On 17th November 2017, I was, like a moth, instantly attracted to the bright lights of the Bruce Nauman exhibition (Tate Modern). His work demanded the viewer to (literally) take a step back and consider the purpose and context of his work. Nauman's extensive and imaginative use of media transmits a multitude of different ideas simultaneously. It is clear that his previous studies in Mathematics and Physics informed his practice and are a domineering influence on his work. One piece which caught my attention was 'Violins, Violence, Silence' (1981).
Violins, Violence, Silence
The artwork itself was made of coloured neon tubing with a clear glass suspension frame. As the letters overlap, it is hard to initially distinguish what the piece is actually conveying, proving rather disorientating. Additionally, the buzzing noise which accompanies the piece (originating from the neon tubing) is somewhat distracting. However, it is ironic that while reading 'violins' evokes a pure and unpolluted noise, in reality you are faced with a low, droning buzz. I enjoy the irony of Nauman's work and the complex ideas which lie behind the lights. There is much more to this piece than is initially apparent and I hope that other visitors to the gallery take the time to consider its complexity.
Another piece in the exhibition which caught my attention was 'Raw Material Washing Hands'(1996). The video, which documents one individual washing their hands constantly for 55 minutes is difficult viewing. It is reminiscent of a person suffering from obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) in which the individual is performing a routine repeatedly, as though it were a ritual. The video becomes painful to watch as we see the individuals skin being overworked by the soap and water and I must admit that although the video runs for just under an hour, I watched it for no longer than 10 minutes.
Raw Material Washing Hands,
After seeing Nauman's work, it is clear that he questions and stretches the boundaries of what it is to make art. He has purposefully left behind traditional notions of 'fine art' and has distanced himself from paint as a medium.
An Experiment with Gold Leaf
Shroud brasses contain human skeletons or cadavers in shrouds (see, In Search of Medieval Inspiration, Part 3(iii), on this website). Figures 1 and 2 show skeletal brasses and are of Richard and Cecilie Howard, who died in 1499, and come from Aylsham Church, Norfolk. Such figures often have their hands together in prey mode (not crossed as above) as shown in Figs. 3 & 4 below, of Agnes and John Symondes, who died in 1511, and whose brasses are to be found at Cley Church, Norfolk. Sometimes, the open shrouded figures lie with their hands at their sides.
Fig. 3 Fig. 4
I wanted to experiment with the naivety of the Howard images and the preying position and body angle of the Symondes’.
Fig. 5 Fig. 6
Fig. 7 Fig. 8
Fig. 9 Fig. 10
Figures 5-10 show the combination of these figures with different lighting on a two-dimensional figure. During the Medieval period, saints were normally portrayed with gold leaf around them, and I wanted to use this medium as an ironic metaphor for ungodly clergy, who often posed as saintly to their parishioners when, in reality, many were milking the faith for all they could get out of it, both for themselves and their brethren. The wealth of the Church was astonishing during this period, when it hoarded precious metals, got fat from the labours of the laity who worked Church land, and rich with unsubstantiated promises of salvation to the gullible. As a power-based institution, it was largely parasitical, preying on the weaknesses and fears of the uneducated, when life was unpredictable and short, and my gold leafed cadaver represents this.