Strat Coffman: The Railings

One of six installations for the digital exhibition by winners of the 2024 League Prize.

Three rails sit in a three-walled room. The room is roughly square, the floor lined with off-white tiles, slightly askew. Either the tiles are giving away the slant of the walls, or vice versa. A faux stone siding clothes the walls. A drain is planted in the floor just off center. The fourth side of the room opens onto a larger darkened room, divided by rows of small booths. A tidy well-worn labyrinth.

The steel rails glint in the dim LED buzz of the interior. Each sits at a different height. One at sixteen inches, just under typical knee height. The other at twenty six inches above the floor. A center rail at thirty six inches, and placed at a distance from the lowest rail so that you can lean forward and rest your elbows while kneeling on the other rail. From the other side, you can sit on the rail and lean back at about sixty degrees, a noncommittal recline. This rail is about thirty inches from the nearest wall, about the length of a slightly bent leg.

It’s around 11:30 am on a Monday. I’m padding the rails with sofa-sized purplish cushions. The cushions bulge and flex as I tighten the straps, choking them snugly around the rails. Some of the regulars are milling around in towels. Over the Euro pulse of “Rapture [feat. Nadia Ali]” bumping through the humid air, one asks me, “What is this?” Annoyingly I flip the question back at him, “What do you think it is?” He shrugs and wanders off. As more bodies walk by and ask versions of the same question, I try out versions of an answer. It’s a multipurpose play bench. It’s some new equipment. A stretching bar. A workout space. A resting lounge. A conference room? For you to decide.

Several decades ago this building in northwest Detroit housed a tool and die business. Now it holds an occupancy permit for a private club called Body Zone. Its Instagram profile describes it as a “Members Only Male Health Club,” which captures something about the clientele without naming it. Often operating in the gray folds of legal ordinances and urban areas, spaces of intimacy like Body Zone have always juggled many roles at once: lounge, video theater, live performance venue, dance club, STI clinic, gym…. Bette Midler infamously got her start performing live musical numbers at the Continental Baths in New York City in the 1970s. Body Zone has a tanning booth and a billiards table, which is the city inspectors’ special object of obsession (a billiards table requires its own special clearance perimeter, according to Detroit zoning ordinances).

As the cushions get strapped around these rails, and unstrapped, piled, hung, folded, and rolled, The Railings flirts with multiple uses. Its function remains conveniently open to interpretation, to club members and city officials alike, inviting play with different acts under the cover of its ambiguity. It finds here a zone to the side of named positions and legal labels, a zone for “a certain social excess.”1Samuel R. Delany, Times Square Red Times Square Blue, New York: New York University Press, 1999, pp. 90.

In the hall around the corner, a video monitor, usually reserved for showing adult content, plays a sisterly work by the performer, digital artist, and clown Carlos Sanchez. View the video.


Strat Coffman
Upholestery Nancy Lynch (Side Stitches), assisted by Sabrina Ramsay, Valeria Velázquez, Sydney Sinclair
Supported by Body Zone