Working his way from poetry to performance art via Minimalism, Acconci created 'found poetry' in which the arrangement of words superceded their meaning.
Vito Acconci began his artistic career as a writer and a poet, concerned less with the meaning of words than with the way in which they could be arranged across a page. Seeking to demolish the functionality of the word, in the late 1960s he made a series of works using pre-existing text. Sourced from a variety of material, Acconci's 'found poetry' was relocated to the left or right margin of the page, thus disconnecting the words from a context that could establish meaning. Taken from Four Book, 1968, the pages on display at the ICA constitute one graphic collage poem, each page juxtaposing a photocopied image of a page of the Manhattan phone book with a column of phrases or words.
Acconci's objectification of language echoed the anti-referential principles of Minimalism, which began to dominate the New York art scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As Acconci cut, spliced, moved and displaced words, he performed many of the principle actions of the new sculpture. These actions became increasingly performative, as Acconci asked himself:
if I'm so interested in this question of space and movement over a page, why am I confining this movement to an 8 x 11 inch piece of paper? From here, he began to operate in a variety of media, exploring the real space of human interactions, and creating some of the foundational works of performance art.
Vito Acconci was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1940. He studied literature at Holly Cross College, Worcester, Massachusetts, and received an MFA in creative writing from the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1964. In the early 1970s his performances were supplemented by film and video; thereafter his practice became centred on installation; and at the end of the 1980s he moved into design and architecture and formed Acconci Studio.