Vito Acconci was a well-known American performer, video, and installation artist whose work later expanded into sculpture, architectural design, and landscape design. He worked across mediums and disciplines during his decades-long career, beginning as an experimental poet before achieving prominence in the art world with his boundary-pushing performances. Acconci was also a visionary performance and installation artist in his early career, who transitioned to architecture and furniture design in the 1980s, believing that to effectively touch society, one needed to build products that were “part of the world”. Acconci, a firm believer in architectural theory, thought that his unbuilt works were just as significant as his built ones because only by pushing the boundaries of architecture could a future route for the discipline be paved. 

Poetry

Acconci’s interest in radical poetry began in the late 1960s, but by the late 1970s, he had begun to construct Situationist-influenced street or small-audience performances that explored the body and public space. Two of his most well-known works are Following Piece (1969), in which he chose random passers-by on New York City streets and followed them for as long as he could, and Seedbed (1972), in which he claimed to have masturbated while under a temporary floor at the Sonnabend Gallery while visitors walked above and heard him speak.

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Vito Acoonci_©theartstory.org

Philosophy

Acconci was most known for his provocative performance art that blurred barriers between public and private, consenting and nonconsensual, and the real world and art world. It’s tough to imagine a career path similar to his current one. Today, several of his works would be unthinkable in a museum. Audiences may not be willing to put up with them. Laurie Anderson, Karen Finley, Bruce Nauman, Tracey Emin, and maybe an entire generation of artists were influenced by his early works.

Vito Acconci’s work as a writer, artist, and public architect has been defined by his ongoing interest in the printed page, the street/city, and the body. Understanding how Acconci invests these sites, importing and modifying the conventions of one to the other, requires understanding the notion of play. Games and play can be understood and elaborated upon at three levels in the context of his poetic and artistic work, often overlapping and engaging in close interaction: improvising; playing according to a set of existing or newly invented rules, with an element of parody involved; and playing as performance. As such, these definitions of play imply a perpetual struggle between limitation and freedom, tradition and reinvention, all of which are important aspects of Acconci’s always evolving creative work.

Ideology

Acconci was not satisfied with producing art objects for the general public’s impartial consumption in a typical art-viewing setting. Instead, he produced events, installations, and interactive contexts that broke down society’s conventional public-private divide. The artist pushed his art into a new level of intensity and affective involvement through sexuality and even aggression, sometimes with provocative gestures, such as masturbating beneath the floorboard on which the audience strolled, and sometimes with shocking candor in exposing his abjection and yearning. His art focused on his difficult psychology as a masculine subject within social circumstances, rather than sex as pornographic exposure.

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Body asubject_©blog.yalebooks.com

Architecture- Ideology

Acconci created artworks and public space initiatives that encouraged audience involvement and interaction among pedestrians, all while comprehending the relationship between space and politics, especially global geopolitics. He was essentially an experimental artist and also pursued his inventive ideas in the field of architecture. His practice evolved into sculptural interventions and urban projects beginning in the 1980s, furthering his interest in the human body and its relationship to public space. In the early 1980s, his architectural games produced performative spaces for spectators to participate in, resulting in the creation and destruction of home prototypes. In 1988, he formed the Acconci Studio, a collaborative architectural company that treats architecture as an opportunity for engagement and creates places that are fluid, flexible, and movable.

Notable works

Photography and Performance

Acconci’s work is characteristic of performance and conceptual art created during this period in that he utilizes his body as the object of his art to explore a certain topic. Following Piece was primarily concerned with the language of our bodies, not in a secret, but in a very public way. Acconci exposed his motions to the movements of others by randomly picking passers-by until they entered a private area, demonstrating how our bodies are always vulnerable to external influences that we may or may not be able to control.

Between 1969 and 1974, he made over 200 theoretically organized pieces that, despite their simplicity in setup, sought a direct psychological encounter with the observer. Acconci uses stream-of-consciousness monologues to create an intensive interaction between his body and mind, the ‘I’ and the ‘you,’ public and private space, in his conceptual, performance-based films and audio works. He bothers the audience, keeps him or her on edge, and dares them to look, remain looking, or leave. In works such as ‘Command Performance,’ the artist places himself in close-ups by continually shifting his physical posture from video to video.

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Following_©Artsy.com

Architecture

Instant House

Instant House was a gallery installation that consisted of a swing attached to pulleys that, when a visitor sat on it, raised four walls. Four framed US flags make a cross on the floor. Their main point is a swing hung from the ceiling. The flags are affixed to a central wooden structure that is linked to the swing in the middle via wires. When someone sits on the swing, they trigger a mechanism that raises the flags and builds the house’s walls. The flags feature strategic cut-outs that act as the house’s door and windows. The exterior walls of the built home display the USSR flag, which the person sitting on the swing cannot see. As a result, the inhabitants are ignorant of the disparity between the inside and exterior: they are inside US walls while waving the USSR flag to the other audience members. When the individual gets off the swing, the flags fall to the ground and return to their original place.

Muriel (Mur Island)

The project was conceived by Graz local curator Robert Punkenhofer and implemented by the Acconci Studio as part of the cultural campaign “Graz 2003: Cultural Capital of Europe.” Murinsel is a man-made floating island located in the middle of the Mur River in Graz, Austria. The island also acts as a link between the city’s two sides, with two footbridges linking both riverbanks. When viewed from a distance, the massive steel structure, which measures 47 meters in length, resembles a big seashell or possibly a UFO.

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Mur Island_©Dezeen

The artist’s early work was entwined with an endeavor to bring art face to face with life and to instill a heightened awareness of human vulnerability—as well as with a young man’s desire to establish a name for himself. Acconci, a firm believer in architectural theory, thought that his unbuilt works were just as significant as his built ones because only by pushing the boundaries of architecture could a future route for the discipline be paved. Acconci Studio’s significant completed projects include the Storefront for Art and Architecture transformable façade (built-in conjunction with Steven Holl) and the Island in the Mur, an extraordinary structure that acted as a bridge, theatre, cafe, and playground all at the same time.

References:

  1. Vito Acconci | Tag | ArchDaily
  2. Vito Acconci Paintings, Bio, Ideas | TheArtStory
  3. Vito Acconci and the Body as Medium | Yale University Press Blog (yalebooks.com)
  4. Vito Acconci – Wikipedia
Author

Currently a student of Architecture at the University of Sydney, Shristi Sainani is an artist and a certified interior designer. She is an absolute enthusiast for learning - an avid traveller, reader of anything non-fiction, a lifter! Yes, she could be your typical gym bro or even you local potter. But her all time favourite job is the one she’s doing now, for RTF— writing about architecture!

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