Postmodern pastiche and historical distance

Vito Acconci’s canonical early video work engages hierarchical power struggles, sexuality, violence, control, and resistance. We are remaking every video by Acconci in the collection of the Video Data Bank, but with women and a HDSLR camera. These seem to be simple enough parameters to explore the intersections of performance and video and to ask: what would it mean to change the gender dynamic and remake his work forty years later?

The remake is not necessarily an homage to the original artist. The remake can allow us to measure historical distance. In a recent article concerning remakes, curator Karen Irvine at the Museum of Contemporary Photography stated, “They need to make some kind of commentary or question the canon of art history. When it’s done right, a remake engages the viewer because of the familiarity, then throws into question the history of representation.” Thinking of Acconci’s work and postmodern pastiche, David Clark wrote in his 1999 essay The Ghost of an Exquisite Corpse:

“The remake is rarefied form of popular culture’s general inclination to reproduce already existing cultural forms… [E]very reproduction, no matter how exact, always has a different meaning. The remake is measured by its relation to the already made, the already always present. The remake, therefore, becomes a gauge for measuring the historical shifts of meaning that have taken place. The post-modern critique of originality and the role of the author parallels the rise of the remake as an avant-garde strategy. The remake allows us to bracket out the content of the artwork and look at its distinguishing formal characteristics, in a way that is similar to Phenomenology’s project of bracketing out the subjective aspects of experience, leaving only the phenomena that exists outside the subjective. The remake removes the subjective aspects of the work and leaves the non-subjective, the phenomenological, as a gauge of the residues of history.”

We are not the first to remake Acconci, even with women performers. But we are willing to reinterpret Acconci’s work in a post-second wave, post-9/11, post-Obama, post-YouTube and Facebook, post-Occupy Wall Street world and find what historical distance emerges.