London lights up with Bruce Nauman’s ‘Mindfuck’.
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For the majority of art viewers who have got pretty damn sick of crude phrase emblazoned neon signs proudly donning the walls of art galleries, the news of yet more neon slogans won’t have them clamouring to get a look. But in this case they should clamour, and clamour they will, as said neon (which will be lighting up the walls of the Hauser and Wirth Gallery over the next few months) belongs to the original neon phraser, and general brainy bad ass, Bruce Nauman.
‘Mindfuck’ covers Nauman’s career, focussing mainly on his neon sculptures and installations, and as the title suggests, revelling in his interests in psychoanalysis, sex, death, aggression and language. In keeping with his snappy use of a phrase, ‘Mindfuck’ is used to cover any metaphorical fucking of the mind, which can be used to varying degrees of literality to cover psychiatrists, prostitutes, porn stars and, as he himself is living proof of, artists. Using neon lighting, not to just kookily write the word ‘Shag’ on a wall, Nauman has used the medium of lights and bright colours to create an unsettling vision for the viewer, akin to bouts of psychosis and mangling of the mind, looking to dream interpretation as a huge influence. His work sprang out of an era of popularity in Gestalt therapy and behaviourism, of observation over symbolism, creating a body of work that pushes the viewer into an uncomfortable position as observer of human action. Past works such as ‘Clown Torture’, and the painstaking ‘Walking in an exaggerated manner’ dip into this. Whilst much of this work is not included, it is important to remember the roots of Nauman’s work, trying out almost every artistic genre out there, from film to performance, sculpture and photography, always with an obsession with the dark recesses of the mind. This skipping between materials and methods has also seen his work described as environmental, not because of his green fingers, but because of his ability to create a full on, all encompassing environment within his work. This experiential creating of work is what pulls his lights out of the boring realm of modern statement art and into something wholly engulfing. The body mind split is also a focus, with popular themes of the body’s release from the mind through sex and death behind much of his work. ‘Sex and Death/ Double ’69’ shows this in a pretty explicit manner, whilst videos such as ‘Good Boy, Bad Boy‘ create a twisted robotic notion of mind control. He once said he wanted to make work that feels like “getting hit in the back of the neck with a baseball bat”. In this, he is certainly successful.
Bruce Nauman / Mindfuck is on at Hauser and Wirth, 23 Saville Row, W1S 2ET from 30th January until 9th March 2013.
Text: Emily Steer