Language to Cover a Page
The Early Writings of Vito Acconci
428 pp., 9 x 11 in, 15 b&w illus.
- Published: March 3, 2006
Poems and other texts from the 1960s by a pioneering conceptual artist that show a continuity with his subsequent work in performance and video art.
Pioneering conceptual artist Vito Acconci began his career as a poet. In the 1960s, before beginning his work in performance and video art, Acconci studied at the Iowa Writers Workshop and published poems in journals and chapbooks. Almost all of this work remains unknown; much of it appeared in the self-produced magazines of the Lower East Side's mimeo revolution, and many other pieces were never published. Language to Cover a Page collects these writings for the first time and not only shows Acconci to be an important experimental writer of the period, but demonstrates the continuity of his early writing with his later work in film, video, and performance.
Language to Cover a Page documents a key moment in the unprecedented intersection of artists and poets in the late 1960s—as seen in the Dwan Gallery's series of "Language" shows (1967-1970) and in Acconci's own journal 0 to 9. Indeed, as Acconci moved from the poetry scene to the art world, his poetry became increasingly performative while his artwork was often structured and motivated by linguistic play.
Acconci's early writing recalls the work of Samuel Beckett, the deadpan voice of the nouveau roman, and the jump cuts and fraught permutations of the nouvelle vague. Poems in Language to Cover a Page explore the materiality of language ("language as matter and not ideas," as Robert Smithson put it), the physical space of the page, and the physicality of source texts (phonebooks, thesauruses, dictionaries). Other poems take the space of the page as an analogue to performance space or implicate the poem in a network of activity (as in his "Dial-a-Poem" pieces). Readers will find Acconci's inventive and accomplished poetry as edgy and provocative as anything published today.
Before he became famous as video, performance, and multimedia artist, Vito Acconci considered himself to be a poet—a designer, so to speak, of printed pages. His fascinating poetic experiments, most of them previously unpublished, take ordinary, colloquial language and apply both formal constraints and Wittgensteinian propositions to their articulation. Decades ahead of its time, the writing Craig Dworkin has lovingly assembled and edited for this collection uncannily anticipates our own verbivocovisual experiments: here 'delay' becomes revelation!
Marjorie Perloff, author of Wittgenstein's Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary
Vito Acconci's remarkable array of textual productions, presented by poet-scholar Craig Dworkin, is a terrific contribution to our understanding of the ways in which visual, verbal, and performance are intersected in the later decades of the 20th century. Acconci's texts embody the many facets of his own complex practice, and the process-driven works collected here document a crucial period in the history of experimental writing. This book will make clear the extent to which Acconci is one of the major artist-writers of conceptual art. As for Dworkin, who better to take on the task than the sophisticated reader-practitioner of the creative and critical arts?
Jonathan Drucker, Robertson Professor of Media Studies, University of Virgina