Magazine article Artforum International

A Thousand Words: Bruce Nauman Talks about Mapping the Studio

Magazine article Artforum International

A Thousand Words: Bruce Nauman Talks about Mapping the Studio

Article excerpt

What triggered this piece were the mice. We had a big influx of field mice that summer, in the house and in the studio. They were so plentiful even the cat was getting bored with them. I was sitting around the studio being frustrated because I didn't have any new ideas, and I decided that you just have to work with what you've got. What I had was this cat and the mice, and I happened to have a video camera in the studio that had infrared capability. So I set it up and turned it on at night and let it run when I wasn't there, just to see what I'd get.

I have all this stuff lying around the studio, leftovers from different projects and unfinished projects and notes. And I thought to myself, Why not make a map of the studio and its leftovers? Then I thought it might be interesting to let the animals, the cat and the mice, make the map of the studio. So I set the camera up in different locations around the studio where the mice tended to travel just to see what they would do among the remnants of the work. The camera was eventually set up in a sequence of seven positions that I felt pretty much mapped the space.

I only had one camera, and I could only shoot one hour per night. So it's a compilation. There's forty-two hours altogether, made over forty-two nights of shooting in the course of four months. Before I went to bed I'd turn the camera on, and then in the morning I'd go out and see what had happened. The piece ended up being about six hours. (That is, each of the seven simultaneous video projections--representing each of the camera positions--runs six hours.) It just felt like it needed to be long so that you wouldn't necessarily sit down and watch the whole thing but could come and go, as with some of those Warhol films. I wanted that feeling that the piece was just there, almost like an object, just there, ongoing, being itself. I wanted the piece to have a real-time quality. I like the idea of knowing it is going on whether you are there or not.

"Fat chance," which I think is just an interesting saying, refers to a response for an invitation to be involved in an exhibition. Some time ago Anthony d'Offay was going to do a show of John Cage's scores, which are often very beautiful. He also wanted to show work by artists who were interested in or influenced by Cage. So he asked if I would send him something that related. Cage was an important influence for me, especially his writings. So I sent d'Offay a fax that said FAT CHANCE JOHN CAGE. D'Offay thought it was a refusal to participate. I thought it was the work.

I was interested in the relationship between the cat and the mice, but more in a psychological way. Their relationship exists somewhere between a joke and reality. They've been cartoon characters for so long that we think of them as lighthearted performers, but there is this obvious predator-prey tension between them. I wanted to create a situation that was slightly unclear as to how you should react. The overall effect is... ambiguous, maybe a little anxious. Then you can hear the dogs barking once in a while and the coyotes howling now and again. So there is also an element of what's going on inside and what's going on outside, which I like.

What I've felt in watching it is almost a meditation. Because the projection image is fairly large, if you try and concentrate on or pay attention to a particular spot in the image, you'll miss something. …

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