TECHARCHAEOLOGY: WORKS BY JAMES COLEMAN AND VITO ACCONCI
One of the four discussion groups at TechArchaeology: A Symposium on Installation Art Preservation (Sterrett 2000; Real 2001) focused on Vito Acconci's (b. 1940) Pornography in the Classroom (1975) and James Coleman's (b. 1941) INITIALS (1993–94) (figs. 1, 2). Both were exhibited at Seeing Time: Selections from the Pamela and Richard Kramlich Collection of Media Art at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), October 15, 1999, to January 9, 2000.
Acconci's Pornography in the Classroom is a highly visual, visceral, and in some ways esoteric work that can suspend reality for the viewer. It is a conceptual work that, at a minimum, was reformatted, and possibly even remastered or remade, in 1998. Arguments can be made for any of the possible modes of change. Presentation of the work's visual and audio concepts in a clean, relatively easy-to-mount format was a major issue in reformatting. Because it was bought as a reformatted work, preservation of the piece in its original format was not seen to be critical by the artist, his gallery, or its owner.
Coleman's INITIALS was a cool, sublime, evocative experience that created a prolonged transcendental state in the viewer. Coleman considers the details of the presentation to be critical. The artist and family are very specific about how the work is to be mounted, exhibited, and held through time. Coleman maintains an archive in a vault away from the studio.
INITIALS requires, and was afforded, a much larger space than Pornography in the Classroom, where viewers' everyday reality could be suspended, especially when they were within the artist-defined aural “hot spots. ” INITIALS viewers could come and go without unduly affecting others because the space was large and reasonably dark. The installation of the work was sensually less aggressive than Acconci's.
James Coleman was at the TechArchaeology symposium to explain, decipher, and sometimes intentionally obscure some of the aspects of his work. He also defined his position on preservation and provided insight into the possible evolution of those views.