Bruce Nauman at Hayward Gallery, London (1998)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This review first appeared in World Sculpture News, 4(3), pages 49-50 in 1998.

Bruce Nauman at Hayward Gallery

Bruce Nauman’s confrontational work uses language, intonation, surveillance, and aesthetic hypnotism which can result in amusement—and psychological exhaustion. Occupying two floors of the Hayward Gallery, the survey of this influential post-War, avant-garde artist included over 40 works from 1967 to 1996 that use video, sculpture, neon, film, sound, drawings, and photography. Taken together this is in-your-face disorientation.

Sculptures by Bruce Nauman included those approaching art and language, often using neon light. First Poem Piece (1968) consists of a steel sheet embossed with “You may not want to be around here,” 17 times horizontally—yet 16 of these had deletions of certain words and phrases such as “You may not be here,” that played on language in solid form.

Bruce Nauman’s neon work Raw War (1979) blinks “R-A-WAR” combining novelty, commercialism, and the problems of the media spectacle and the viewer’s response. One Hundred Live or Die (1984) raises American popular slang to new heights, and illustrates the problems and limitations of language and meaning, particularly our role as consumers of products and language. After 100 phrases were lit in sequence, all light up simultaneously for a grand finale.

Approaching video surveillance, two works: Live-Taped Video Corridor (1970) and Going Around the Corner Piece (1970) stood out. In the first, two blank monitors at the end of a long recess encourage the viewer to walk into the space where we see ourselves on another monitor— caught and cornered as if we had been tricked. In the second work, four surveillance cameras are strategically placed around a monumental cube. Walking around it, we could be lab rats on an endless cycle of observation and recognition.

In some ways, these surveillance pieces were overpowered by the sights and sounds of his more confrontational works. In one sound piece the viewer enters and empty room with a hanging light bulb that, with its spiritual presence, recalls early, idealistic Le Corbusier interiors. Once inside the viewer is bombarded with cries of “Get out of my mind, get out of this room,” also the title of the work.

In one of Bruce Nauman’s video installation, performance artist Rinde Eckert loudly chants “Feed me/Eat me/Anthropology….Help me/ Hurt me/ Sociology” in ANTHRO/SOCIO (1991). Only Eckert’s head is exposed—projected, multiplied and turned upside down with the chants overlapping and echoing.

Yet, Raw Material with Continuous Stuff (1991) wins the insanity award with projections of a spinning head juxtaposed against its equivalent in reverse. The result is an assertive push against psycho-social borders.