We walked among rows and rows of the quilts and read the inscriptions, like at the cemetery. But it was a cemetery of soft monuments, and no moment stood alone; each one touched another, rubbed shoulders together.... In Raymond Williams' words (see the beginning of the main "Instant Relatives" essay), memories are a form of desired continuity, a virtual community---and as commemorated in the quilt project, these memories of individuals are also placed within a larger context, the shadow of the plague that took them all, now turned into a field of light and color and reminders of the life lived, not the death. Each quilt is made lovingly from pieces of a life and the entire field of quilts (there must have been over a 100 in the room I was in) becomes not just random quilts placed together but a single quilt, THE quilt, a new community pieced from loss.
The Quilt is now so large, though, that all the individual quilts that make it up can rarely be physically displayed together. (The Quilt has been shown in its entirety several times, and there is an upcoming showing in the central Mall in Washington DC, but very soon it will probably become impossible to display the full quilt physically.) The Quilt's full existence and full meanings are thus becoming not physical but as a desired whole seen in the mind's eye and represented in the world's memory. The Quilt also lives as a "virtual" whole: the quilts are gathered and displayed and cared for by the NAMES Project: 2362 Market St., San Francisco CA 94114. The AIDS Quilt Project has a Web page filled with all kinds of information, including a history of the project and schedules of upcoming displays.
For more: See also Shoshana Kerewsky's article, "The AIDS Memorial Quilt: Personal and Therapeutic Uses,"
in the journal Pergamon: The Arts in Psychotherapy 24.5 (1997): 431-38.