Vito Acconci, designer, performance artist, landscape architect and installation artist is the first American to take home Design Miami/’s prestigious Design of the Year award for Acconci Studio. Silvia Karman Cubiñá uncovers the man with many titles.
Silvia Karman Cubiñá: In the roughly 10 minutes we’ve been talking, you’ve been speaking about your public projects using the plural ‘we.’ Why is that?
Vito Acconci: In 1988 I founded Acconci Studio, and since then, I have worked collaboratively with a team of five or six persons, including interns, on all public projects. Public works cannot come from private thinking because debate and talking are necessary in creating public works.
The negotiation that happens when people can debate and talk things through is essential in creating works of public art. This is important because it also allows work to develop and change.
Silvia Karman Cubiñá: How so?
Vito Acconci: Young people, for example, can bring digital thinking into the process. Their minds work differently. It’s really important to work with methods of the time, listen to music of the time, even if we don’t know if these will lead anywhere.
Silvia Karman Cubiñá: I am very interested in something you said: ‘I was in the wrong field because the people who go to museums are already interested in art, and I was much more interested in the non-art user.’ What field do you work in now?
Vito Acconci: I consider the work we do now to be architecture and design, not really art. Art has ‘do-not-touch’ signs. Art is primarily about the visual. I’m more interested in people who have no idea what art is. Art in museums doesn’t relate to people at an equal level, it puts them at a lower level.
Silvia Karman Cubiñá: What do you consider the most creative spaces right now?
Vito Acconci: Peopled spaces. Peopled spaces are important. Also, smaller spaces are interesting. A large conventional large plaza shouldn’t exist now. How do you activate a large plaza without a leader? I’m interested now in small clusters of people, in groups small enough where no one has to ask for permission to speak. In spaces like that people can be freer. Small spaces set up the possibility of being free. There is risk in your work.
Silvia Karman Cubiñá: Talk to me about your relationship to risk.
Vito Acconci: I don’t necessarily pay attention to risk now. I’m more interested in the unknown. What we really don’t want to do is what we know will work. Form is a way to find subject matter and content.
Silvia Karman Cubiñá: Would you like to talk about your early performances?
Vito Acconci: My first work was language, not performance. I did poetry till the end of the ‘60s. Words have a physical existence. You learn to see through words into content, subject-matter. I love abstract ideas, I hate abstract words. Performance in the ‘70s was shaped by the music of the time: Van Morrison, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, The Doors — long songs, it was no longer three-minute songs but seven- eight- nine- minute songs. This was the time of finding one’s self, and it took a long time.
My generation wrote their own songs — this was the time peotry abdicated and the singer/songwriter took over. Performance for me was doing what I didn’t know I could do, so my performances couldn’t be repeated. The second time would have been acting.
Silvia Karman Cubiñá: Back to your public art. Let’s talk about your public projects, specifically this year’s Fence on the Loose in Toronto, a functional seating like a drawing in air that looks like scrap metal. There is a merging of art, design and functionality. What is it about functionality that you find interesting?
Vito Acconci: Functionality redesigns people’s habits, redesigns what they think they can do, what they’re used to doing. I want everything in my life to have function. I would like everything in my life to have function. Art cannot do this — functional objects can.
Silvia Karman Cubiñá: Have you ever built a museum?
Vito Acconci: No, but I’d like to. Since I’ve turned so much away from art, I’m eager to know how we — Acconci Studio — would design a museum.
Silvia Karman Cubiñá: What is your vision for architecture?
Vito Acconci: Architecture in the future will be much more mobile. Architecture starts with clothing — the way skin covers the bones, clothing covers the skin and bones. Clothing is the beginning of the home.
Silvia Karman Cubiñá: You have been chosen as Design Miami’s 2012 Designer of the Year. Congratulations. How do you feel about this?
Vito Acconci: I was very surprised. For a long time now, I’ve been used to being known for my activites and performances, very old work. Maybe this award can introduce people to me now.
Interview by Silvia Karman Cubiñá, portrait by Gesi Schilling