Articles

Following Vito Acconci

by Claire Breukel on December 14, 2011

Vito Acconci, Following Piece, performed in New York City between October 3 and 25, 1969. (photograph © Vito Acconci 2008) and “Vito Acconci” in my neighborhood. (Photo courtesy the author)

Following Piece is one of Acconci’s early works [done in 1969 on the streets of New York City]. The underlying idea was to select a person from the passers-by who were by chance walking by and to follow the person until he or she disappeared into a private place where Acconci could not enter. The act of following could last a few minutes, if the person then got into a car, or four or five hours, if the person went to a cinema or restaurant. Acconci carried out this performance everyday for a month. And he typed up an account of each pursuit, sending it each time to a different member of the art community.  Sourced from medienkunstnetz.de

Vito Acconci spotted in transit. Photo courtesy the author.

I pass Vito Acconci on the way to the subway perhaps two to three times a week at random times. I know his studio is in my neighborhood, but I haven’t figured out his route or his schedule. Not that I’ve made an effort to follow him as that would feel like copying his performance. I’m truly just an ardent admirer, and when I see him I do get a little art-star struck — in the contemporary art arena Vito Acconci could be equated to the Robert De Niro of the acting world. No one else seems to notice him. He is understated and wears dark colors, mostly jeans and a black T-shirt with the occasional grey jacket and always the shoulder bag.

He said in an interview with Designboom, “I have many decisions in life to make and so my clothing is all the same.” It sounds like he is pragmatic in his thinking, which makes the prospect of actually talking to him daunting. In fact I’ve been wanting to introduce myself as a fellow art world-ee but cant think of a significant enough opening line that would not sound trite or overly zealous.

Acconci’s contribution to the art field has been immense and his performances broke ground with their provocations, confronting audiences and forcing them to bare witness to a range of his activities from a video of him kicking a hole in beach sand while he progressively disappears into it in “Digging Piece” to pulling out the hair on his stomach and chest in”Openings.” His most talked about work however is “Seedbed” (1971), which was performed under a ramp at  Sonnabend Gallery and involved the artist masturbating while describing over a loudspeaker the fantasies he was having about the visitors walking above him. The viewer was implicated in the activity by manipulated happenstance. Since then Acconci has performed and created numerous videos exploring first a personal space and them moving in to the articulation of the self in relation to surrounding social and cultural environments.

Vito Acconci on the plane from Miami to New York. Photo courtesy the author.

It’s Monday morning, the day after Art Basel Miami Beach and I spot Acconci leaning over the American Airlines counter. He is on my flight and sits in economy two seats behind me. He had been in Miami as part of a panel discussion “No Boundaries: Art Architecture and Sound” moderated by Miami Herald architecture critic Beth Dunlop. Acconci spoke about his career as an architect and landscape designer. He has transitioned from art almost completely it seems to architecture since the founding of Acconci Studio in 1988 and he has been designing projects specifically for public spaces.

Seeing him at the airport makes me think of his 1998 sculpture project “Walkways Through the Wall” at the Midwest (now Frontier) Airlines Center. Acconci collaborated with a group of architects to join the exterior and interior spaces from one end to the other with a concrete, steel and light box sculptural form lining its walls and providing seating on the curled up ends of its structure. In line with his artwork theme the conceptual framework of this work and many of his other architectural and landscape design pursuits is activating public space and engaging people in physical as well as psychological space.

Seeing Acconci every week, even though I have not spoken to him yet, affirms to me that art celebrities are a part of everyday life and engage with public space. Even though he will surely be written into the history books, it is reassuring to know in this time of celebrity ostentation, Acconci takes the subway, flies economy and works in a studio a few blocks down the road.

 

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