‘Deep fist at the Modern’
in Bound together
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This chapter discusses Fred Halsted’s pornographic leather film, L.A. Plays Itself (1972), and traces its editing and exhibition history. Composed of two dissimilar sections—one focusing on urban cruising and fisting and the other on penetrative sex in the natural grandeur of the Malibu hills—Halsted switched the ordering of these sections in the early years of the film’s history. His 1974 screening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and his subsequent gift of L.A. Plays Itself and two other films to the museum, became a point of pride for the director, who may have reordered his film to suit the narratives of Modernism pervasive in the museum’s permanent collection installations. Decades later, the artists A. K. Burns and A. L. Steiner watched Halsted’s film in MoMA’s screening room and it inspired the pair to make their own pornographic art video (also now owned by MoMA), Community Action Center (2010). In a sequence of polymorphously perverse scenes, Burns and Steiner directly quote L.A. Plays Itself and incorporate its gritty, experimental attitude with lesbian-feminist, queer, and trans performers and sources, assembling a heterogeneous pornographic archive in the process.

Bound together

Leather, sex, archives, and contemporary art

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