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Bruce Nauman (b. 1941)
1. Soundtrack from First Violin Film (9:48)
2. Violin Problem No. 2 (4:08)
3. Rhythmic Stamping (Four Rhythms in Preparation for Video Tape Problems) (19:58)
Recorded 1969, 32:00.
Soundtrack from 1st Violin Film.
Published by Tanglewood Press, edition of 100.
The album cover silkscreened with images of the artist capturedfrom the 1968 videotape Stamping In The Studio.
Raw Material (2005, Tate Modern)
1. Raw Material - MMMM (2:02
2. Thank You Thank You (1:38
3. You May Not Want To Be Here (2:00
4. Work Work (1:09
5. Pete and Repeat / Dark and Stormy Night (6:50)
6. No No No No - New Musuem (1:26)
7. No No No No - Walter (3:41)
8. 100 Live and Die (2:40)
9. False Silence (2:06)
10. OK OK OK (1:26)
11. Think Think Think (1:54)
12. The True Artist Is An Amazaing Luminous Fountain (2:20)
13. Get Out of My Mind, Get Out of This Room (5:19)
14. Left or Standing / Standing or Left Standing (1:55)
15. Consummate Mask of Rock (7:22)
16. Anthro/Socio (3:18)
17. Good Boy Bad Boy - Jean (3:05)
18. Good Boy Bad Boy - Tucker (4:43)
19. Shit in Your Hat (6:40)
20. World Peace - Bernard (2:31)
21. World Peace - mei mei (4:42)
22. Raw Material - MMMM (0:56)
Bruce Nauman is one of the most important artists of our time. Early in his career, he abandoned painting in favour of sculpture, performance, installation, film, video, photography and neon. This restless exploration of different media reflects a continual questioning and reinvention of his artistic practice. In the 1960s he was one of the pioneers of video art, making a series of groundbreaking videos in which he filmed himself in his studio performing various simple, often absurd, tasks. In subsequent videos he has often used actors to repeat a written text, with nuanced variations, so revealing the ambiguities and dead-ends of language. Sound has always been important to his artistic practice, sometimes as pure audio works, sometimes incorporated as an element in videos or large-scale architectural installations.
For Raw Materials, his sound installation for Tate Modern, Nauman has brought together 22 recordings of texts taken from earlier works that span almost 40 years of his career. Walking through the Turbine Hall, disembodied voices speak to you, or maybe just to themselves, in a variety of styles. There are stark texts like 'OK OK OK', which Nauman himself chants repeatedly until the phrase distorts and seems to morph into new words. Longer pieces such as 'False Silence' or 'Consummate Mask of Rock' are cryptic narratives describing psychological states that are at odds with the calm delivery of the voice. Somewhere in between is 'Get Out of My Mind, Get Out of This Room' in which Nauman repeats the statement as if on the edge of asphyxiation, his gasps and snarls building an atmosphere of claustrophobia and intimidation. There are statements that explore sentence construction, single words repeated over and over, stories that feed back into themselves and go nowhere. Throughout, the tone of voice, the inflection, and variations in rhythms dramatically shift meanings, from diplomatic to psychotic, pleading to bullying, anxiety to mockery.
Nauman's interest in lexical systems shares something with the plays of Samuel Beckett or the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. His fascination with deconstructing language and exposing its inherent ambiguities is paralleled by his approach to making art. In this work, the boundaries between sculpture, sound and language are blurred. The Turbine Hall is empty, but has paradoxically been filled with acoustic material based on the written word. It could be described as a play on the notion of 'volume', since as well as being a measurement of space and of sound, 'volume' suggests a text. It is precisely this sense of instability, where a single thing has many layers of meaning that often contradict one another, which Nauman's work addresses.
The layering of fragments of previous works to create a new whole adds to this complexity. Some of the texts are audio components from videos or architectural installations, others are written texts from Nauman's sculptures, prints or drawings. The diverse origins of the texts are significant, as Nauman has commented: 'I think the range of material and presentations and intentions is important to the richness and density of the experience.' However, by isolating the texts and presenting them as sound recordings, Nauman admits: 'Some texts are going to be reinforced, some will lose a lot compared with my original intentions, but I think that is okay. I'm just going to let that happen, however it happens. They're out of context, so they become a whole new kind of experience╔ I am using these otherwise finished texts as raw material for a whole other idea╔ I am not as emotionally involved with the individual pieces as I would be if I were trying to re-install each one. I'm using this stuff in a kind of abstract way, or pretending it is abstract and allowing almost random associations to appear.'
Rhythm has always been central to Nauman's work. Some of the recordings include loops ('OK OK OK' or 'No No No No -- New Museum') where single words are repeated over and over, with a different emphasis each time. Some of the loops are short and a pattern quickly emerges. Even background sounds that initially seem arbitrary evolve into percussive polyrhythms. Early in his career, Nauman was inspired by composer John Cage, who argued that chance occurrences and ambient sound can hold equal status with intentional composition. Other audio ('Good Boy Bad Boy' or 'World Peace') follows a pattern in which different words or phrases are conjugated like verbs, repeated in different voices to extract a variety of meanings. '100 Live and Die' is a particularly musical work that creates a rhythm by attaching a word like 'scream' or 'fail' to the alternating endings 'and live' or 'and die'. In each recitation the chorus of voices chanting the hundred phrases moves in and out of sync, in a way that recalls the modular music of composer Steve Reich. 'Music plays a role in a lot of my work', Nauman has said. 'Even when there is no music'.
Sound responds to different spaces in particular ways and the Turbine Hall has a unique sonority. The low-level hum of generators can still be heard, a reminder of the building's previous existence as a power station. This was influential in defining the project, as Nauman explains: 'The first time I visited the Turbine Hall there was a group of Henry Moore sculptures on view. The first thought I had was to use the overhead cranes to fly them around the space╔ I think that what edged me toward an audio environment was the turbine drone and how it varied as I moved from place to place.'
Nauman decided against placing the recordings in a thematic or chronological order. He says: 'I started with the idea of using 'Thank You Thank You' at the entrance, but after that the arrangement was quite intuitive, and based more on the texture and intensity of the relationships than narrative structure. I do feel that the last piece in the room -- 'World Peace' -- is in an appropriate place, provides a resting place, but of course people will have to walk through the space to leave the museum proper.'
In 'World Peace' we hear a man and woman recite a series of simple phrases around the verbs 'talk' and 'listen', such as 'I'll talk/ They'll listen' and 'You'll listen to us/ We'll talk to you.' In each instance, the statement is reversed in the following line before moving on to the next in the sequence. The title can be taken as a wry comment on global-political misunderstanding. With an economy of means, Nauman simultaneously represents the simplicity and complexity of communication.
Assistant Curator, Tate Modern
Language has always played a central role in Bruce Nauman's work, providing him with a means of examining how human beings exist in the world, how they communicate or fail to communicate. For Raw Materials, he has selected 22 spoken texts taken from existing works to create an aural collage in the Turbine Hall. Removed from their original context, the individual texts and voices become almost abstract elements, taking on new meanings as they are rearranged as part of a single work.
Raw Materials also draws on Nauman's fascination with space, and the ways it can alter our behaviour and self-awareness. The Turbine Hall has been organised so that visitors encounter 'bands of sound' that run in strips across its width. No other physical changes have been made to the space. Sound becomes a sculptural material in itself, one that orchestrates and measures its surroundings.
The Turbine Hall is filled with voices, some clearly audible, others indistinct, which merge with new, 'found' sound from the voices of visitors. In Raw Materials, Nauman has transformed this cavernous space into a metaphor for the world, echoing to the endless sound of jokes, poems, pleas, greetings, statements and propositions.
Curator, Tate Modern
Bruce Nauman in Conversation with Robert Storr
Language has been a key element in Bruce Nauman's work. For the fifth in The Unilever Series of commissions for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, Nauman, who is one of the most important visual artists working today, uses the human voice as the focus of a new installation. Robert Storr talked to the artist on his ranch in Galisteo, New Mexico
ROBERT STORR Could you describe how your Turbine Hall project got started? When and how did the idea come to you?
BRUCE NAUMAN I don't remember exactly. I was asked by Tate whether I would be interested in making a proposal, but there was a time limit because if I didn't want to do it, then they would need to approach someone else. So I went and looked at the space -- and it's extremely difficult. I came home and thought about it and decided I could do something with sound; that seemed the best thing for me. After a while I realised that instead of inventing new sounds, I wanted to use spoken text I had recorded over the past 30 or 40 years and make a kind of a collage. The people at Tate said that would be fine, so I got the materials together and went back when the space was finally empty. I was able to test some of the ideas and at that point really refine the way that I thought the project could work.
ROBERT STORR When you said you wanted to make a collage, did you already have an idea about which specific texts you were going to use and how they might relate to each other?
BRUCE NAUMAN No, I didn't really know how they would connect. I had the idea of visitors walking into one area of sound and then into another. But it's a very long, narrow space that is also one of the entrances to the museum, and halfway down you make a left turn to go into the galleries. So you have to do something to draw people further into the other half of the space. The idea of sounds coming from above and being isolated was a little problematic -- how would visitors know to continue on into the rest of the hall? The first time I went there the equipment I had wasn't working very well. Then we found a supplier who came up with flat panel speakers that were very directional. That was what I was looking for: working horizontally was much better than having the sound come from above -- it's as if when you walk through the space, you come through wave after wave of different texts. At this point there are actually about twenty texts, which create an overall ambient sound. When you walk into an area several metres wide the text is very clear. Then it becomes fuzzy as it merges with the next one, and then the next one becomes clear. There is always something going on to draw you into the space.
ROBERT STORR So the whole project is organised as a sequence of zones?
BRUCE NAUMAN Yes. The speakers are going to be mounted on the long walls of the Turbine Hall facing each other in pairs, so you walk through these bands of sound as you go down the ramp and into the space.
ROBERT STORR Considering its size, the hall isn't that wide.
BRUCE NAUMAN It's roughly 150 metres long, but a mere 21 or 22 metres wide. My studio is only slightly narrower.
ROBERT STORR In your Get Out of My Mind, Get Out of this Room (1968) the visitor enters on a central axis, but the side-to-side dynamic is very important. Standing in the middle of the room you hear a voice both to the left and the right, but the words are much sharper and more intense the closer you get to the speakers. So you set up this back and forth pattern of sound and of movement by the viewer. Was that installation a kind of aural prototype for this project?
BRUCE NAUMAN Yes.
ROBERT STORR Given the arrangement of these bands of sound in the Tate piece, is there a point where you really hear nothing between them?
BRUCE NAUMAN No, there is always something. There will be a spot in-between where you'll probably hear a little of this, a little of that, and then a little of everything. And there are the background sounds of the building and of the people in there talking. We're also going to hang overhead diffusion speakers that will spread a kind of a white noise over the whole space to mask some of the echoes. But these are all things that need to be tested and worked on.
ROBERT STORR It's sort of the sound equivalent of a person painting or drawing in strong lights and darks around a pre-existing middle tone. You're establishing a bass line or drone that is actually a composite of several different pieces. Does this mean adjusting the original tapes in terms of pitch or volume?
BRUCE NAUMAN Yes, we'll probably have to do that, but we won't know until we've completed the tests. We've done enough for me to imagine it's all going to work.
ROBERT STORR Still, the next run-though may have its white-knuckle moments.
BRUCE NAUMAN I really want to use Rinde Eckert singing from Anthro/Socio(1992), but that's such an intense tape that I have to be careful it doesn't take over the situation. If it can't be controlled, it might not work in the context of the whole room. I've got enough spare texts if some just aren't appropriate.
ROBERT STORR How many different voices will you actually have speaking at once? For example, your video installation World Peace has about five or six monologues going on simultaneously.
BRUCE NAUMAN I'm going to use only two of those voices. Because the speakers are very directional, they are just as loud 50 feet away as ten feet away. As they walk down the hall people would normally gravitate towards the origin of the sound. If you have a speaker on each side broadcasting the same text, they tend to stand in the middle of the room. That's more comfortable and I prefer that idea. In some cases, though, I'll have a different voice on each side with the same text -- more like some of the original installations. In other cases, it will be the same text broadcast on both sides.
ROBERT STORR Do you have any thoughts about how the patterns of movement of visitors -- how they accumulate in or are dispersed throughout the space -- will affect the work? I gather the way people positioned themselves in Olafur Eliasson's The Weather Projectdetermined how the whole piece was experienced.
BRUCE NAUMAN Yes. The ramp covers a little less than half of the space and keeps people moving. In the Eliasson piece, they didn't stop there so much. They gravitated towards the sun image at the far end where the floor is level, congregated there and started doing things. I can't pretend to imitate that kind of situation. Some of my texts are very short and repetitive, so you get them pretty quickly and move on. Others are long and quite intense, but I don't necessarily expect people to stay and try to listen to the whole thing. Some texts are going to be reinforced, some will lose a lot compared with my original intentions, but I think that's okay. I'm just going to let that happen, however it happens. They're out of context, so they become a whole new kind of experience.
ROBERT STORR In Anthro/Socio, Get Out of My Mind, Get Out of this Roomand a number of your other works the texts are repeated, but the voices change register and there are striking cadences and overlays. You hear the words and get the explicit meaning, but there's also an emotional response to the overall musicality of the piece.
BRUCE NAUMAN I think this installation is going to reinforce the musicality and the emotional content, rather than the intellectual content.
ROBERT STORR With all your concern for these phrasings and intervals in mind, is this piece really a musical composition to a greater extent than was true of any of the individual parts you're using to make it?
BRUCE NAUMAN I'm using these otherwise finished texts as raw material for a whole other idea. What I'm doing is saying: "Okay, forget what the original intention was, just use this stuff as sound that is available and arrange it in some way that makes another kind of sense." We'll have all the texts, we'll have the space and we'll have enough speakers, and we'll be able to begin the process. I've made a programme of the way I think I want it to work -- this one goes with that one, this is the next one -- but it may be totally inappropriate when I finally start to walk through it and hear it. I can change things around, maybe delete some and add others. There's no other way to do it, except in that space. I can guess in pairs here in the studio, but I can't make the ensemble.
ROBERT STORR About two years ago I saw Bob Dylan in concert and he sang a lot of his early material -- story songs and songs with messages -- but in this really interesting, kind of flat, very rapid cadence, as if he were purposefully going against the explicit meaning of his lyrics to get something else out of the music. It was like he was treating the words as the basis for jazz improvisation. Dylan's not the model necessarily, but it seems a little bit like what you're up to -- taking old work and rephrasing it in a way that sounds utterly different.
BRUCE NAUMAN Yes. Because basically he's taking his stuff out of the original context and using it in another way, as something to work with, without giving weight to its original intention. Or he's trying to do that -- it's not that simple.
ROBERT STORR Is it stretching things to say that what you're doing is basically using sound as sculptural material, and experimenting with it to find out how manipulable or malleable it is within given spatial dimensions?
BRUCE NAUMAN When I was trying to explain this idea in one of the meetings we had at Tate, they said it's like sampling, and in a way it is. But that seemed too simple, because it's my own work that I'm using, rather than just choosing this or that.
ROBERT STORR Is there any aspect of making what is effectively a sound retrospective that is particularly surprising or unsettling?
BRUCE NAUMAN It's been easier than doing a normal retrospective. I'm not as emotionally involved with the individual pieces as I would be if I were trying to re-install each one. I'm using this stuff in a kind of abstract way, or pretending it's abstract and allowing almost random associations to appear. At one point I thought, well, I can do this chronologically. But it doesn't seem correct in that people are coming into the space directly from the entrance of the museum. You have to arrange it so they can adjust to what's going on, and not do complex things immediately. I want to start with Thank You, because it's just that simple word repeated. You don't want to do The Consummate Mask of Rock as soon as people step in the door -- they're going to go right by it.
ROBERT STORR Will you make any physical alterations to the space, or will it remain essentially a huge empty box? Will the speakers be visible on the wall?
BRUCE NAUMAN They'll be visible, but they won't be very obvious. I'm going to mount them on the phalanges of the I-beams so they won't protrude into the space. You'll see these flat cardboard things, which are the speakers.
ROBERT STORR So you'll feel the physical volume of the space in relation to the volume of sound, and that's it?
BRUCE NAUMAN Yes. There will be two places, under and on top of the bridge, where the sound will come from above. In the rest of the hall it will be coming from the sides.
ROBERT STORR You talked about the sequential progression of sounds. Are you also thinking about sequencing the tapes in terms of their logical or emotional content in a way that they might be construed as a cumulative proposition or statement?
BRUCE NAUMAN Up to this point I've tried to go from short intense pieces to longer, quieter ones, so it modulates all the way down the length of the hall, but until I actually install them, I won't know if that's the best way to do it.
ROBERT STORR But are you considering using these disparate texts to summarise an idea? Are you working with that possibility, or just ignoring it?
BRUCE NAUMAN Well, ignoring it -- because of the way the space is set up. I really thought about that a lot, especially in terms of where you enter the museum from the space underneath the bridge. I don't want people to jam up there. I want them to feel like they can go through that area and congregate to listen to some longer text.
ROBERT STORR How does this project fit in with the rest of your current work? For example, recently you have been casting fish and making fountains out of them. Does a commission or an unexpected opportunity of this sort constitute a parenthesis within what you're thinking or doing in other domains, or does it just become a part of a flow of ideas?
BRUCE NAUMAN It's part of a whole flow of ideas. I was working on this fish project, so I did consider making a large-scale version of it, but given the amount of time I had to work on the Tate installation -- a year -- that seemed unlikely to happen. I would have needed a number of years. The only other thing that occurred to me was that because there are these cranes in Tate Modern, and because the first time I saw the space there were Henry Moore sculptures in it, well, I could pick the Moores up and start flying them around.
ROBERT STORR Maybe you should be the first artist to do two Unilever projects in a row. It would be a wonderful sight -- an aerial ballet of sculptures that are, by design, so emphatically earthbound: "Henry Moore Bound to Fly". But let's go back to the question of the role that commissions and projects play in the normal rhythm of your work╔
BRUCE NAUMAN Well, I certainly turn down many more than I take on. If this project hadn't come to me in the way it did, I think I might not have done it. I've had misgivings. We've had a lot of technical problems with speakers and setting this thing up, and, you know, I'm not in the electronics business here. I did think about other ideas, but I didn't have a really clear large physical or sculptural idea. It's a tough space. You can't mock it up anywhere else.
ROBERT STORR But the space has inspired the artists who agreed to take it on to produce interesting things, even when they haven't been 100 per cent successful. Nobody's faked it so far.
BRUCE NAUMAN No, you can't.
ROBERT STORR When was the last time you showed in England; was it at the Hayward Gallery exhibition in 1998?
BRUCE NAUMAN Yes.
ROBERT STORR Have you had any time to look around and see what is going on in London, because it has certainly changed a lot in the past ten or fifteen years?
BRUCE NAUMAN I've really enjoyed the times I've been in London. I haven't seen a lot of art, but some. I always go to the National Gallery. And the weather's been great every time.
ROBERT STORR There's a wonderful passage in Virginia Woolf 's Orlando where she talks about the glorious, bright and sunny Elizabethan age, and how, after that, the clouds descended. Maybe the clouds are finally going away.
BRUCE NAUMAN Well they said I could come back anytime I wanted to, because it's always supposed to be raining, but when I get there the sun comes out.
ROBERT STORR Does London seem like an exciting place to be producing art now?
BRUCE NAUMAN Yes. It's different from New York.
ROBERT STORR In what way?
BRUCE NAUMAN I can't say exactly, but there's a really different attitude about what art is supposed to be about and how it's supposed to function. I was amazed at the number of people that go through all the floors of Tate Modern, and then there's Saatchi's place. And there are works shown in London, maybe with a little disclaimer -- "your children might not want to look at this" -- that they'd have a hard time putting up in the States. The British don't seem to have that problem.
ROBERT STORR England is wide open. Things are happening very fast and the public is actively engaged. It's enjoying an early phase of an incredibly dynamic arts scene, and the energy seems to override the sour or dubious aspects of that scene.
BRUCE NAUMAN I think maybe it's like the boom of painting in the 1980s. There was a lot of bad stuff, but prices went up and that brought everything up. It brought a lot of people into galleries and into museums. So that's terrific. There might be crap and mistakes, but so what? You need that. It's great.
ROBERT STORR We could do with a little more ferment in the States, but I'm afraid we'll have to wait.
BRUCE NAUMAN Yeah, I think we're going to have to wait.
The Unilever Series: Bruce Nauman, Tate Modern Turbine Hall, 12 October -- 28 March 2005.
Robert Storr is an artist, critic, curator and the Rosalie Solow professor of modern art at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York.
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