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The Magnification of Imperfection

In July I visited the Bruce Nauman exposition in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. It was my first real encounter with Nauman’s work and the visit inspired the thoughts I want to share with you in this post.

I took my time to take in the exposition. Slowly and deliberately, I made my way through all nineteen galleries. After the experience I went for a coffee in the museum café. There I reflected. Then I decided to walk through the exposition once more.

In the second gallery a thought entered my mind that I wanted to write down. I grabbed my phone, opened a new note, and started typing. I did not stop typing for another fifteen minutes. I remember the guard, passing me three times, before I finally continued walking myself.

What follows is that stream of consciousness. I wrote it with research for The Live Coaches fresh on my mind. At the end I put in some concrete examples of how Nauman’s work elicits questions in me.

At the Bruce Nauman exhibition:

What happens to your experience of an experience if you can’t record it?
In a concert-setting – bright light? Very dark? Too dark?
Light and dark quickly succeeding eachother.
Images on a screen that your camera cannot record.

How soon will visitors surrender?
When do they still try?
When do they give up?
When does it become so obvious that they won’t even try?
And then?

What if you invite them to capture, but it’s impossible?
The message is in the interaction.
To film is to interact.
Or not?

Observation: dark spaces pull me in the most. But so do lights. Glow at the end of a hallway or around a corner. I can’t not peek
around the corner and want to capture everything. But I also can’t wait to enter the dark spaces. The dark is mysterious and
anonymous. The dark is contrast, especially in the context of a white museum. The dark is also intimate. I like that intimacy.

Again, a confrontation with “the form is the content“.

Repetition in Bruce Nauman.
Repetition in pop music.
Repetition in live experience?
Play the same song?
Exactly the same?
A different arrangement every time?

What happens when you film people?
Their behavior changes.
There is power in self-consciousness.
Kiss cams.
Security cams.

And if there is a delay?
First the action,
Then the seeing.
Going in a loop.
Searching for perfection?
Looking to match the internal image with the external observation.

And audio?

The discomfort people feel when confronted with the sound of their own voices.
The fact that you usually don’t hear your own voice as others hear it.
Only in some spaces with a lot of reverb, more than in dryer sounding spaces.

And what if you record people and play it back delayed?
Then they start playing.
Become familiar.
See new perspectives.
Doubt their own perspectives.

Torre films the audience and sends them a link which takes them to a livestream through which they can look back at themselves.
Or projects the images on a large screen and uses it as a mirror.

Miley Cyrus lets herself be filmed and adds a filter that evokes associations with 90’s.
Rock registrations.
Pearl Jam.

Is association repetition?

A rehearsal is not a show because there is no audience.
But what if you make your show a rehearsal?

First show = jam
Last show = show

Questioning common practices and researching the value of each stage of the process.
Can the rehearsal affect the average visitor just as much as the final show?
Again, that search for perfection.

Is the rehearsal process leading up to the final result, for the artist or for the public?
Can you do a tour without rehearsals?
Critique on backing track culture?

Is autotune the ultimate search for perfection ran to its logical conclusion, or just the magnification of imperfection?

To close, here’s three quotes from the museum’s description of the exhibition, followed by the questions each of them makes me pose.

Nauman has continually tested and reinvented what an artwork can be.

I ask myself the question all the time, what does and what doesn’t constitute a live experience? Can it be anything? And what’s the differentiating factor?

Driven by the question of what it means to be an artist, he physically explores the boundaries of his studio in several video works, to conclude that everything he does in that space must be art.

Is everything a music-artist does (on stage) performance?

One of the central themes in Nauman’s oeuvre is repetition, which appears in his work as endless movements, loops, and rotation. The artist also often returns to his earlier works in new artworks.

Pop music is about endless repetition and cross-pollination. “Live” plays a big part in this. “Live” is like a wildcard. A playground where experimentation is a lot less restricted compared to non-live environments. What does this mean? How does it all relate?