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Colin Marshall

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10. Vito Acconci's The Red Tapes, Part III (1976)
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The final third of Acconci's tripartite epic is as different from its predecessors as its predecessors are from one another, retaining a similar sensibility but containing different stuff. The first part has Acconci creating a series of increasingly messy sketches before our eyes -- it's like the nuttiest public television how-to-draw show ever shot. The second has repeated left-right-left-right pans over Acconci and a few associates rehearsing some sort of theatrical performance. The third echoes both previous parts by first blindfolding some blonde and then placing a head-covering sheet over the blindfold, then an American flag over that whole getup. The fourth part is an impressive shot of Acconci standing under some overhead lights as chants of "we're young" "we're ready" and "we found it" run over each other, shifting in and out of phase.

If I were to articulate one overarching theme to The Red Tapes, it would be as follows: America... something something. Many of the words said seem to have to do with America. Some actually are "America." Certainly American iconography pops up more and more frequently -- and more and more boldly -- as the minutes pass. Whether the piece's perspective is anti-America, neutral-to-America, America-disappointed or America-questioning I couldn't say. (It probably isn't pro-America. What video artist is?)

It occurs to me that I've approached much of The Red Tapes' narrative as nonsense, but I wonder: how much of that is a function of expectation? Did I assume, based on what I'd seen from Acconci before, that nothing would make sense? Did that assumption prompt me to not even try to make sense if it? Certainly no work that springs from the human mind can be devoid of meaning and pattern, yet I found it all too tempting to view this one as if it was. Perhaps I've missed out on some enjoyment as a result. If I intend to watch every experimental video on Ubuweb, I certainly shouldn't act as if they're going to come right on over to me.

(The score was by Charles Ives, though, so that's pretty neat. And right at the end, Acconci dedicates the tapes to Lizzie Borden.)

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