A.L. Steiner & A.K. Burns Community Action Center 2010

A.L. Steiner & A.K. Burns Community Action Center 2010

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Cliff Notes on COMMUNITY ACTION CENTER 2010

What does it mean to you to have, to be, a body?

What does it mean to you to breathe, to blink, to need to eat, shower, shit, to live inside a skin that scrapes and breaks easily?  A skin that sprouts thin hair forests around crevassed, puckered, holes? 

What are you doing with your body right now as you read these words?

When can you say that your strange, thin skin has felt a scrape, slap, prick, dribble, pierce, rasp, roll that you couldn't frame inside your language, that challenged your words because it challenged your borders, your skin-boundaries? 

When was the last time you played?

It begins with whooping, scuffling, breathless pinning, pulling, shoving as two bodies wrestle before a ring girl who looks to have one tit out and another one hanging round her neck.  All faces flash full-of-laughter smiles.  "Feminine Products," the sign had said.

The scene flies by as each one of its seconds fills with skin, paint, fruit, fur, knives, clay, brushes.  Bright green watermelons full of plush red flesh are made homes to feeding faces; a can of beer bulges like a cock before it is pierced with a scissors' blade to flood a smiling open mouth that sucks and gulps it down; many hands birth a pregnant body from a womb of brown clay lodged between the legs of another, before all the hands stroke her over with wet, red paint, then palm-skin tongues lap the paint away again.  The sound of the scene falls quickly into a lone voice relishing the words of an anthem to fantastical fucks: we hear the tongue delighting in the tap, trip, touch it takes to get the horseplay out.

The scene sets the stage for all that is to come.  In this first scene, bodies are skin shapes touching upon each other, exploring together sensation, exploring sensation together.  While these first few minutes of sound spill a tumble of words whose delight lies in naming acts that fall just beyond what is earthly possible, the images onscreen play the same game but in reverse.  Here at the beginning and in what follows, the scenes we see are wholly of this earth but they coax and tease us by lying just beyond the edge of our ability to name them.

These acts, these bodies, are not unspeakable but they do challenge the kind of speaking that tries to shove the wild and unruly real into fixed and narrow categories.  The way that sunlight plays through a window to paint the side of a face, the way the camera comes so close to fingers unfolding the leaves around a comb of crystallized honey, the faint smiles we see often at the corners of lips kissing, these tiny movements that make up the whole stand against the ways we abbreviate being.

This community, this community action, opens onto another way of being in the world.  This way refuses shortcuts: those in language--porn, he, she, top, bottom, doing, done (paltry descriptors for who we are and what we do) and those in relation--taking it as a given that we fuck only one way, only one person (forgetting the magnificent range of our spirit-mind-bodies).  In each scene, play emerges as central to this work: a pushing, exploring kind of play that perverts and subverts labels, tropes and the stories we tell ourselves: laughing inside the boxes before blowing them to smithereens.  This kind of play is not rule bound.  It has no set objectives.  In it, you can't rest easy inside the safety net of inherited frameworks.  To engage this play is to engage in the limit spaces, the pushing places, the often rocky and precarious terrain of the edge.  Engaging this risk amounts to nothing short of revolution: here, in this world, it is play that is the catalyst to change.

Far from being unaccountable or disconnected, the scenes we are given to see reveal a play that has trust and nearness at its root.  The camera is integral to this movement: far from feeling taken, each shot seems to knit itself more fully into the being of the body on the screen.  A together-work unfolds where the eye of the camera holds each body in a soft love that laps and licks at the skin it films, creating scenes that feel like holding spaces for the acts that go on inside them.  The intimacy of this kind of bearing witness radiates outward to encompass us as viewers who are called upon to see the movements inside the frames as well as to bear witness to the fact of a filmer filming-- to the fact of a framer, framed.

Knit into the heart of this work is a scene that starts slowly, marked by a shift in its sound.  One body moves forward and back across the floor toward another body poised over the back of a chair.  Of both, we see no faces as they engage in wrapping black cords that hang from the ceiling outside the frame around the flesh of the chair-bound body.  The movement is slow; the knots of the black ropes orderly, intricate.  When the tying is done, we are given to see both faces: one turned toward us, resting on the back of the chair, the other guiding fingers and then palms of muscled arms to snap into black rubber gloves, one on each hand.  Calmly, presently, the black-handed body begins to thread a feather through the skin on the backside of the other.  We see this first from the side: both bodies poised together, touching, joined by thread.  And then we watch closely, placed in the position of the sewer, as a thin, hooked needle pierces ass flesh skin and draws its thread through.

Out of fuzz fluff grey shafts, beautiful black brown feathers accumulate into a half circle, slowly being sewn into skin.  Perspective shifts and we are given to see the face of the one whose skin we have come to know.  The camera is near and so we are privy to a slow blink, a slow movement of an eyelid covering the eye beneath it, resting there, and opening again.  This is how close the camera stays.  This is how close the camera asks us to stay with it.  We watch breath pulled deliberately into lungs that rise and fall the chest plate, calmly, powerfully, conscious.  Again the camera smoothes slowly over the clear-eyed, feathered, body and the sewer fans the feathers into the ass crown that they have become.

In this scene, we are invited into the kinship we are watching.  In this scene, we are given a tiny taste of what this being in the body means: even as we watch, we are brought back into our own bodies--needing to breathe, feeling the flutter in the belly as needle pierces skin, perhaps feeling heat rise into cheeks, armpits.  Just as we have been watching a space knit through with commitment, this scene tests also our willingness to commit.  The two bodies that move through it are unflinchingly courageous.  The camera does not shy or refuse to show us this limit-experience.  The question that haunts is: what does it mean to let yourself look away?  In this space of intimacy, staying-with is the part we are called upon to play, the part we are invited to see is both possible and joining.

As each scene washes over us, every one in its own way stands as a testament to this community and to its commitment.  As the credits roll, the film dedicates itself to the queerest of the queer, past, present, future: to the ineffable becoming, to the infinite unfolding of the change.