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I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker
Institute of Contemporary Arts
1 May – 4 August 2019 
Opening Tuesday 30 April, 6 – 8pm

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.

This exhibition includes explicit content; parental or guardian discretion is advised.

All photographs © readsreads.info
I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker has been organised collectively by members of the ICA curatorial team, with exhibition graphics by HIT.

I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker has been made possible through the generous support of the Director’s Circle and the Friends of the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Video still: Kathy Acker in conversation with Angela McRobbie at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1987

The ICA would like to thank the following for their advice and guidance towards this exhibition: All the artists, programme contributors and lenders to the exhibition, Lisa Appignanesi, Dodie Bellamy, Paul Buck, Anja Casser, Laura Guy, Chris Kraus, Mason Leaver-Yap, Sylvère Lotringer, Angela McRobbie, Daniel Schulz, and Matias Viegener.

With special thanks to media partner NOWNESS
With works and contributions by:

Reza Abdoh, Sophie Bassouls, Kathy Brew, Paul Buck, Ellen Cantor, Barbara Caspar, Julien Ceccaldi, Jamie Crewe, Jimmy DeSana, Coleen Fitzgibbon, Carl Gent, Leslie Asako Gladsjø, Bette Gordon, Penny Goring, Sidsel Meineche Hansen, N. Katherine Hayles, Johanna Hedva, Caspar Heinemann, Every Ocean Hughes, Bhanu Kapil, Ghislaine Leung, Sophie Lewis, Candice Lin, Stephen Littman, Rosanna McNamara, Reba Maybury, The Mekons, D. Mortimer, Precious Okoyomon, Genesis P-Orridge, Raúl Ruiz, Sarah Schulman, Nancy Spero, Alan Sondheim, Patrick Staff, Linda Stupart, Atalia ten Brink, Kate Valk, VNS Matrix, Isabel Waidner, Robin Winters, David Wojnarowicz, X&Y (Coleen Fitzgibbon and Robin Winters), and others to be announced.


Wednesday 1 May 2019, 6:30pm
‘Nonconscious Cognition’ and Kathy Acker’s ‘Language of the Body’
Literary critic N. Katherine Hayles presents a talk addressing Kathy Acker’s notion of the ‘language of the body’ in relation to her own recent research and writing.

Saturday 4 May 2019, 6:30pm 
The Realm of the Recognisable: Sarah Schulman in conversation with Matias Viegener
Writer and activist Sarah Schulman is joined by artist and writer Matias Viegener to discuss Schulman’s three decades of work and their shared engagements with Kathy Acker. 

Thursday 9 May 2019, 7:00pm
Reba Maybury leads a fearless discussion of themes in Acker’s writing including the father figure and emancipation.  

Tuesday 21 May 2019, 6:45pm
Staying with the Violence: Womb Work and Family Abolition
Writer Sophie Lewis presents a lecture drawing on her new theories of surrogacy, gestational justice and family abolition, followed by a discussion with poet Anne Boyer.

Thursday 23 May 2019, 7:00pm 
Presented by writer Isabel Waidner, readings and a discussion interrogating queerness and class in interdisciplinary writing and publishing in the UK.

Wednesday 12 June 2019, 6:45pm
A young woman works at a New York pornographic theatre in Bette Gordon’s 1983 film co-written by Kathy Acker.

Tuesday 18 June, 12 noon – 2pm
Poet Bhanu Kapil performs tarot readings through the Shining Tribe tarot, an art deck given to the poet by author and divinatory tarot expert Rachel Pollack.

Wednesday 19 June, 7:00pm
Poet Bhanu Kapil performs a new collaborative work made with artist Rohini Kapil and commissioned for the ICA Theatre on the occasion of the exhibition.

Thursday 20 June, 7:00pm
D. Mortimer leads a discussion on the theme of co-dependency in two of Kathy Acker’s novels.

Tuesday 2 July, 6:30pm
A two-part programme of screenings and discussions centred on the moving-image works of theatre director and filmmaker Reza Abdoh (1963 – 1995).

Wednesday 3 July, 6:30pm
A two-part programme of screenings and discussions centred on the moving-image works of theatre director and filmmaker Reza Abdoh (1963 – 1995).

Thursday 4 July, 7:00pm
Rosanna McNamara leads a discussion on myth-making, appropriation and voice in The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec.

Friday 5 July – Sunday 21 July, various times
Introduction to I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker
ICA Public Advisors introduce the current exhibition, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker.

Friday 5 July, 7:00pm
A low-fi musical extravaganza written by artists and performers Carl Gent and Linda Stupart.

Saturday 6 July, 3:00pm
All Us Girls Have Been Dead For So Long
A low-fi musical extravaganza written by artists and performers Carl Gent and Linda Stupart.

Tuesday 9 July, 8:00pm
Brooklyn-based poet and artist Precious Okoyomon performs a new long-form poem on the occasion of I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker.

Wednesday 17 July, 6:45pm
Who's Afraid of Kathy Acker?
An experimental meditation on Acker’s larger-than-life persona, offering a celebration and critique of the writer in equal parts.

Monday 22 July, 7:00pm
Accessible Introduction to I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker
A BSL, SSE and speech-to-text interpreted introduction to the current exhibition, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker, led by the ICA’s curatorial team.

Wednesday 31 July – Sunday 4 August, 8:00pm
Desire: an encounter with a play by Kathy Acker
A newly commissioned performance directed by Kate Valk of the Wooster Group, based on Kathy Acker’s 1982 play Desire.

Wednesday 31 July, 6:45pm
The Golden Boat
Raúl Ruiz’s satirical 1990 film about the fringes of the downtown New York art scene with a cameo by Kathy Acker.

Saturday 3 August 2019, 2:00pm
For the final weekend of I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker, a series of scholarly presentations interrogate the legacy of Acker’s work, extending her lines of thought from artistic, literary and theoretical perspectives

Sunday 4 August 2019, 4:00pm
Los Angeles-based artist Johanna Hedva presents a new performance of guitar and voice on the final weekend of I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker.
Kathy Acker in conversation with Angela McRobbie at the ICA, 1986
Essay by Isabel Waidner
'I don't want to go on living in this world without you': Kathy Acker, Eminem and Co-Dependancy. D. Mortimer, 2019.
Excerpt from Acker's ‘Hannibal Lecter, My Father’, annotated by Reba Maybury
Programme and Bios
Exhibition Guide