The American Bruce Nauman (b. 1941) is without doubt one of the most influential contemporary artists. His work is characterised by great medial diversity, the innovative impulses of which flow together in a complex context of formulations that are interdependent and supplement each other. This complexity in the development of his work - with unexpected and continuous changes in direction and shifts in emphasis - barely allow a linear description of the dependencies and references involved. The development is characterised, moreover, by the spontaneous versatility in the experiences and actions of the artist. The basis of Nauman's artistic approach and the resulting actions is his own existence as an artist involved in an incessant process of self-experience. "What I am really concerned with is what art is supposed to be and what it can become." (Nauman, 1975) Nauman seeks the challenge in situations which lead himself and the viewer beyond the limits of one's own horizon of experiences; "one is thus forced to become increasingly aware of oneself and the situation. Often, even without knowing what it actually is with which one is confronted and/or that one experiences. All one knows is that one is pushed into a completely unfamiliar place and that this triggers fear". (Nauman, 1985/86)

At first, the point of departure for this self-experience as a result of artistic action was for Nauman his own body and its activities. Starting in the mid-1960s, this determined - as material in various forms - Nauman's artistic work. During this time, he documented a series of performances in his studio on film, showing bodily actions of himself in various positions in relation to the space, or specific activities. Concurrently, sculptural works were created, in which the body served as a scale or a model for fragmentary wax casts.

In the first half of the 70s, corridors and spatial installations were made, such as Floating Room or Double Steel Cage Piece, in which Nauman communicated this self-experience directly to the viewer or user by restricting his/her room to move and thus manipulating his/her experience of the situation. These installations, based on the field of tension between private and public spheres of experience, provoke inevitable experiences and thus objectify the subjective idea of the artist, without Nauman completely exposing himself. "I think that's an important component of my work - communicating something about myself to the viewer by presenting to him a work of art, while on the other hand not allowing him any closer to me. It's as if one wanted to come close but is not allowed to come all too close." (Nauman, 1986)

These themes of helplessness, disorientation, of being alone in an unfamiliar, uncertain and therefore scary situation, return under totally different formal and contentual conditions in Nauman's Tunnel Models, his politically-motivated South America Chair installations, and in the video installations of the past years.

In combination with the comprehensive presentation of sculptures and installations from 1985 to 1990 organised by the Städelsche Kunstinstitut on the occasion of Bruce Naumann being awarded the Max Beckmann Prize 1990, the exhibition at Portikus shows a new video installation entitled Ok Ok Ok. It consists of two picture discs shown on two monitors and projected via video beam on the back wall of the room. The picture discs show the artist's head permanently rotating on its own axis and speaking or screaming out the affirmative interjection in many modulations. While one disc reproduces the upright image, it is shown upside down in the other, giving the impression of someone hanging by his feet. With this, Nauman not only refers to his performance films of the sixties, Ok Ok Ok must also be seen in the immediate context of his wax-head installations which he has created in the past two years and also used as elements in his video installations.

Photo: Katrin Schilling