In a program of performances created in response to documents in 'Emergency Index 2011,' I read a letter to Bob, written in response to Rachelle Beaudoin's 'Letters to Vito.'
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
I am here in New York, doing the performance for the launch of Emergency Index that you persuaded me to do. You were so pleased that I was asked, and so I said I would do it, even though I was worried about how I would manage taking the time to be in New York, but you said it would work out. I didn’t expect it to be this way.
I looked through all the documents in the book, wondering what work would give me an idea, a way to make a small piece for the occasion. I didn’t want to re-enact any of them, but rather I wanted to make a performance from where I am now, in response to another artist’s work.
So a few days ago I chose Rachelle Beaudoin’s ‘Letters to Vito.’ Her description talks about the impact of the work of famous male artists on her, as a young female artist. She spoke of a kind of prominence within the art world that these artists have.
And I began to think about the impact that one artist can have on others within our own circles, our overlapping communities of artists. What really might constitute prominence? How do we understand the value of our work? We are not operating in a world where success is determined by financial gain alone. So how might we assess our impact? What do we consider significant?
I know that you struggled with that question. Your upbringing as a man in this culture made you believe that you had to earn your living through your art work to give it value. And only in the last few months did you feel that you could move beyond that, as you began to think of yourself as an artist, and to look at your photographs as your own work even when they documented another artist’s performances.
But you overlooked the other ways that you had a significant impact in the art world of Boston and beyond. From here and abroad I am getting many letters and emails about what you did for other artists. They talk about how you quietly assisted them at critical points in their work, how you respected their efforts when they were students as seriously as you did the work of mature artists, how you were always a presence photographing performances, making it clear that it was important to record the existence of this world of ephemeral art. They spoke of how you were always willing to give a hand, offer thoughtful critical feedback, provide technical advice, loan or fix or help set up equipment. You were generous with your time and attention, and supportive of every artist you encountered, believing in the value and importance of the art work that they were creating.
The strength of the art world is not really the result of a few prominent artists. In many cases they have focused their efforts on their careers at the expense of their community, in order to achieve the recognition of major institutions and art historians. But the world these famous artists occupy could not exist if it weren’t for the communities of artists who operate at ground level, such as ourselves. These are the artists who are focused more on the work than on notoriety. These are the artists who are generating new territories of art, working with others to create contexts for new work, experimenting and exploring new ideas. It is when artists work together, support and help and challenge each other, that new visions in art are forged. And this is the world in which you played such a vital role.
Rachelle ended her description of her performance with the statement, ‘despite my correspondence, openness, and hopeful letters, Vito [Acconci] has not responded and did not accept my invitation to visit Holy Cross [College] to attend the performance. This is highlighted by a moment in the performance, when I read a letter stating that I am waiting for him to walk in the door. I pause, wait, look towards the door and he does not appear.’
Bob, I know that if you could, you would be here, witnessing and photographing this moment. This performance is one small effort to honor your contribution to the art world.
You never really understood how much you were respected by the artists of Boston, nor how profoundly you will be missed.