I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker review

3 out of 5 stars
I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker review
'Kathy Acker in conversation with Angela McRobbie at the Institute of Contemporary Arts' (1987). © ICA, London

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

The writer Kathy Acker (1947-1997) meant a lot of things to a lot of people. And she still does, as this sensory-overload of an exhibition at the ICA makes clear. Split across two floors, the show swirls together chunks of Acker’s own prolific output (mainly large segments of text or video footage of the writer talking or performing) with artworks, poems and films by an extra-long list of artists she’s inspired.

As an idea, it makes sense. Because Acker was/is famous in that weird way where an individual human gets turned into a concept. The sort of person you could call a ‘cultural icon’ with a straight face.

But as an exhibition, it’s a mixed bag of post-, post-post- and post-post-post-modern sweeties. Some of the non-Acker works are fascinating, such as Leslie Asako Gladsjø’s video ‘Stigmata’, about tattooing and other skin art practices like branding, cutting and, you know, scrotal piercings.

Others are just a bit monotonous or boring and, crucially, offer little in the way of illuminating Acker’s own creations. And some parts will only be of interest to the absolute Acker obsessive, in particular the many, many glass cases of part-annotated books and manuscripts.

It’s an absolute torrent of STUFF. Messy, grimy, blood-stained, heavily-intellectualised, Freud-swallowing, clit-centric STUFF. It’s frequently sexually explicit in a way that’s almost entirely anti-erotic and quickly deteriorates in impact (because once you’ve read one description of a squirting cock, you’ve read enough to last you a while).

In this respect, the exhibition mirrors the experience of reading Acker’s work perfectly, and in terms of its sheer ambition and volume of content it’s impossible not to be impressed. But there’s a big question dangling of whether a gallery exhibition fundamentally suits a writer, especially when so much of this is just putting massive extracts of text on a wall. If to know Kathy Acker is to read Kathy Acker, then maybe we should all head home, pour a large gin and read one of her books instead?


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