— lenelenejo

What if one day you run into renowned contemporary artist Vito Acconci on a random street in the city where you live, what then?

Option A: Get on to greet Acconci and introduce yourself.

Option B: Follow Acconci until he enters a building or a private place, just like how he followed strangers on the streets in his famous Following Piece (1969).

Thanks to Para/Site Art Space, Acconci and Ai were brought together to Hong Kong for a “Vito Acconci + Ai Wei Wei: Artists in conversation” (12th April 2010, from 6.30 to 8pm, HK Arts Centre), and the hypothetical scenario I cited above was no more hypothetical.

Regarding the talk, to be honest, I am a bit disappointed and haven’t got much to write about. As a rare occasion it was that Acconci and Ai appeared together in Hong Kong, I was so much looking forward to witnessing how they would actually interact with one another. After the official kick off, Acconci began to introduce himself by going through his past and recent works with us. With the diversity and depth of his works, the quintessential status he had enjoyed in the art world became self-explanatory. His a-bit-embarrassed tone suggested he was self-conscious of the fact that he took far more than the scheduled time for this part.

When it came to Ai’s turn, he went straight to play us a documentary which recorded his controversial art pieces and, more importantly, the conspicuous treatment he received from China’s security force because of his presence in court at the trial of Tan Zuoren.

I regarded their introduction as just the warming up. After the Q-and-A session with the audience physically present, I expected the dialogue between the two artists would finally set in. But except one question from the moderator, there was no more.

Right, I was not part of the audience physically attending as I had not acted promptly enough to secure a seat for the talk. Like many others in my same situation, I only managed to attend the talk virtually via live broadcast on the Internet supported bywww.inmediahk.net.

Attending an event virtually is nothing new in the digital age, just that I had missed the chance to meet with the two artists in person. It turned out that the actual ‘physical’ event for mewas what many would consider an “aftermath.” A casual incident that took place on an MTR ride a few days after the talk turned my virtual encounter with Acconci into a happening that he would have cooked up himself.

That day, when the train stopped at Yau Ma Tei station on the way to Central, a middle aged Caucasian gentleman hopped on board and stood barely a step away from me. My instincts told me he was Vito Acconci!

What a waste it would be, I told myself, if the gentleman standing in front of me was really Vito Acconci, and if I missed the chance to say hi to this great artist just because I was timid!

But I needed to be sure.

I took out my mobile phone and started looking for the stored screen capture I made of the forum on 12th April during the on-line live broadcast. I found it, but it was just a low-resolution silhouette of Acconci’s. That was all what I had to affirm myself that the man in front of me was Acconci, for real.

But apart from greeting him, what else? Should I simply tell him there were about 150 other virtual attendants attending the talk via the Internet, and I was one of them? Or should I, honestly, tell him I was a bit disappointed with the talk?

At that moment, I began to understand a bit more the beauty of Acconci’s Following Piece. The standard distance among strangers should not only be based on social definition. There should be alternative ways for each one of us to draw our own lines and rules to identify with and differentiate ourselves from strangers.

The fact is, I stepped up to tallk to that man who stood just a step away from me. The fact is, he was not Acconci. The fact is, he doesn’t even know who Acconci is. I was just all embarrassed and pulled myself together to explain and introduce myself to this total stranger. This Acconci-looking gentleman gave me his name card with his name “Mark Vivian” printed on it. No matter what, I am seriously proud of myself for having made such an attempt to unwrap a mystery, and for the naïveté of holding expectation based on sheer belief.

This personal matter of mine may sound nonsense. Had I really got the chance to consult Acconci, he would have probably said, “It makes no harm to try breaking estrangement in a brave, positive way even if it’s slightly odd.” Agreed, Mr. Acconci? (lenelenejo)

Vito Acconci, «Following Piece», 1969
In Following Piece, Vito Acconci spent a month following strangers he found walking on the streets of the city he lived in. He followed them until they entered a private building or space. Everyday, he wrote journeys based on these secret encounters then shared them by sending them out to other artists.