PRINT May 2023


Bruce Nauman, Bouncing in the Corner, No. 1, 1968, video, black-and-white, sound, 60 minutes. © Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

WHEN I WAS IN MY LATE TWENTIES, I worked at Electronic Arts Intermix in New York duplicating tapes and DVDs of video art. I had avoided art school, so those weekdays spent in a dim room illuminated by a spectrum of artistic positions were my education. One day, Bruce Nauman was up on the monitors doing his thing. The performance tapes Nauman made in the 1960s are rightly celebrated as classics of video art, but I had no patience for him. Duping certain tapes reminded me of when great novels were assigned in school: Regardless of the material’s quality, or because of it, I brought to the task a certain loathing and resistance. I had pursued this job mainly to have after-hours access to editing equipment for making my own videos. I pointedly did not call myself an artist and felt only disdain for the art world and its products. I now see, without fully understanding, that I must have adopted these extreme postures precisely because art was so immensely important to me. 

I can’t recall what slight and senseless movement Nauman was engaged in, but it was extremely repetitive and it lasted an hour. There I was, sullenly doing what was required, and meanwhile this supposedly canonical performance was marking my time on the clock with quiet, absurdist force. I said something to a passing coworker about how I’d been watching this thing for forty minutes now and I couldn’t wait to see how it ended. He said, “I know, isn’t it amazing?” Being mistaken for sincere is like when your foot takes a phantom step at the top of the stairs, and I had to reevaluate. Someone thinks this is amazing? So amazing that he literally can’t hear my scorn? Clearly, the work is grating and stupid. On the other hand, is it possible it’s both grating and stupid and amazing? How does an artwork draw you in at the same time that it forces you out? For me, this was the start of a whole new chapter. 

Seth Price is an artist based in New York.