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Vito Acconci: I hated the word

artist
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RandyKennedywritesaprofileonthedelightfullyoutspokenartistand
architectVitoAcconci,whoisthesubjectofanupcomingretrospectiveat
MoMAPS1.KennedywritesaboutAcconci'stransitionfrompoettoartistto
architectaswellashismajorperformancepieces.Thedescriptionofhis
infamous"Seedbed"(1972)wasparticularlyinteresting.WhereasIthoughtthe
piecewasacommentonprivate/publicspace,itreallysprangfromAcconci's
interestinetymology.Kennedywrites,"Theideafortheactunderthefloor
aroselinguistically,afterheturnedtoathesaurustofindsynonymsfortheword
foundationandwasstruckbythepoetryofseedbed.Andinconstructing
thefloor,hewasalreadybeginningtoexplorehisinterestsinarchitectureand
publicspace,inthiscaseaspaceinwhichhecouldmergewiththebuilding,
ceasingtobeadiscretehumanpresenceandbecominginsteadakindof

quantumfield."
Seetheprofileinpartialbelow,orthefullversionviaNewYorkTimes.
Ihatedthewordartist,hesaid.Tome,evenintheyearswhenIwas
showingthingsingalleries,itseemedtomethatIdidntreallyhave
anythingtodowithart.Theworditselfsounded,andstillsoundstome,like
highart,andthatwasneverwhatIsawmyselfdoing.
Asfarastheartworldwasconcerned,hisleapintoarchitecturedesigns
forthingslikepublicparks,airportrestareasandamanmadeislandwas
almostasifMr.Acconcidecidedtoenterthewitnessprotectionprogram.
Buthedisappearedrightintheartworldsmidst,continuingtoteach back to e-flux.com
generationsofartstudents(atBrooklynCollegeandatPrattInstitute)
workinginacluttered,booksaturatedstudioinDumbo,Brooklynand
lecturingsooftenovertheyearsthathisshamblingeccentricpresence
hislongunrulyhair,hisallblackwardrobe,hisgravelbedvoicewithits
distinctivelopingstutterand,beforehequit,theendlesscigaretteshewould
lightandstuboutandlightagainbecameakindofongoingworkin
itself.
BornintheBronxintoaCatholicItalianfamily,theoverprotectedonlyson
ofabathrobemanufacturerandamotherwholaterworkedinapublic
schoolcafeteria,Mr.Acconcicameofageinthepoliticallyagitatedyears
whenartistsbegantryingtofindwaysaroundthemakingandsellingof
objects.Theyturnedtotheirbodies,theirideasandtheiractionsasthe
currencyofanewrealm.AlongwithpeerslikeChrisBurden,AdrianPiper,
DanGrahamandValieExport,Mr.Acconcibeganconceivingand
documentingperformancesatarateofsometimesoneadayinwhathe
calledakindoffeverin1969thatwereconductedonthestreetsorfor
audiencessosmallthattheyseemedalmostnottohavehappened.
InMr.Acconciscase,theworkgrewoutofanexperienceasanaspiring
poetandfictionwriterwhosefascinationwiththephysicalspaceofthepage
eventuallyledoutintotheworld.In1962,inthralltopostmodernwriters
likeAlainRobbeGrilletandJohnHawkes,heenrolledinthegraduate
writingprogramattheUniversityofIowa,takingalongwithhimashort
storyhehadwritten,titledRunAround,thatwhenreadanonymouslyin
theclassprovokedaminorriot.Itssubject,ahorrifyingsurrealistsculptural
vision,wasarecentlylimblessman.Itbegan:Theycuthimupandsince

thechairshadjustbeenvarnishedforthecelebration,hewassetdownona
giantfloorurn.Thechaliceshapedjarwaswaisthighformostpeople,but
notforRockram,becausehehadnolegs.
...
InSeedbed,(1972)undoubtedlyMr.Acconcisbestknownpiece,
whichhasinasenseunfairlyovershadowedmuchofhisotherworkhe
constructedanangledfalsefloorattheSonnebendGalleryinSoHoandhid
himselfbeneathitwithamicrophone,speakingluridlytothepeoplewho
walkedabovehim,masturbatingashespoke.Thepiecebecameatouchstone
ofperformanceartinpartbecauseofitssheer,outlandishaudacity.Butit
alsodrewaremarkablelinethroughthepreoccupationsthatbeganMr.
Acconciscareerandcarryituptothepresentday.Theideafortheact
undertheflooraroselinguistically,afterheturnedtoathesaurustofind
synonymsforthewordfoundationandwasstruckbythepoetryof
seedbed.Andinconstructingthefloor,hewasalreadybeginningto
explorehisinterestsinarchitectureandpublicspace,inthiscaseaspacein
whichhecouldmergewiththebuilding,ceasingtobeadiscretehuman
presenceandbecominginsteadakindofquantumfield.
Iwantedpeopletogothroughspacesomehow,nottohavepeopleinfront
ofspace,lookingatsomething,bowingdowntosomething,Mr.Acconci
saidoftheperformance.Iwantedspacepeoplecouldbeinvolvedin.
HollyBlock,theexecutivedirectoroftheBronxMuseum,which
commissionedanarchitecturalenvironmentfromhimin2009,said:Alot
ofpeopledontunderstandVitosturntoarchitecture,butIthinkhewanted
tobemoreambitiousandmakepiecesthatlivedintheworldandin
peopleslivesinadifferentwaythanartworksusuallydo,anditwasa
riskyandcourageousthingtodo.
*ImagefromthefilmSeedbed,byVitoAcconci,from1972.CreditAcconci
Studio,NewYork,andtheMuseumofModernArt