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Seedbed
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Arty Fact

sjohnson's picture

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Vito Acconci's Seedbed is a really "seminal" performance work, in which the artist "sowed his seed" from beneath a wooden ramp for hours at a time, narrating his fantasies by microphone to people who, entering the Sonnabend Gallery from the street, could hear his voice, but could not see him.

The Sonnabend is in SoHo, a fashionable part of New York City, but I guess it was pretty seedy when Acconci was there! Although only writing, video, and personal memories remain of the work, it has attained such notoriety that it has become the focus of extended discussion among writers and a revitalization by Marina Abramović at the Guggenheim in 2005. As Abramović noted, Seedbed exists in a category with other performance works which have attained a robust afterlife through documentation, such as David Hammons's Pissed Off (1981), Chris Burden's Shoot (1971), "Bruce Nauman's Body Pressure (1974)...VALIE EXPORT's Action Pants: Genital Panic (1969), Gina Pane's Self-Portrait(s) (1973)," and "Joseph BeuysHow to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965)." According to Abramović, these works fit the three rules of performance works in the 1960's and '70's: no rehearsal, no repetition, and no predictable ending. Abramović broke the rules by doing her own versions of Seedbed and re-enacting other performance works.

One scholar writes, "Despite Seedbed’s explicit content, in the event the performance was a fairly static, cerebral affair, especially after the last-minute addition of the audio equipment, which, along with the ramp, mediated between audience and artist and encouraged both to stay in one place." In high school, eating an egg sandwich in a corner café, I witnessed a man in a trench coat facing the glass window separating me from the sidewalk, doing a version of Seedbed. Without the ramp, the Sonnabend Gallery, and the audio equipment, it lost its magic. I guess Acconci just had the right touch.

Acconci, who began his art practice as a poet, incorporated an unusual poem in Seedbed – he inscribed, on five pieces of black paper, with white chalk, the title of the piece, the schedule, and the following list:

1. THE ROOM IS ACTIVATED BY MY PRESENCE…”

2. “THE GOAL OF MY ACTIVITY IS THE PRODUCTION OF SEED…”

3. “THE MEANS TO THIS GOAL IS PRIVATE SEXUAL ACTIVITY…”

4. “MY AIDS ARE THE VISITORS…(THE SEED…IS A JOINT RESULT OF MY PRESENCE AND THEIRS).

The first item in the list draws a link between Acconci and the magician, making even more direct the connection between the disembodied voice of the Wizard of Oz and Seedbed. In both the musical version of The Wizard of Oz and Seedbed, the voice becomes its own character, cajoling and directing the attention of the people in the room who are aware of a man's presence behind a partition, but unaware of his appearance.

 

Sources

Sources

  1. Abramović, Marina. "(Re)Presenting Performance." Lecture, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Apr. 8, 2005.
  2. Green, Kate Guttmacher. Encountering Vito Acconci: Performing Conceptual Art circa 1970. Austin: University of Texas, 2016.
  3. Smalec, Theresa. "Not What It Seems: The Politics of Re-Performing Vito Acconci's Seedbed (1972)." University of Virginia, 2006, http://pmc.iath.virginia.edu/issue.906/17.1smalec.html#ref1.
  4. Sotheby's New York. "Contemporary Art Day Auction." no. 448, May 13, 2010. Ex. cat.
  5. "Stop And Piss: David Hammons’ Pissed Off." greg.org, https://greg.org/archive/2013/08/06/stop-and-piss-david-hammons-pissed-o....

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Seedbed (performance piece)

Seedbed is a performance piece first performed by Vito Acconci on 15–29 January 1972 at Sonnabend Gallery in New York City.

In the piece, there is a low wooden ramp merging with the floor. The ramp extends across the width of the room, beginning two feet up the side of one wall and slanting down to the middle of the floor.

In his original performance of the piece, Acconci lay hidden underneath the ramp installed at the Sonnabend Gallery, masturbating. The artist's spoken fantasies about the visitors walking above him were heard through loudspeakers in the gallery.

"In this legendary sculpture/performance Acconci lay beneath a ramp built in the Sonnabend Gallery. Over the course of three weeks, he masturbated eight hours a day while murmuring things like, "You're pushing your cunt down on my mouth" or "You're ramming your cock down into my ass." Not only does the architectural intervention presage much of his subsequent work, but all of Acconci's fixations converge in this, the spiritual sphincter of his art. In Seedbed, Acconci is the producer and the receiver of the work's pleasure. He is simultaneously public and private, making marks yet leaving little behind, and demonstrating ultra-awareness of his viewer while being in a semi-trance state." - Jerry Saltz

A video of the piece itself shows no sexual content; it all is merely suggested.

Marina Abramović performed Seedbed as part of her Seven Easy Pieces in 2005.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Seedbed (performance piece).