Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Nauman on "Mapping the Studio II"

Mapping the Studio II with color shift, flip, flop, & flip/flop (Fat Chance John Cage) 2001 takes the artist’s studio as its subject. As Nauman explains, he had recently finished two large commissions which were the culmination of a train of thought, and was getting frustrated in the studio as he did not have any interesting new ideas to work on. He began to think about using items that had been left in the studio from previous projects, and then noticed that the cat, who also lived in the studio, was currently struggling to keep up with all the field mice that had been appearing. Taking this as an intrinsic part of studio activity, Nauman decided to film whatever was happening in the studio. He set up the camera in seven places he knew were highly travelled by the mice.

"You want to do something… So out of desperation you finally do something, anything – it doesn’t matter if it’s a good idea or a bad idea, you just have to do something. There’s a degree of anxiety and frustration that is a motivator to stop worrying about whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea and just do it."
- Bruce Nauman, in interview, 4 October 2004

Nauman was also influenced by his reading of the journals of nineteenth century explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in which they recount their day-by-day experiences of their expedition across America. Even though they were mostly reporting mundane and repetitive details, such as the weather and the position of the moon, Nauman noticed that something interesting happened almost every day. This became part of the inspiration for the ‘map’ that Nauman recorded in the notebooks. Nauman would set up his camera in the studio and leave it running until the tape ran out and the next day he would go through the footage meticulously recording the activities in his notebook.
Although a viewer who enters the installation space when no action is happening in any of the seven projections might think that there is nothing going on, Nauman points out that there is always something happening, from the insects flying around to the shadows and patterns in the room – although the cat never catches a mouse on film!

"You begin to [notice] smaller and smaller incidents. At first I was looking for the cat and the mouse and then I started to listen to the flies buzzing round or to see the beautiful patterns that the moths make as they fly around in front of the camera. There was a lot more going on than I was anticipating."
- Bruce Nauman, in interview, 4 October 2004

The feeling of frustration that initially engendered the piece is not carried through into the finished work – instead of frustration, in fact, Nauman likens the feeling he gets from the work to one of meditation. He points out furthermore, that if a viewer is trying too hard to focus on the action they might miss something else, so one way to approach it is to relax, become passive and let the piece just happen.

"Trying hard to pay attention is when you miss things, so you have to kind of un-focus yourself. It’s a very relaxing state if you can allow yourself."
- Bruce Nauman, in interview, 4 October 2004

Whether a viewer drops into the installation for just a few minutes or stays for longer in order to experience time passing, there will always be something going on with or without the viewer’s presence. In this way the work has a real-time presence and a sense of permanence:
"it just felt like it needed to be so long so that you wouldn’t necessarily sit down and watch the whole thing, but could come and go…I wanted that feeling that the piece was just there, almost like an object, just there, ongoing, being itself."

- Bruce Nauman, interview with Michael Auping, Please Pay Attention Please: Bruce Nauman’s Words, Janet Kraynak (ed.), 2002,The MIT Press / Cambridge, MA / London, England, 2003, p. 397 - 404.

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