Vito Acconci lecturing at MOCCA (Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, 952 Queen West), November 10. Co-presented by Pleasure Dome.
I'm listening to 70s performance art enfant terrible Vito Acconci, speaking in his gravelly ashtray baritone and looking like Roberto Benigni's older, wilder brother. We're at MOCCA, where he's giving a talk on what he's been doing since he earned a permanent spot in contemporary art history.
He got that status by using his body as object, subject and point of departure. Working from the radical ideas of Situationism, Acconci has used poetry, minimalist sound pieces, film and video, installation and even landscape to mess with conventional notions of space.
I can't figure out why he's so puzzled by the attention his early work continues to receive. Think of Seedbed, performed at New York's Sonnabend Gallery, in which he lay naked, hidden from view under a wooden ramp, masturbating and intoning his amplified sexual fantasies about the gallery-goers in the space.
This is the essential preoccupation of his work: the intensely personal territory of the body, the strictly codified world of public space and the grey areas between them.
Paradoxically, these concerns have led to his designs for serene and innovative public spaces that have earned international acclaim.
Since 1988, his design firm, Acconci Studio, has worked on a range of urban projects, including an inside-out clothing store in Tokyo, landscaping for Seattle's Washington Stadium and a synthetic island in the middle of the Austria's Graz River featuring a café with a distorted mirrored bathroom to prepare occupants "for being drunk."
Toronto is next. His visit here coincides with his first Canadian commission, for the perimeter of the new Water Park City development at the foot of Bathurst.
At MOCCA, the video loops of Acconci Studio projects have the feel of his earlier films and performances. He presents the sites, intoning in voice-over, "Up is down, inside is outside, above is below." Is this is a meditation on the poetics of space or an experiment in radical deprogramming?
Perhaps it's both. The political has always simmered beneath the surface of Acconci's work. His thoughts centre on the erasure of certain lines and boundaries to promote intimacy and a more organic sense of organization in public space.
His T.O. project involves the area between two apartment buildings. The plan is to intermingle public and private space by turning the base of the building into something more fluid, with seating that will allow pedestrians to stop and sit on the outer side of private patio walls. Vegetation from private apartments will also be trained over an arched public walkway.
We'll see soon whether it transcends received ideas of space in exhilarating ways, or ends up another utopic design scheme gone awry.