If I was an artist and I was in the studio, then whatever I was doing in the studio must be art. At this point art became more of an activity and less of a product.
–Bruce Nauman, 1979
Stomping in the studio, walking in an exaggerated manner, bouncing rubber balls, and playing violin — each of these actions became a focus of Nauman’s work during the late 1960s. He was among the first wave of artists at this time who were using their bodies as expressive instruments in live performances documented with film, video, photography, and sound recordings. As an artist just starting out in San Francisco during the 1960s, and with little cash to buy more traditional supplies, Bruce Nauman began to turn towards his own body in a way that broke the barrier between object, performance, the ordinary and the extraordinary. Experimentation was his guiding principle, as Nauman began to explore ways in which his process of creating could be considered a finished product.
Rhythmic Stamping (Four Rhythms in Preparation for Video Tape Problems), 1969, is a recording that Nauman made while preparing to film his video, Stamping in the Studio (1968). Stamping in the Studio was part of his series of films and videos that explored the idea of how an artist could act in his studio. Coosje van Bruggen recounts in her writings on Nauman that he “remembers at the time telling a friend who was a philosopher that he imagined him spending most of his time at a desk, writing. But in fact his friend did his thinking while taking long walks during the day. This made Nauman conscious of the fact that he spent most of his time pacing around the studio drinking coffee.” If pacing was what he did when he was “being an artist,” then it made sense to him to amplify those actions, stamping around the studio in a controlled, rhythmic — yet exaggerated — way. The sound recording captures Nauman’s continuous stomping with no indication of a beginning or end. In the repetitive beat Nauman dedicates himself to ordinary activities, but at the same time, his concentrated focus makes the action somewhat uncanny, less ordinary and more theatrical.
When Nauman was maturing as an artist during the mid-1960s, concepts of time and action were major concerns of avant-garde thinking. Nauman’s particular interest in these issues came from his relationship to dance and music. While living in San Francisco Nauman became friends with Meredith Monk, a multimedia artist interested in body awareness, and Anna Halprin, a dance pioneer fascinated by ordinary movements. These artists, along with Nauman, began working in the spaces between the disciplines of dance, theater, fine art, and music at this time. In a radical switch, ordinary movements became part of choreographed dance performances. Nauman began thinking of his studio exercises as dance problems, exploring various bodily tensions such as that between balancing and falling, or moving continuously and getting tired. In Rhythmic Stamping, the sound of Nauman’s feet thudding relentlessly on his studio floor eventually breaks down, revealing his tired and exhausted body. Perhaps the most profound influence on Nauman’s experimentation with performance was avant-garde composer John Cage. His piece concerning silence, 4’33”, made Nauman realize that there is always something to see, always something to hear — there is no such thing as absolute silence, and ordinary movements and sounds can be reinvented as art.
Bruce Nauman was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1941. Nauman studied science and mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, but later changed his major to studio art. In 1966 he earned an MFA from the University of California at Davis, where he studied under William T. Wiley and Robert Arneson. The Whitney Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art organized the first solo museum exhibition of Nauman’s work in 1972. Since then, Nauman’s sculptures, films and videos, installations, neon wall reliefs, photographs, prints, and performances have been included in numerous exhibitions all over the world. Recent solo exhibitions include Bruce Nauman: Raw Materials, presented at Tate Modern, London, in 2004, Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works with Light, organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2006, and A Rose Has No Teeth: Bruce Nauman in the 1960s, organized by the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive at the University of California in 2007. Bruce Nauman lives in Galisteo, New Mexico.