The great Vito Acconci let us into his studio in Dumbo (Brooklyn) for a conversation. During which he went over his history as an artist and his current projects.
AF: Forty years ago your work “Diary of a Body 1969–1973” conquered worldwide attention: two hundred performances prepared and catalogued in perfect detail. Has the time passed since then changed anything in your performances?
VA: From those years I can recall the Vietnam War. It was an event that shook me internally and definitively altered my view of the United States. It took the mask off our government’s cowardly face. The central driving force behind my series of performances originated in my indignation towards our public administration.
AF: Are you telling me that your public masturbations had an especially political cause?
VA: Solely political.
AF: Are there any interesting performers at present?
VA: Doing performances, today, no longer makes any sense. They’re pointless and I can’t see the motives of anyone who does them. I can’t give any names because I don’t know anyone. I’m totally ignorant about today’s art.
AF: And why should today’s art deserve to be ignored?
VA: It’s become a business for the few, rich men’s stuff. I’m interested in being at the center of something and with art it’s no longer possible, whilst, on the other hand, it’s something that can occur by doing architecture and design. By creating new architectonic spaces you can manage to reach everyone.
AF: Let’s talk about New York architecture then. You were born and grew up in the Bronx and then you moved to Brooklyn. How has your city’s body altered?
VA: We certainly can’t say that New York’s body has become more beautiful. You only need to think about the ugly blot of the new tower at Ground Zero.
AF: Ugly blot?
VA: Symmetry is a mistake. It’s a project that’s out of date. It’s a classical construction and this is not the historical period suited to this type of work. And, moreover, it’s out of place. They’ve chosen a height worthy of the Guinness Book of Records, that’s notably worsened the view of the skyline. It’s obvious that the view’s worse than before.
AF: Is it possible to still imagine a future for an art with zero technological impact?
VA: Sure it’s possible but I can well see creative people’s attraction towards the New Media. It’s natural that they manage to attract lots of creative, that is curious, minds. The virtual world is a wonderful entity. In general, I’m surprised that the way of using the Pc has changed little in comparison with its early days. I was expecting it to evolve differently.
AF: In what direction?
VA: Can you see this screen? When I work on a Pc, it’s only in front of me. I was expecting an evolution towards machines and screens all around a man and not just in front of him.
AF: How much time emerging artists need to devote to the promotion of their works, mixing with curators and finding a space in museums.
VA: Museums are really false places. You can’t touch anything, just look. As if all the works were just visual. With a work of art, the most important sense is hearing. Great works make a noise.
AF: Regarding the other part of the question: what would you advise someone asking you whether it’s useful to be one’s own PR representative?
VA: I grew up in a totally different period. At the beginning of my career I certainly wasn’t thinking about promoting what I was doing. Public relations is an activity which I’ve never thought was worth anything. Perhaps it’s different today. I don’t know what to reply. I told you: I’m not watching what happens these days.
AF: Your first art was poetry. Why did you stop writing?
VA: I never stopped writing. When I write a project, I consider it a crucial creative moment. I really think that writing is the thing I know how to do best.
AF: Do you every so often have a look at the poems you wrote as a young man?
VA: And why should I? I know where they are and what’s written there. I don’t need to.
AF: Why you stopped doing Body Art?
VA: I need to change. I’m not interested in becoming an expert in something. I like trying to do things I never did before. I can’t understand all this curiosity about activities going back thirty or fifty years. Absurd. Why?
AF: You’re not exactly someone who likes looking at his past…
VA: I blew my past.
VA: Sure. I like to keep my attention for my coming projects. Towards the future.
AF: And what projects does Vito Acconci’s future foresee?
VA: We’re about to inaugurate a tunnel in Swarm Street, in the city of Indianapolis. The uniqueness of the installation rests in the lighting, which follows the cars and people when they go through it. From above, from beneath and from the sides the lights follow the movements of anyone going through it.
AF: A project at a seminal stage that you’d like to talk about?
VA: A bridge in Tasmania. It will be like a river delta.
AF: How does an idea by Vito Acconci reach fruition? Do you do it all on your own or do you use a team?
VA: Architecture is a team game. For the most part it’s a question of solving technical problems and letting one’s vision get concretely achieved. I like discussing with my assistants, arguing if necessary. Lots of winning ideas can be born from conflict.
AF: Are there any drawings you can let me see?
VA: They’re here on the table. The bridge is a route that can vary. Do you see?
AF: Can we publish them or are they still confidential material?
VA: Go ahead and show them. I can do you a copy of them. And I’ll put an arrow. That way you can see the direction of each of them. Here, you’re welcome to take them.
Interview by Alessandro Berni