Acconci's most iconic and notorious performance. The artist set up a wooden ramp halfway across the empty Sonnabend Gallery space, and then crawled under the ramp, concealing himself from gallery visitors. While occupying the confined space under the floor, Acconci masturbated repeatedly and shared aloud his sexual desires and fantasies with the audience. When visitors entered the gallery space, the artist would hear their steps, which fueled him to vocalize his unfiltered thoughts and desires, prompting the audience to react.
Seedbed deals with a central theme in Acconci's art, challenging the boundaries between the public and the private spheres and pushing further his exploration of voyeurism, desire, and power relations. By performing what is regarded as a private and intimate act in a public space, he attacked public norms, especially in an art gallery, a seat of modern high culture. By vocalizing his sexual desires, Acconci also brought his inner sexual-psychological landscape out in the open, in a cultural context where most people had been conditioned to keep theirs private.
The art critic and curator Germano Celant equates Seedbed with failed coitus: the artist dreams of an impossible penetration, which is transmitted to the audience through the floor. His action disrupted the regular art-going experience, jolting visitors out of their presumed neutrality in approaching art - but within an atmosphere of uncertainty and discomfort, if not menace, pushing at the edge of personal boundaries. From today's perspective, the gender identification, sexuality, and personal history of each audience member would inevitably have been a significant part of how the work was received, whether, for example, as provocation or harassment.
Seedbed can be understood within the context of his artwork exploring human relations around this time, not only in sexual or intimate relationships, but also the implicit, underlying dynamics of the public sphere, including between artist and viewer. Whereas his previous work often implicated his viewers as voyeurs, this performance explicitly turned the table on the audience, who could not see Acconci. They were unable to confirm what exactly he was doing under the floor or even whether he was there at all times.
Over time, Acconci developed an ambivalent attitude toward the work: "Seedbed might have made my career, but it also destroyed it, because nothing could live up to that, especially once you bring shock... People got to know me as someone who masturbated under a floor."
In 2005, another pioneer of performance art, Marina Abramovic performed a variation of Seedbed as part of the performance Seven Easy Pieces (2005) at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Performance/Installation - Sonnabend Gallery