Interviewed by: Suzan Sherman and Daniel Wentworth
Shot and edited by: Melissa Friedling/Slouch Productions

The Artist’s Life: Vito Acconci

A majority of artists spend their lives attempting to master a particular medium—be it painting, sculpture, film, et. al.—but Vito Acconci, who turned 71 this year, initially began his creative life as a poet in the 1960s. A decade later, Acconci switched his attention to installation- and performance art, for which he remains best known. In the video Theme Song (1973), he attempts to seductively coax the viewer into joining him, as if penetrating the video screen were a possibility; in his performance Seedbed (1971), he masturbated for eight hours a day beneath the floorboards of the Sonnabend Gallery.

In another huge creative leap, he founded Acconci Studio in 1988. Though Acconci has no formal architectural training, he works with a group of architects and designers to hone a collective vision of futuristic possibilities of where we might dwell and work, and what we might wear while doing so.

Acconci welcomed us into his studio, dressed head to toe in his standard black. While sipping a mug of Lipton tea, he spent the afternoon reflecting on his vast span of work over the last fifty years. Polite, articulate, forward-thinking, and always verging on the philosophical, his enthusiasm about design, which he defined as art on and around people, was contagious. His goal, he told us, is to design objects and spaces that respond to, rather than dictate, users’ behavior. “I know a lot of people in an art context who think, why would I want to do this? Isn’t art more interesting than design? I guess I don’t think that, because I think design is art in the middle of people, or it’s art that people can have as part of their person.” 

Born in the Bronx in 1940, Vito Acconci received a B.A. in literature from the College of the Holy Cross in 1962 and an M.F.A. in literature and poetry from the University of Iowa. Acconci began his career as a poet, co-editing 0 TO 9 with Bernadette Mayer in the late 1960s, then shifted his creative practice to focus on performance, photography, and video. In 1988, Acconci founded the architecture and design firm Acconci Studio, which is responsible for innovative projects around the world, including an artificial island in Graz, Austria; a building in Tokyo; and, closer to home, the West 8th Street-New York Aquarium subway station in Coney Island. Current projects include a portable retractable roof, an interactive tunnel in Indianapolis,a meditation park in The Netherlands, and a plaza in Santiago, Chile.

Amy Aronoff
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