TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT March 2002

interviews

1000 WORDS: BRUCE NAUMAN

Bruce Nauman’s new piece calls to mind one of his early works, Fishing for Asian Carp, 1966. That two-minute-forty-four-second film documents a man putting on wading boots, entering a river, and eventually catching a fish. The structure was dictated by the process and goal of catching a fish: When the fish was caught the film was over. What we don't know is what would have happened had the fish not been caught. Part tongue-in-cheek instructional film, Fishing is also an allegory for the unpredictable nature of artmaking. As with Beckett’s Molloy, who transferred a stone from one pocket to another, sometimes it’s just a matter of waiting. And Nauman has been waiting for some time. Mapping the Studio (Fat Chance John Cage) is his first major installation in four years.

There are two versions. The first (on view at the Dia Center for the Arts in New York until July 27) is a straight recording of Nauman’s studio at night and the comings and goings of a cat and mice. In the second (which debuts at Sperone Westwater, New York, later this spring), images are flipped and color is added. The color is not sweet or beautiful; the result is a Naumanesque rainbow of disorientation and disjunctive narrative. The incidental sounds of dogs, cats, horses, coyotes, and distant traffic on the sound track are spooky.

Those of us who aren’t artists don’t know the anxiety of emptiness a studio can provoke. I imagine this piece gets us pretty close. It’s this sense of vacuousness—the long periods of inaction—that is the strength of the piece. Nauman is literally putting us in his place, watching and waiting for the next idea, which happens to be about watching and waiting for the next idea.

Michael Auping

BRUCE NAUMAN

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. So you really have to not concentrate and allow your peripheral vision to work. You tend to get more if you just scan without seeking. You have to become passive, I think.

Because I wasn’t shooting every night, every hour the camera moves a tiny bit. The image changes a little bit every hour regardless of any action that’s taking place. I was working in the studio during the day all that time, and I would unconsciously move things around. Maybe organize a few things—what you do in a studio when you’re supposedly not making art. So the areas that I was shooting tended to get cleaner or have fewer objects in them over the six hours. I thought that was kind of interesting.

It ends pretty much how it starts. It begins with a title and a few credits, and then basically it just starts, and then it ends. The image goes blank. No crescendo, no fade, no “The End.” It just stops, like a long slice of time, just time in the studio.