1973. Video (black and white, sound), 33:15 min.
Vito Acconci’s face appears at the right side of the screen, close against the lens of the video camera he has focused on himself. Lying on the floor, he lights a cigarette, looks straight into the camera, pushes the play button on a cassette player just out of sight, and says, “I have no idea what your face looks like. I mean you could be anybody out there. Ah, but I know there’s gotta be somebody…watching me. Somebody who wants to come in close to me.”1
So begins Theme Song, a video Acconci made in the 1970s, during a period in his long and varied career—which also encompasses writing, performance, installation, sculpture, and architecture—when he experimented with film, sound recordings, and the recently invented medium of video, which allowed for immediate playback. He began producing visual art in 1969, and became known for works centered upon his subversive behaviors, through which he would disrupt and question perceived societal norms. In Theme Song, he confronts viewers with a sexually charged monologue. Riffing off of the lyrics of the songs about love, loneliness, and desire playing in the background, he behaves as if there is no screen between him and the audience. “Come on, look, I’m all alone,” he implores. “I just need your body next to mine.”2
Through such statements, Acconci aimed to address viewers as directly as possible, and to make people more critically aware of the way they consume and are manipulated by televised images and their underlying messages. His monologue in Theme Song is peppered with subtle criticism of televised media and our relationship to it. Through it, he suggests that television may be used to distract us from our own discontent and loneliness and to take the place of real-life human connections.
A camera that captures moving images and converts them into electronic signals so that they can be saved on a storage device, such as videotape or a hard drive, or viewed on a monitor.
A term describing moving-image artworks recorded onto magnetic tape or digital formats, or generated using other mechanisms such as image-processing tools, and available for immediate playback.
1. A series of moving images, especially those recorded on film and projected onto a screen or other surface (noun); 2. A sheet or roll of a flexible transparent material coated with an emulsion sensitive to light and used to capture an image for a photograph or film (noun); 3. To record on film or video using a movie camera (verb).
The science, art, or profession of designing and constructing buildings, bridges, and other large structures.
A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.
A three-dimensional work of art made by a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.
A term that emerged in the 1960s to describe a diverse range of live presentations by artists, including actions, movements, gestures, and choreography. Performance art is often preceded by, includes, or is later represented through various forms of video, photography, objects, written documentation, or oral and physical transmission.
The materials used to create a work of art, and the categorization of art based on the materials used (for example, painting [or more specifically, watercolor], drawing, sculpture).
A form of art, developed in the late 1950s, which involves the creation of an enveloping aesthetic or sensory experience in a particular environment, often inviting active engagement or immersion by the spectator.
Acconci’s Feminist Perspective
From the earliest days of his career, Vito Acconci has created work that questions the status quo. Not surprisingly, he cites feminism, which had regained force and traction by the late 1960s, as an important influence. Referring to the way feminist writings shaped pieces like Theme Song, he once said: “I started to feel embarrassed about being male, and it led me to make work where I could allow myself to be vulnerable.”3
Participants, Not Viewers
As Theme Song exemplifies, Acconci strives to challenge viewers and collapse—often uncomfortably—the divide between art and life. “What I never wanted in art—and why I probably didn’t belong in art—was that I never wanted viewers,” he has stated. “I think the basic condition of art is the viewer: The viewer is here, the art is there….I wanted inhabitants, participants. I wanted an interaction.”4
VIDEO: An excerpt from an interview with Vito Acconci as part of MoMA’s Artist Oral History Initiative