Outtakes: Artists A.L. Steiner and A.K. Burns on Bodies, Identities, and Alternative Economies


From A.L. Steiner and A.K. Burns' film "Community Action Center."
By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly

Artists A.K. Burns and A.L. Steiner are coming to Portland this weekend for the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) symposium “Bodies, Identities, and Alternative Economies” June 21-24.

They will be screening their film “Community Action Center,” which PICA describes as “a unique womyn-centric composition that serves as both an ode and a hole-filler, a hedonistic and distinctly political adventure.”

PQ chatted with the artists in advance of their visit to learn more about the film and their thoughts on queer art. You can read more about the upcoming symposium here.


PQ Monthly: What inspired Community Action Center?

A.K. Burns and A.L. Steiner: We initiated the project as an ode to: feminism, gay liberation, feminist performance art of the 60s’ and 70s’, queer performance art of the 80s’ and 90s’, 70s’ gay male porn, arthouse erotic and video art, tropes of contemporary dyke culture, drag queens, witches, lesbian separatists, radical fairies, the people closest to us–our extended community of queers and as a hole-filler in the niche of queer-transfeminist porn

PQ: How would you define sociosexual? How is it different from porn, or is it?

Burns and Steiner: It’s different by merely giving it another name by which to watch it, process it, experience it, understand it, enjoy it. It’s porn by another name, art by another name, art porn by another name. Sex requires a politicization of bodies; queer sex points to assumptions made by hetero-normative sexuality. We see CAC as an experiment in sexual creativity. The term ‘pornography’ derives from a ‘commercial exchange’ of/for sex. That is not explicitly our goal; our goal was to make a sexually explicit document with an autonomous womyn-centric vision and to share it in various group settings. For more details, download our zine, Cliffs Notes on Community Action Center pdf at: www.akburns.net/zine_CAC_sm.pdf

PQ: How does your work tie in with the themes of Bodies, Identities and Alternative Economies?

Burns and Steiner: In so many ways: whether collaboratively or individually via the production of content and forms of queer-centric non-patriarchal representation; a recognition that intimacy, emotions and sexual relations are forms of libidinal exchange and therefore a potent economic models; our co-founding/co-organizing with W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy); and our lifelong dedication to feminism as a lived practice.

PQ: How would you define alternative economies and what does that have to do with art?

Burns and Steiner: There are very rare occasions where a society is utilizing a singular economic structure. In the US, we’re utilizing multiple economies- capitalist, late-capitalist, socialist, communal, barter/trade, gift economies. Economy is essential a word to broadly describe methods of exchange. The fallacy is in believing the dogma of any one socio-economic structure, or to impose a singular option on others. ‘Alternative economy’ is a belief in autonomous agency to engage in economic options in various ways, as well as invent new ones. It is an attempt to parse out possibility, the multiplicity of what is current and what is possible.
We could easily say the same for art: it is an attempt to parse out possibility, the multiplicity of what is current and what is possible. We could propose that art is an alternative economy?

PQ: In what ways does your work invite audience participation?

Burns and Steiner: We’re mostly hoping to be ‘inviting’. Our goal is to engage you. With pleasure or disdain. The piece can only be viewed communally and publically so it does require some effort on the part of the viewer to step away from their computer/ their home, from convenience and move their body with intention to a location to be amongst a group of people with whom they will share the viewing experience.

PQ: What does it mean to create queer art?

Burns and Steiner: Queer can be defined based solely on one’s sexual inclinations, practices or experimentations, or socio-culturally as falling outside/pushing against the normative, even questioning the possibility of ‘normative’. Our art practices tend to traverse a continuum between those places, sometimes falling within one or the other, or both.

PQ: What does your creative process look like?

Burns and Steiner: So serious it’s ridykeulous.

PQ: What are you most looking forward to?

Burns and Steiner: pLEZure and an end to war.

PQ: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

Burns and Steiner: We will be showing Community Action Center at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh on July 27, and in the meantime, preparing various individual and collaborative projects in our east-west coast continuum.

PQ: Can you recommend a “summer reading” book?

Steiner: Laurie Weeks’ Zippermouth + Anna Joy Springer’s The Vicious Red Relic Love + Eileen Myles’ Inferno — a holy trinity.

Burns: I’d have to ditto those recommendation and throw in some old favorites: Wait for Me At the Bottom of the Pool, the writings of Jack Smith + The Screwball Asses, Guy Hocquenghem + The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde.