Vito Acconci wants you to fulfill his dreams

Film Love screens a selection Acconci’s films to celebrate his 70th birthday

Vito Acconci is talking to you. He is facing the camera and saying, “You could fulfill all the dreams, all the dreams I had.” The questions start forming in response: “Is he sincere? Is he a shameless flatterer? Who does Vito Acconci think he is? Who does he think I am?”

The latest installment of Atlanta’s Film Love series presents a selection of videos by Acconci to celebrate his 70th birthday. Acconci trained as a fiction writer at the Iowa Writers Workshop in the early ’60s, but when he returned to New York in 1964 something inside him changed. “It was probably the first time I had seen in real life, in real space, a Jasper Johns painting. And I thought, I want to do something like that,” he told the Believer magazine in 2006.

Acconci began to write poetry that focused on the visual form – nearly blank pages with thin, vertical lines of letters. Soon, his poetry moved off the page and into performance and video. He started seeing his body as a limitation for a poem. Instead of setting or representing a scene, he provokes the viewer to engage with him – to complete his scene.

In “Open Book,” the camera focuses only on Acconci’s mouth as he urgently tries to speak without closing it. His words slur heavily, rendering them almost unintelligible. His tongue bloats and flickers. His crooked teeth are prominently exposed. The few words that one can parse are desperate directives to the viewer, “You can go anywhere inside me ... I’m open to everything.” It’s possible both to laugh at the absurdity of the offer and to be genuinely terrified, all in the span of the 10-minute clip.

Acconci’s “Theme Song” acts as a direct foil to the desperation of “Open Book.” Acconci lies facing the camera like a lover cooing sweet nothings to the viewer. He suavely smokes a cigarette; he hums along with a pop song by the Doors. The voice Acconci employs here is warm and hushed, as if he is sharing secrets and genuine intimacy with you. “Look, there’s nobody beside me,” Acconci admits. “You’re not beside me, yet. I realize that. I know that. I know I have to wait for you to come to me. I know that I can’t make the first move. ... How long do I have to wait for you? I’ll wait, I’ll wait as long as I have to.” Acconci teases out his possible relationship with “you.” Will you finish his poem? Will you fulfill his dreams?