In the mid-1960s, after graduating from art school, Bruce Nauman began to explore issues relating to the the practice of art making and the place of the studio. His concerns centered around the 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—often orchestrated for the camera—and indexically cast sculptures, he put his own body under duress to engage the prevailing conceptual concerns of the moment, such as repetition, duration, and process.
From these earliest and most self-reflexive performances, Nauman turned his critical gaze toward the relationships among artist, object, and audience. In his many early corridor installations, for example, he created highly choreographed environments that exude perceptual tension. In Left or Standing, Standing or Left Standing (1971), Nauman deploys harsh fluorescent lighting that inhibits sight. In Nick Wilder Corridor (1970) he uses a closed-circuit surveillance system in incongruous ways that both materialize and obfuscate the visitors who are invited to enter. While deliberately uncomfortable these projects can also be understood as comically absurd. This undercurrent of humor also permeates the artist's neon sculptures, and is present in his late meditation on the space of the studio, Mapping the Studio I (Fat Chance John Cage) (2001), where six projectors each display six hours of footage that track the activities of mice, cats, and other creatures as they run through the artist’s work space.