Reading the Liminal: An Interview with A.K. Burns

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Reading the Liminal: An Interview with A.K. Burns

Astonished and beguiled is how I felt that first afternoon I spent with Touch Parade in 2012, at the Sculpture Center in New York. It is a priceless opportunity that living in New York affords: to see a work inhabit different spaces at different times. How an artist adapts an installation to an existing space conveys so much information about the flexibilities and constraints within that work. As if casting movements for the human body, A.K. Burns developed Touch Parade as a five-channel video installation. It’s currently included in A Different Kind of Order: The ICP Triennial, on view until September 22, 2013.

Artist, educator, and pleasure activist, Burns worked each video for Touch Parade through a persistent refrain of tactility. We first discover the feel of the world through the sense of touch, a sense that not only questions and confirms texture, shape, and stability, but also tests willingness. Can we separate touch from being an extension of the body? For this work, Burns reperforms YouTube videos that don’t immediately register as the ambiguous fetish works that they are. Crushing food with sneakers, popping a balloon, driving barefoot, sporting rubber gloves, or wading around in mud—none of these activities are (to outsiders) recognizable as arousing material. But to those who make and/or seek these videos, such seemingly banal activities are choreographed and performed to engage desire.

While preparing for a solo show at Callicoon Fine Arts in September, Burns welcomed me into their studio, where we talked about the criteria for Touch Parade, the culture of crush videos, and how representations of gender play out in a subculture for which literacy remains liminal (for now). 

This is Part 2 of a two-part series with two artists working the spectrum of contemporary pleasure and intellect, where collaboration, politics, and the sense of touch directly critique various degrees of social acceptability. Part 1 with Aura Rosenberg was posted last week.


A.K. Burns, Touch Parade (squeeze-2-pop), 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Callicoon Fine Arts, NY.

Patricia: Even though I was looking at a video installation, your work made me think of sculpture more than anything.
A.K. Burns: I think about sculpture alot. Whether my work is overtly sculptural or not, I often make from and think about the body first. Both the physical and social body are important to