In the mid-1960s after graduating from art school, Bruce Nauman began to explore issues related to the practice of art making and the studio. His concerns centered around the very notion of the professional artist. As he explained, “there was nothing in the studio because I didn’t have much money for materials. So I was forced to examine myself.” In a series of exacting performances that began in the mid-1960s and were often orchestrated for the camera, Nauman put his own body under duress to engage the prevailing conceptual concerns of the moment, such as duration, process, and repetition. In his earliest neon work, Neon Templates of the Left Half of My Body Taken at Ten-Inch Intervals (1966), and other indexical casts, he made use of his most basic and personal tool—his body. The question of process is particularly important to understanding Neon Templates of the Left Half of My Body Taken at Ten-Inch Intervals. Not only does the title suggest how Nauman arrived at the formal configuration, but the material functionality of this light object is plainly visible through the exposed wires of the work.
Nauman later translated his performances into architectural environments that invited viewers to interact, while also tightly choreographing their movements. As evident in his South America Circle (1981), these installations show an abiding preoccupation with issues of power as they pertain to the realm of aesthetics and to the relationship between artist, artwork, and beholder. Left or Standing, Standing or Left Standing (1971) consists of an architectural environment of harsh fluorescent lighting that simultaneously invites viewers to physically engage with the work while also creating a tense feeling of hesitation. Similarly, Corridor Installation (Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles, California) (1970) incorporates surveillance cameras and closed-circuit video systems that function like electronic mirrors. A strange, frustrating sense of dislocation is engendered by denying physical access to what can be seen. For the multiscreen projection Mapping the Studio I (Fat Chance John Cage) (2001), Nauman returned to the themes that defined his early career. During the summer of 2000, he set up infrared cameras in multiple areas within his studio to track the nocturnal activities of mice, moths, and other creatures. Edited down to approximately six hours per projector, the installation’s footage offers a wryly elliptical take on the mundane qualities of daily studio activity, replete with languor and moments of visionary insight.