I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker is the first UK exhibition dedicated to the American writer Kathy Acker (1947 – 1997), and her written, spoken and performed work.
This polyvocal and expansive project combines an exhibition with a programme of performances, screenings and talks. The exhibition is structured around fragments of Acker’s writing, which serve as catalysts for a network of interconnected materials presented around them, including works by other artists and writers, video and audio documentation of Acker’s performative appearances in various cultural and media contexts, and documents and books from her personal archive.
I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker addresses ‘Kathy Acker’ as a still-unfolding cultural force, focusing on the uniquely diverse and disruptive character of the author’s work and persona. In a 1996 text, Acker wrote: ‘Language is the accumulation of connections where there were no such connections’, and referred to a kind of language ‘that makes webs’. In this spirit, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker looks particularly to contemporary artists working across visual arts, literature and performance, illuminating points of connection and resistance to Acker’s linguistic methodologies and lines of thought.
Acker is an exceptional figure in late-20th-century Western literature who moved between the avant-garde art and literary scenes of New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Paris and London. Through her prolific writing, Acker developed experimental textual methodologies as she distorted language, hybridised fiction and autobiography, ‘plagiarised’ the work of other authors, and introduced maps, drawings and diagrams. Acker’s work addressed language as a site of contestation from which meaning and identity are constructed, unpicking the patriarchal and the political. She provocatively confronted the strained relationship between desire and reality within culture, sex, the body, war, money, the family, mythology, colonialism, sickness, and the city in ways that remain critically relevant to our current times.
For Acker, the use of the first-person singular was, in fact, plural, as she utilised the ‘I’ in her writing to inhabit different identities from her own life, fiction and history, acknowledging her complicated relationships with family, friends and lovers. From her first novels – which were episodically distributed by mail and written under the pseudonym ‘The Black Tarantula’– the performance of identity remained integral to Acker’s work. This performative relationship to the self was central to her creative strategies as she expanded her writing practice to include readings, performances, plays, screenplays, and collaborations with artists and musicians; fashioned a distinctive public image across different media contexts; and engaged ‘the language of the body’ through tattoos, piercings and bodybuilding.
I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker seeks to illuminate the complexities within Acker’s written, spoken and performed work, as she moved between exposing and inhabiting the dynamics of power. Together, the exhibition and programme look to central concerns within Acker’s work around identity, sexual desire, mythology, piracy and the body, while considering how she located these concerns within layers of intertextuality and mutability.