In 1968 Nauman produced a series of holograms titled Making Faces in which he contorted and stretched his face into a series of exaggerated gestures, the kind of grotesque faces pulled (playfully) by and for children in order to amuse, distract, and even terrify. The holograms were projected onto glass and have an eery underwater quality reminiscent of a horror movie. In 1970 the artist picked up the hologram slides and selected five images from which the screenprints were produced. In their new form - much bigger than life-size, and tinted yellow over black and white - they have been transformed into a kind of lexicon of facial expressions. They focus on the lower half of the face, in particular the mouth. Without the eyes, facial flesh is reduced to matter, and emotional connections become more ambiguous.

The idea of making faces had to do with thinking about the body as something you can manipulate. I had done some performance pieces - rigorous works dealing with standing, leaning, bending - and as they were performed, some of them seemed to carry a large emotional impact. I was very interested in that: if you perform a bunch of arbitrary operations, some people will make very strong connections with them, and others won't. That's really all the faces were about - just making a bunch of arbitrary faces.

(Quoted in Cordes, p.25.)

A connection with the dancer Meredith Monk in 1968 coincided with Nauman's growing interest in the use of his body in the making of his art. He began to explore his body's ability to balance, to make sounds, to be manipulated into significant forms and to make expressive gestures. In 1969 he made two related works which involved facial distortion: Pulling Mouth, made in 16mm film, and Lip Synch, a videotape (both Sperone Westwater, New York). Playing out private performances alone in his studio, Nauman had discovered a rich source of material for works in photography, film and video which he developed over the next couple of years. Studies for Holograms are Nauman's first screenprints and were produced in collaboration with Aetna Studios, New York. They were published by Castelli Graphics, New York.

Further reading:
Coosje van Bruggen, Bruce Nauman, New York 1988, pp.233-4
Christopher Cordes, Bruce Nauman: Prints 1970-89, New York 1989, pp. 25-6, reproduced (colour) pp.37-41, pls.1-5
Neal Benezra, Kathy Halbreich, Joan Simon, Bruce Nauman, exhibition catalogue, Walker Arts Centre, Minneapolis 1994, p.72

Elizabeth Manchester
August 2000