Vito Acconci

Young Hoffman Gallery

In An Idea for Storage in a Small Downtown Chicago Gallery, Vito Acconci used the space as a kind of depository for memories about and associations with childhood–not the storybook kind but that related to one’s primal screams. Unlike his earlier sound-structure installations, this one, possibly in response to the simple cubic space, had only three sculptural units and one continuous two-word dialogue. As a result, nondetailed cues suggested universal feelings.

For the dialogue/poetry/music, Acconci fed three loudspeakers with three separate stereo channels, each speaker unseen but “talking” under a metal swing in the gallery. Like the voices that attract your attention in many television commercials, Acconci’s voice here resounded at subtly different tonal levels, suggesting altering distance and space, or moods and times.

Below the longest swing, Acconci’s voice moaned, sighed, sang, nuzzled, suckled, “Mama, mama, mama,” as if a child were rocking in his mother’s arms, the sound mixing with, altering, and dominating a viewer’s own heartbeat by its repetition and insistence. From each of the smaller swings isolated in front gallery sections, “pa” in one area alternated with “pa” in the other section, a drumbeat sort of unison, at times like a choo-choo train or some oom-pa-pa band, both rejecting and calling “papa,” as if a child were both wanting and hating.

To be inside this chained-off space was like being inside the artist’s mind, the reflective shiny swings actually forming a triangle in the gallery as if the physical embodiment of “issues” in the dialogue, a father-mother-child triangle.

Furthermore, the swings held in tension against the wall by hooks, eyes, and heavy chains emphasized a massive projected energy with which the whole structure might come loose, more suggestions of an anxious situation in which disaster is immanently threatened.

Spotlights focused on the bare walls outside the chains emphasized “being outside” the artist’s private child/space, and here the people carrying on routine gallery operations actually did take on the far-off qualities of “big people” perennially excluded from a child’s private world.

—C. L. Morrison