BY Conor Carville in Reviews | 01 NOV 08
Featured in
Issue 119

Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard

Kate MacGarry, London, UK

BY Conor Carville in Reviews | 01 NOV 08

Ian Forsyth and Jane Pollard, Walking Over Acconci (Misdirected Reproaches), 2008, video still

‘Wakey, wakey, hands off snaky!’ The young woman shouts into the camera, kicking off a 15-minute tirade addressing an absent ex-boyfriend. Although Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s Walking over Acconci (Misdirected Reproaches) (2008) is based on Vito Acconci’s monologue Walk Over (1973), its opening suggests a reference to Seedbed (1972), the infamous performance in which Acconci secreted himself under the floorboards of a New York gallery, moaning and masturbating while visitors walked above. The irreverence of the allusion is typical of the video, which affirms the importance of Acconci’s early work while also suggesting its limitations, not least the notions of gender and authenticity with which he worked. 

At the same time Forsyth and Pollard’s piece is far from simple pastiche. Although the work does at times treat Acconci’s Conceptualist heroics ironically, it also deftly traces the distance between the 1970s of the original Walk Over and the present dismal moment. The 35 years that have elapsed since Acconci stalked a dingy corridor, humming to himself and baring his soul to a Super-8, have seen massive transformations in the political, cultural and technological landscape. Forsyth and Pollard register these changes in a number of ways. That said, the previous scenario remains substantially intact: although the script has been updated, we are still watching a lone figure approach and recede from a fixed camera, alternately obsessing over a failed relationship and tensely humming a short refrain. 

The most obvious difference is the way in which Acconci’s grainy black and white is replaced by the crisp colours of high-definition video. Rather than High Modernist vérité, the colour images of the new work recall the mediations of reality television, the gangsta noir of music promo or the dumb theatrics of webcam exhibitionism. By accommodating the new ubiquity of the digital image, Forsyth and Pollard situate their piece in a much broader frame than the original’s confessionalism. In doing so, they highlight the way that Acconci’s equation of truth with the speaking body is compromised in the present mediascape, which authorizes itself through the constant circulation of pseudo-revelation.

Walking over Acconci is also much more specific about the relationship between viewer and on-screen figure than the original, which strongly implied a face-to-face relation between Acconci and an off-camera addressee. Here the narrator bends towards us, filling the screen with her mouth, then stepping back and straightening up to reveal her whole face. This suggests that we are watching an image on a monitor, relayed from an intercom unit at the entrance to a flat. The effect is to introduce further notions of surveillance, privacy and siege, and to reframe the young woman’s impassioned monologue within an echoing, affectless realm. Rather than occupying the position of the addressee, as Acconci’s original bade us do, here the viewer identifies with the inhuman gaze of the recording apparatus itself.

Finally, where Acconci placed himself at the centre of the work, Forsyth and Pollard have replaced him with Miss Odd Kidd, a female electro MC. Once again this removes the piece from confessionalism. More striking, however, is the way in which Miss Odd Kidd’s bodily economy is haunted by the gestures and mannerisms of bass culture. Although the young MC attempts to give this story of a relationship and its breakdown the naturalistic delivery it clearly demands, she cannot help but revert to her more accustomed mode of performance. The rhythmic movements of her head and hands, her feints and shifts in posture, betray her day job. It is as though consciousness is periodically invaded by another more cartoonish, Pop-cultural persona, one that has to be visibly restrained. This quality is reinforced by her constant recourse to strained and almost catatonic humming. Here again it is as though the narrator is momentarily colonized, this time by floating fragments of the entertainment complex. What we have here is a persona seemingly distributed across a range of competing registers.

By forcing the austerity of classic video work into a strange conjuncture with the promotional tools of contemporary music culture, this work radically defamiliarizes both, opening up a productive space between the present and the past instead of collapsing the two.