Home Magazine New Body perception: the case of Bruce Nauman

To truly understand the complex evolution and transformation of the body in Bruce Nauman's work, it's necessary to take a step back on his background. Indeed, one of the first important detail to consider is the place where the artist grows and spent a significant part of his life. 

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Bruce Nauman born in 1941 in the city of Fort Wayne in the State of Indiana but he moved fast to California where his university studies on arts were soon mixed with a strong interest on scientist issues. It's very important to consider that the centre of Los Angeles after the Second War World was experiencing unprecedented urban expansion, for which the symptom of space and time precariousness of one's individuality of people becomes inevitable. Indeed, we have to imagine a city where a borderline distinction between artificial and natural nature was almost impossible. In a short space of time, this landscape is characterized for the ambiguous co-presence of new freeways and desert, the ocean and large building agglomerations; also the difference between day and night light is cancelled by the constant presence of an artificial light that creates a new continuity between day and night. This existential location, of course, had an evident impact on Nauman perception of himself in this daily environment. That zeroing of a center pushed the artist in searching an experience of himself as an image and a space-time fulcrum. 


Bruce Nauman, From Hand to Mouth" 1967, wax on fabric, 76 x 25 x 10 cm.


The works created between 1965-1966 were characterized by the availment of materials such as fibreglass, rubber and latex, and by being made with soft materials this organicity seems to transform them in autonomous bodies. As bodies, they have an inside and an outside part, a front and a back that makes them border places suitable to offering a delimited and delimitable experience  ("Platform Made Up of Space Between Two Rectilinear Boxes on the floor"). So, if the object becomes corporeal for Nauman body becomes an object. In 1966 Nauman proceeds with a re-evaluation of the body as an object identity an example of that is the work titled "Neon Templates of the Left Half of My Body Taken at Ten Inch Intervals" (1966), a print of the left part of artist's body, carried in a neon according to time intervals about 25 centimetres. A reflection that leads the artist to consider the body as a localizable phenomenon as in the work "From Hand to Mouth" (1967) in which he reproduces a part of his body (from hand to mouth) with wax on canvas.


Bruce Nauman, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign), 1967. 


This self-experience on this new body/object had stimulated in Nauman the necessity of a codification. Around 1967 this new consciousness led him to work on the concept of "indices" that concern the body either as object and sign. The case studies of this "index" were summarized by the artist as gestures, actions, paths, personal images, tracks, written or spoken sounds. With the work "The True Artist Is an Amazing Luminous Fountain" for the first time Nauman used mottoes as others declarations of true whereby to play with a double vision of the world! In the same period, the artist started a series of works focused on his name. In 1968 he reproduced the name "Bruce" with a Blu neon by thinking it was written on the moon. The choice of one's name as a theme is further recognition of one's existence, of one's essence as a "nomenic" entity, as an element recognized through an abstract medium: the name. The artist begins to conceive his existence as a language.



From left to right Bruce Nauman, Eating My Words, dal portfolio Eleven Color Photographs, 1966-67-1970-2007. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Photo Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago © Bruce Nauman – 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich | Bruce Nauman, First Hologram Series. Making Faces B, 1968. Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation. Photo Bisig & Bayer, Basel © Bruce Nauman - 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich 

The last important phase of this research is in 1969 when by using the latest technologies in the video art fields Nauman started to experiment new ways to interact with the public. The body becomes a two-dimensional image inside a video-tape television as in this case of the work "Holograms"; thanks to this sensorial environment the visitor becomes part of objects set and sensations that he could collect on his own, according to his reactions and stimuli. With this last step, by revealing himself, Nauman has given the possibility to the viewer to better see his own body, to make him more participate and aware of communicational and organically complexity of his body.

Cover image: Bruce Nauman, Wall Floor Positions, 1968. Still da video. MoMA, New York. Courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix, New York © Bruce Nauman 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich.

Written by Elisabetta Rastelli

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