October 6, 2020
Tate Modern, London
Featuring funny walks, shouting, inertia, banality, sex, detritus and an abject clown, this retrospective of the pioneering video artist’s career is a disturbing thrill
Even before you get to Bruce Nauman’s exhibition at Tate Modern, he’s there. Washing his hands in a two-monitor video installed on the ground floor that inverts the same ritual, the same suds, the same palms and fingers kneading water and soap. Nauman’s voices follow you up and down the stairwell, in a replay of his 2004 Turbine Hall commission, Raw Materials. In the Tate cafe, the video Good Boy, Bad Boy plays on monitors, like a disturbing conversation at the next table, while an hour-long video shows Nauman on his ranch, prosaically setting fences in the sun and heat. At the entrance to his show is a bright neon work, the one that tells you that the true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths. Fat chance, as the artist might say.
And then we are there, plunged into the New Mexico night, and the mess of Nauman’s studio, where he installed cameras to record the nocturnal activity in the empty building. Insects doodle bright trails of light in the gloom. There goes a mouse, running along the foot of a wall. I know that a cat appears at some point, but I missed it, in this almost six-hour work filmed over several weeks in 2001. I sit in one of the swivel chairs dotted about the dark space, paddling in circles with my feet and taking in the seven projected views, which are sometimes flipped back to front or inverted, bleached-out or saturated in colour. Sitting there turning in the projected night I feel like I have become part of the installation, and that I’m method-acting the artist himself, marooned in that creative emptiness from which everything in his art flows.