Bruce Nauman

Taught to have respect for the ethical value of work, at the beginning of his career Bruce Nauman addressed his attention to the idea of art as a profession, going to his studio everyday. He immediately faced the fundamental question of what an artist does all alone in that setting. He reached the conclusion that art is an activity of research and not simply a product.
In line with this idea, he has employed diverse media; once he abandoned painting, he created sculptures, drawings, performances, videos, and installations. He autonomously developed his own concepts without restricting them to specific technical limitations.
Between 1965 and 1973 Nauman produced films and videos, exploring above all their conceptual potential. His first films intended to use the video camera as a simple means for recording, capable of documenting his activities without narrative or aesthetic problems or restraints. The low-cost film approach allowed the artist to continue his investigations, initially conceived as performances, even without a public. Filmed with a fixed video camera, some of his works are the analyses of his studio activity. Thus the artist describes the geometrical and mental space of his daily work. In starting out from the presupposition that any human action is worthy of attention, no matter how elementary or arbitrary it may be, Nauman documents the physical act of his continuous walking, for example, exaggerating some aspects of this simple action or isolating it in dance exercises.
He later used video to record actions previously presented as performances, intended as looping works.
Even when the artist is the protagonist of the filmed actions, none of Nauman’s videos have autobiographical intentions. If framed, his face is often cut or unrecognizable, and parts of his body that might be in close-up are seen as abstract details and not referable to a specific person.
Influenced by the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein, according to whom language consists in propositions that represent and symbolize the world, Nauman gives his videos precise descriptive titles.
Video reappeared in his work in the mid-eighties in the form of installations or large-scale projections. [M.B.]

List of Works

Art Make-Up, No. 1: White, 1967
transferred from 16 mm film, color, silent, 10 min.
Art Make-Up, No. 2: Pink, 1967–1968
transferred from 16 mm film, color, silent, 10 min.
Art Make-Up, No. 3: Green, 1967–1968
transferred from 16 mm film, color, silent, 10 min.
Art Make-Up, No. 4: Black, 1967–1968
transferred from 16 mm film, color, silent, 10 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Initially conceived as a single installation projected on four walls, the film shows the artist who covers his face and chest, masking himself with a white cosmetic on which he then applies layers of pink, green, and black.

Bouncing Two Balls between the Floor and Ceiling with Changing Rhythms, 1967–1968
transferred from 16 mm film, black and white, sound, 10 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Like the three that follow, this film is shot in a studio at Mill Valley in California. It treats the artist’s research based on the daily activity inside the studio. Intended as a performance, given the absence of an audience, the activities are only carried out for the eye of the camera. In this first case, Nauman bounces two small balls in the center of a square marked out on the floor and carries out all of the necessary moves to catch them and make them continuously bounce.

Dance or Exercise on the Perimeter of a Square (Square Dance), 1967–1968
transferred from 16 mm film, black and white, sound, 10 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The sound of the metronome beats out the time of a dance exercise that consists in moving along a square traced out on the floor and on which the artist has marked the meridian point of each side.

Playing a Note on the Violin while I Walk around the Studio, 1967–1968
transferred from 16 mm film, black and white, sound, 10 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
At times moving out of the camera’s visual field, Nauman walks inside his studio and plays two notes with a violin. Images and sound are unsynchronized.

Walking in an Exaggerated Manner around the Perimeter of a Square, 1967–1968
transferred from 16 mm film, black and white, silent, 10 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Inside his studio the artist walks around the perimeter of a square marked out with adhesive tape on the floor, accurately placing one foot behind the other. The walk is characterized by a very evident movement of his hips. This work would later be developed in Walk with Contrapposto.

Bouncing in the Corner, No. 1, 1968
video, black and white, sound, 60 min., loop
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The artist’s body is filmed while it bounces against a corner of his studio. The exercise is exhibited with a 90° rotated image pointed on his torso and legs.

Flesh to White to Black to Flesh, 1968
video, black and white, sound, 51 min., loop
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Nauman covers his face and the upper part of his body with white and then black cream. He then eliminates both layers.

Slow Angle Walk (Beckett Walk), 1968
video, black and white, sound, 60 min., loop
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Influenced by the works of Samuel Beckett, the artist repeats an elaborate series of body movements characterized by repetition and the seeming lack of meaning. The fixed camera is rotated 180°.

Stamping in the Studio, 1968
video, black and white, sound, 62 min., loop
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Nauman walks inside his studio, beating the rhythm with his feet. His movements are either diagonal or spiral. The camera is placed upside-down.

Walk with Contrapposto, 1968
video, black and white, sound, 60 min., loop
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
At every step taken on a contrapposto pose Nauman walks along the narrow space of a corridor made in his studio for the occasion. The architectural element would later be the basis of his first installation, focused on the space of a corridor.

Wall-Floor Positions, 1968
video, black and white, sound, 60 min., loop
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The fixed video camera records the actions of the artist who while remaining inside the field of vision takes on different positions in relation to the floor and the wall. Similar exercises—totaling twenty-eight positions—were carried out by the artist in a 1965 performance.

Bouncing Balls, 1969
transferred from 16 mm film, black and white, silent, 9 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
With an extreme close-up the video records the action of the artist who touches his testicles with his hand.

Bouncing in the Corner, No. 2: Upside Down, 1969
video, black and white, sound, 60 min., loop
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
This video is analogous to the 1968 one with the same title. In this case, the image shows the body of the artist with a 180° rotation.

Gauze, 1969
transferred from 16 mm film, black and white, silent, 8 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Filmed with the video camera upside-down, the video shows Nauman pulling a long strip of gauze out of his mouth.

Manipulating a Fluorescent Tube, 1969
video, black and white, sound, 62 min., loop
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The artist takes on different positions in relation to a neon tube. The video records actions previously analyzed in a 1965 performance.

Pacing Upside Down, 1969
video, black and white, sound, 56 min., loop
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The artist walks along the sides of a square designed on the floor, describing perimeters that become more extended, up to the point of disappearing from the field of vision. The camera is upside-down, thus altering the idea of the ceiling and the floor.

Pulling Mouth, 1969
transferred from 16 mm film, black and white, silent, 8 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
With his hands Nauman alters the shape of his mouth. In this case as well, the face of the artist is rendered as an upside-down close-up. And as in Black Balls, Bouncing Balls, and Gauze the action is recorded for only a few seconds with an industrial high-speed camera that captures up to four thousand photograms per second. When projected at normal speed the images appear in extreme slow motion, thereby rendering the actions practically abstract.

Elke Allowing the Floor to Rise up over Her, Face Up, 1973
video, color, sound, 39 min., loop
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Depending on the artist’s instructions, an actress imagines that the molecules of her body gradually become one and the same with those of the floor. The mental action is at times interrupted because the woman concentrates so hard that she has difficulty breathing. The video is the offshoot of a performance staged in 1969: on that occasion the artist asked his actors to imagine being sucked into the floor or that the floor itself was rising over them.

Tony Sinking into the Floor, Face up and Face Down, 1973
video, color, sound, 60 min., loop
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The mental exercise is recorded through the image of a man, supine or prone. The video is correlated with the previous one and is made at the same time. Together they represent Nauman’s first recording in a professional studio with actors and with the use of optical effects.

Artworks
Exhibitions