About the Photographer
American, b.1940 Bronx, NY
If one takes the position that individual beings are only intelligible through their interactions with the world, and other individuals in that world, Acconci's work exposes ways of understanding those critical relationships between subject and object, actor and audience, viewer and viewed. Through his work, Acconci posits the notion that performance, namely the performative relationships constituting our understanding of the world and its members, is a tenet of humanity, social consciousness and the comprehension of the self. Acconci's pieces ultimately call attention to the audience's role in interpreting or experiencing any given work, though at the same time, Acconci applies the framework of performance to autobiographical exploration. As both actor and audience, Acconci can inflect the response to his own body and actions, either as it is received by others, or himself. As a form of individual expression, performance is inextricably tied to the presence and cognizance of an audience, and the basis of Acconci's work is to develop new ways of capturing, replaying, and interpreting performance.
For his piece 12 Pictures, Acconci took a picture of his audience with every step he took as he walked across a stage. His documentation of the audience represents the reflection of his actual act: he has not exactly documented his own performance, rather the reception of that performance visible on the faces in his audience. 12 Pictures is emblematic of Acconci's tendency to upset such traditional binarisms as subject and object, actor and audience, viewer and viewed. Instead of assuming the rigidity of these terms, Acconci suggests a new way of construing performance by positioning himself as both subject and object. The effect of these subtle variations on the viewer – brought about by the reflexive potential of film and video — is measured on a much larger scale; attention is shifted away from the word itself, towards its meaning and the social implications of interpreting these seemingly simple words. Another v ariation of this attitude can be gleaned from his video piece Watch in which Acconci points his finger at the lens of the camera for 20 minutes; standing in the background, he also looks straight ahead at the viewer, at his own image, and quite possibly at the revelatory potential offered by the dual or reflective gaze.
Acconci began as a writer of fiction and poetry. After graduating from Holy Cross College in 1962 he attended the University of Iowa where he developed his ability to see any medium, in this case the printed page, as a space for the reader and the writer to explore. In the 1960s Acconci began using film and video to document performances, and later developed audio installations to accompany his videos and films. In the 1980s Acconci moved on to architecture and founded the Acconci Studio, which employs a group of architects who plan structures and spaces for public use. Acconci's career-long exploration of media and public space has honed his ability to pinpoint fundamental issues of social importance.