Walking Over Acconci (Misdirected Approaches): Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard at Kate MacGarry
‘Wakey, wakey, hands off snaky!’ The young woman shouts into the camera, kicking off a fifteen minute tirade addressing an absent ex-boyfriend. Although this new piece by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard is based on Vito Acconci’s 1973 monologue Walk Over, its opening suggests a reference to Seedbed, the infamous performance where Acconci secreted himself under the floorboards of a New York gallery, moaning and masturbating while visitors walked above.
The irreverence of the allusion is typical of the video as a whole, which affirms the importance of Acconci’s early oeuvre while also suggesting its limitations, not least the notions of gender and authenticity with which he worked.
At the same time Forsyth and Pollard’s piece is far from simple pastiche. Although the work does treat Acconci’s conceptualist heroics ironically at times, it also deftly traces the distance between the 1970s of the original Walk Over and the present dismal conjuncture. The thirty-five years that have elapsed since Acconci stalked a dingy corridor, humming to himself and baring his soul to a Super-8 have seen massive transformations in the political, cultural and technological landscape. Forsyth and Pollard register these changes in a number of ways. That said, the previous scenario remains substantially intact: although the script has been updated, we are still watching a lone figure approach to and recede from a fixed camera, alternatively obsessing over a failed relationship and tensely humming a short refrain.
The most obvious difference is the way in which Acconci’s grainy black and white is replaced by the crisp colours of high-definition video, a substitution that has immediate consequences for the genre of the piece. Rather than high-modernist Verité, the colour images of the new work recall the mediations of reality television, the gangsta Noir of music promo or the dumb theatrics of webcam exhibitionism. By accommodating the new ubiquity of the digital image, Forsyth and Pollard situate their piece in a much broader frame than the original’s confessionalism. In doing so they highlight the way that Acconci’s equation of truth with the speaking body is compromised in the present mediascape, which authorises itself through the constant circulation of pseudo-revelation.
Walking Over Acconci is also much more specific about the relation between viewer and onscreen figure than the original, which strongly implied a face-to-face relation between Acconci and an off-camera addressee. Here the narrator bends towards us, filling the screen with her mouth, then stepping back and straightening up to reveal her whole face. This suggests that we are watching an image on a monitor, relayed from an intercom unit at the entrance to a flat which may or may not be occupied. The effect is to introduce further notions of surveillance, privacy and siege, and to reframe the young woman’s impassioned monologue within an echoing, affectless realm. Rather than occupying the position of the addressee, as Acconci’s original bade us do, here the viewer identifies with the inhuman gaze of the recording apparatus itself.
Finally, where Acconci placed himself at the centre of the work, Forsyth and Pollard have substituted a female electro MC. Once again this removes the piece from the temptations of confessionalism. More striking, however is the way in which Miss Odd Kidd’s bodily economy is haunted by the gestures and mannerisms of bass culture. Although the young MC attempts to give this story of a relationship and its breakdown the naturalistic delivery it clearly demands, she cannot help but revert to her more accustomed mode of performance. The rhythmic movements of her head and hands, her feints and shifts in posture constantly betray her day-job. It is as if consciousness is periodically invaded by another more cartoonish, pop-cultural persona, one which has to be visibly restrained. This interruptive quality to the piece is reinforced by her constant recourse to the strained and almost catatonic humming. Here again it is as if the narrator is momentarily colonised, this time by floating fragments of the entertainment complex. Rather than Acconci’s emphasis on his own presence then, what we have here is a persona seemingly distributed across a range of competing registers.
Forsyth and Pollard are well known for restagings such as File Under Sacred Music, their recreation of a 1978 performance by The Cramps at the Napa State Mental Institute. More recent work, such as the predecessor to the present piece, Walking After Acconci (Redirected Approaches) featuring the Brit-Hop artist Plan B, or 2007’s Kiss my Nauman more clearly complicate the aesthetics of the remake. By forcing the austerity of classic video work into a strange conjuncture with the promotional tools of contemporary music culture this work radically defamiliarizes both, opening up a productive space between the present and the past instead of collapsing the two.