Vito Acconci: Performances Videos


Theme Song

33 minutes, 1973

The dynamic tension between 'I and you,' artist and viewer, is perhaps most brilliantly realised in 'Theme Song', a pivotal work. Here he uses the close-up to extraordinary effect, constructing a charged confrontation with the viewer. Acconci is 'face to face,' his head looming onto the screen. With a disquieting intimacy, he shifts between vulnerability and manipulation, candour and seduction, in a pop song driven 'come-on' to the viewer. While Acconci's monologues often refer specifically to women, 'Theme Song' is effective precisely because the 'you' here is un-gendered, non-specific, universal: 'You could be anybody out there.' Describing a relationship of trust and deception, Acconci ultimately acknowledges that the notion of being 'face to face' is, after all, a rather pathetic illusion: 'I can feel your body right next to me...I know I'm only kidding myself...You're not here'

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21 minutes,

Pryings is a video recording of a performance by Vito Acconci in public with Kathy Dillon at a New York university. The artist shows a situation in which he is trying by force to open the eyes of the woman who stubbornly persists in keeping them closed. The camera follows the action of the couple by focusing on the chests of two of the protagonists. He pulls at her eyelids while she keeps her eyes shut tight. She tilts her head forwards and backwards, but he takes it in his hands and straightens it again. When her long hair covers her face, Vito Acconci sweeps it away with one hand and keeps the woman against him with the other. He pulls on her skin again and one eye opens, but the woman hides her iris by turning her eyes in their orbits. The white eye sees nothing. She struggles, pulling with her the body of the artist who holds her by the shoulders. The couple's tension is a source of emotion. The live soundtrack gives an idea of their movements and, in particular, Vito Acconci's breathing becomes louder with the physical effort. This struggle represents tensions - rather than oppositions - in couples of forces: feminine/masculine, open/closed. Vito Acconci experiments with the action of one individual aware of the other (open to the outside) on an individual closed in on herself. The non-resolution of this situation highlights the resources used in the performance. In Vito Acconci’s conception and the logic initiated by his introspective actions - filmed in Super 8 - the performance has physical resources, the body as place or medium, and a clearly delimited space. Pryings is a representation of the performance as an artistic process and medium, and a metaphor of the idea "opening someone's eyes". Thérèse Beyler

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Open Book

9'10", 1971

Acconci's open mouth is framed by the camera in an extreme close-up, bringing the viewer uncomfortably close. A desperate sense of strained urgency comes across as Acconci gasps, "I'll accept you, I won't shut down, I won't shut you out.... Im open to you, I'm open to everything.... This is not a trap, we can go inside, yes, come inside...." Acconci continues to plead in this way for the length of the tape, his mouth held unnaturally wide open. The pathological psychology of such enforced openness betrays a desperate struggle to accept and be accepted by others. The sustained image of Acconci's open mouth also evidences a sinister, vaguely threatening streak that is more or less evident in much of Acconci's work.

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Undertone (excerpt)

9' 15", 1972

In this now infamous tape, exemplary of his early transgressive performance style, Acconci sits and relates a masturbatory fantasy about a girl rubbing his legs under the table. Carrying on a rambling dialogue that shifts back and forth between the camera/spectator and himself, Acconci sexualizes the implicit contract between performer and viewer - the viewer serving as a voyeur who makes the performance possible by watching and completing the scene, believing the fantasy.

"In a visual style of address exactly equivalent to the presidential address, the face-to-face camera regards The Insignificant Man making the Outrageous Confession that is as likely as not to be an Incredible Lie. Who can escape the television image of Nixon?" - David Antin, "Television: Video's Frightful Parent," Artforum (December 1975)

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