Four in the U.K. in 1995.

After the completion of The Question of Equality, Testing the Limits developed other ideas for documentaries, but the collective dissolved before these progressed beyond the development stage.

From the guide to the Testing the Limits records, 1987-1995, 1988-1990, (The New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Testing the Limits records, 1987-1995, 1988-1990 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith ACT UP New York (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith Bordowitz, Gregg person
associatedWith Bordowitz, Gregg. person
associatedWith Carlomusto, Jean. person
associatedWith Elgear, Sandra person
associatedWith Elgear, Sandra. person
associatedWith Hutt, Robyn person
associatedWith Hutt, Robyn. person
associatedWith Kipnis, Hilery Joy person
associatedWith Kipnis, Hilery Joy. person
associatedWith Meieran, David. person
associatedWith People with AIDS Coalition. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
New York (State)--New York
AIDS activists
AIDS activists
AIDS (Disease)
AIDS (Disease)
AIDS (Disease)
AIDS (Disease)
AIDS (Disease)
AIDS (Disease) in mass media
Gay activists
Gay activists
Gay rights
Lesbian activists
Lesbian activists

Corporate Body

Active 1987

Active 1995


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