Double Face is a typical Nauman word-play work. It is a print, consisting of the word 'face', in capital letters, doubled to provide a literal representation of itself. Although at a first glance the word appears to be mirrored, in fact the second 'face' has been rotated by 180 degrees. Turned upside down the image appears the same. The two halves have the same format but messy shading, with the appearance of inky brushstrokes, renders them different. The lithograph is number thirty in an edition of fifty and was printed by Christine Fox and Charly Ritt and published by Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles. It was created using two runs from one stone and one aluminium plate. In the same year Nauman produced a related drawing Face Mask (The Museum of Modern Art, New York) and two other related lithographs, also published by Gemini in editions of fifty, Life Mask and Pearl Masque. These three works consist of their title words printed in the same format as the words of Double Face, one below the other, but not always reversed. They hint at issues around the word and concept 'face' Nauman was thinking about at that time. In all these works the artist plays with the ways that pairs of words influence readings of each other, together with notions of similarity, difference and reversal or inversion.
Nauman began working with words and their literal representation in the late 1960s in both photographs and sculptures. He had been exploring what he calls 'front/back interplay' in his sculptural work with fibreglass, inverting forms and focusing on the insides of moulds. Through the process of printmaking he discovered the automatic reversal of his initial image or text, feeding naturally into the front/back interplay of works like his first print Raw-War 1971 (Tate P77582). Print-making thus provided an important new medium for an investigation into language as a system of signs, in which Nauman was deeply influenced by his reading of Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations (1953). Nauman has said: 'I am really interested in the different ways that language functions. That is something I think a lot about, which also raises questions about how the brain and the mind work … the point where language starts to break down as a useful tool for communication is the same edge where poetry or art occurs.' (Quoted in Cordes, p.25.)
Nauman's word prints explore the dual role of the print both as a mimetic object, which imitates and reverses an original, and also an abstract representation. Words, although consisting of the concrete entity of a group of letters, lead to a more or less abstract area which is their meaning. Nauman's juxtaposition and reversal of words hones in on the existence of multiple potential readings and highlights the paradoxes and illogicalities on which language and verbal communication are based. Double Face puns on such notions as 'face-to-face' and 'face-off', providing a particularly efficient example of what Christopher Cordes has called 'language describing its own limitations' (in Cordes, p.15).
Christopher Cordes, Bruce Nauman: Prints 1970-89, New York 1989, pp.14-15, reproduced p.83, pl.43
Neal Benezra, Kathy Halbreich, Joan Simon, Bruce Nauman, exhibition catalogue, Walker Arts Centre, Minneapolis 1994
Coosje van Brugge, Bruce Nauman, New York 1988