Vito Acconci

From his initial interests in experimental literature and poetry, with which he established a relationship of powerful physical and communicative intensity between the author and the spectator, Acconci, towards the end of the sixties, became involved in a direct confrontation with the public, moving from the space of the page to that of the gallery.
By elaborating obsessively intensive performances, the artist recorded his actions in a series of film and videos.
His first “threadbare” works express a search for strong, and at times even disturbing, physical and psychological impact with a series of performances recorded on film without sound. Almost at the same time, he embarked upon a more self-analytical phase, combined with a rereading of the audience-performer relationship, emphasizing forms of communication that go beyond conventional public-private confines. He developed a series of monologues similar to streams of consciousness, aimed at the spectator, thus assigning the works the descriptive title of the action that takes place.
In delving into the relationships between communicative closeness and violence, Acconci’s interest progressively moved towards describing interpersonal psychological states, arriving at cultural and political implications tied to the performance spaces and the places intended for these.
Through video and audio installations, starting in the second-half of the seventies, he explored the implications of the chosen exhibition context, reflecting on the spectator’s role.
From the early eighties, a newfound interest for sculpture has led him to challenge and question situations of a more participatory nature for the audience, thereby dedicating himself to works that are decidedly more architectural in nature. In an attentive dialogue with design, and landscape and public architecture, he founded Acconci Studio, a group of architects and city-planners with whom he collaborates on increasingly vaster urban interventions. [F.B.]

List of Works

Three Frame Studies, 1969
transferred from Super 8 film, black and white, color, silent, 10 min. 58 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In these three short studies, Acconci carries out a series of actions in which his gestures meet with various forms of physical resistance by testing the real and symbolic limits of the film frame space.

Applications, 1970
transferred from Super 8 film, color, silent, 19 min. 32 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Acconci’s body is literally covered with red signs, traces of lipstick from the kisses of female lips. The artist then rubs his body against another man.

Corrections, 1970
video, black and white, sound, 12 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Naked, his back to the camera, Acconci lights matches, one after the other, and tries to bring them near his shoulder, though each time causing small burns.

Open-Close, 1970
transferred from Super 8 film, color, silent, 6 min. 40 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In this brief study, the artist explores and tests a series of exercises of opening and closing his anus.

Openings, 1970
transferred from Super 8 film, black and white, silent, 14 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In a close-up and detailed shot of his stomach, the artist pulls out the hairs around his navel.

See Through, 1970
transferred from Super 8 film, color, silent, 5 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Seen from behind, Acconci concentrates on his mirror-reflected image. He then breaks the mirror, thereby eliminating his reflection.

Three Adaptation Studies, 1970
transferred from Super 8 film, black and white, silent, 8 min. 05 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In Blindfold Catching, Acconci, blindfolded, tries unsuccessfully to catch a series of balls that are thrown at him. In Soap & Eyes, he attempts to keep his eyes open, even though he has gotten soap in them, thus making him grimace in a grotesque way. In Hand and Mouth, he repeatedly tries to force a hand into his mouth, which his body violently rejects.

Three Relationship Studies, 1970
transferred from Super 8 film, black and white, color, silent, 12 min. 30 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Shadow-Play presents the artist bent on fighting against himself, sparring in a boxing match with his own shadow. In Imitations, he tries as accurately as possible to imitate the gestures and words of another person. In Manipulations, hidden behind a mirror but visible to the spectator, he seems to direct the gestures of a girl on the other side of the mirror.

Two Cover Studies, 1970
transferred from Super 8 film, color, silent, 7 min. 46 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In Scene Steal, the artist, completely dressed, tries to shield a naked girl, attempting to cover her. In Container, he wraps his naked body around a sleeping cat, as if to totally absorb it.

Two Takes, 1970
transferred from Super 8 film, black and white, silent, 9 min. 40 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In Grass/Mouth, the artist ingests grass until he chokes. In Hair/Mouth, he places himself behind a seated girl and tries to swallow her long hair.

Association Area, 1971
video, black and white, sound, 62 min. 13 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Acconci and a young man, both blindfolded and wearing earplugs, intuitively try to imitate each other’s movements, while an off-screen voice offers some suggestions the two performers cannot hear.

Centers, 1971
video, black and white, sound, 22 min. 28 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Focusing obsessively on the tip of his index finger, placed precisely at the center of the monitor, Acconci develops a rigorous and disorienting analysis of the relationship between viewer and actor, inverting and reversing the terms of active action and passive reception.

Claim Excerpts, 1971
video, black and white, sound, 60 min. 20 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Blindfolded and armed with a metal pipe at the bottom of a flight of stairs, the artist, all alone, obsessively repeats to himself and to others that he wants to be left alone.

Contacts, 1971
video, black and white, sound, 29 min. 47 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Immobile and blindfolded, Acconci stands naked before a girl who slowly comes close to him, though without touching him. At the height of concentration, Acconci tries to intuit the areas of potential contact.

Filler, 1971
video, black and white, sound, 29 min. 16 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Acconci lies on the floor, facing the camera, but at the same time is hidden behind a large cardboard box. The long silence is interrupted only by the repeated coughing that shakes him.

Waterways: 4 Saliva Studies, 1971
video, black and white, sound, 22 min. 25 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Through a series of saliva-producing techniques, Acconci re-creates and associates artistic production to natural biological secretion.

Conversions, 1971
transferred from Super 8 film, black and white, silent, 65 min. 30 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In three slow and planned exercises, Acconci manipulates, plays with, and alters parts of his body in order to suggest anatomical transformations, thereby simulating the other sex.

Pick-Up, 1971
transferred from Super 8 film, color, silent, 16 min. 50 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Completely blindfolded, bent over, and concentrating intently, Acconci attempts to intuit the movements of the hands of the person in front of him.

Remote Control: Parts I & II, 1971
two-channel video installation, black and white, sound, 62 min. each
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The artist and a girl find themselves inside a wooden box in two separate spaces. The artist has a monitor and a microphone through which he can observe and control the girl.

Face to Face, 1972
transferred from Super 8 film, color, silent, 15 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In a performance entirely centered on his own face, and without ever using forms of verbal communication, the artist explores the connections between facial expressions and their psychological and narrative resonance.

Face-Off, 1973
video, black and white, sound, 32 min. 57 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Seated before a tape recorder playing previously-recorded tapes in which he relates secret details about his private life, Acconci reacts to and tries to drown out the stream of taped confessions, revealing himself in a continuous and conflicting play of reticence and exhibitionism.

Command Performance, 1974
video, black and white, sound, 56 min. 40 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Acconci, lying on his back so that the audience cannot see him, progressively abandons himself to a sort of extended confession in which he expresses thoughts and doubts regarding the expectations of the public and his performance activity. He occasionally invites the listener to take his place.

Face of the Earth, 1974
video, color, sound, 22 min. 18 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In an extended, intense, and increasingly hypnotic tale, Acconci, his face in extreme close-up and almost always covered by his hands, evocatively describes a solitary figure traveling towards the frontier of the Far West, thus creating a refined verbal and sound orchestration of actions and explorations.

Shoot, 1974
video, color, sound, 10 min. 18 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In a crescendo of theatrical forcefulness, Acconci strings together descriptions and memories of his origins, of his being an American citizen, alternating these with onomatopoeic sounds of explosions, shaking his penis and creating a never-before-seen and pitiless revision of the American Dream.

Artworks