In 1973 Nauman employed professional actors for the first time in his videotapes, previously having used his own body. He then stopped working with video for twelve years, returning to it in 1985 (see Good Boy, Bad Boy Tate T06853). He has said that the confrontational work he made around this time stemmed from his feelings of 'anger and frustration … My work comes out of being frustrated about the human condition. And about how people refuse to understand other people. And about how people can be cruel to each other. It's not that I think I can change that, but it's just such a frustrating part of human history.' (Quoted in Simon, p.148.) Nauman has stated:
Violent Incident begins with what is supposed to be a joke - but it's a mean joke
… I started with a scenario, a sequence of events which was this: Two people come to a table that's set for dinner with plates, cocktails, flowers. The man holds
the woman's chair for her as she sits down. But as she sits down, he pulls the
chair out from under and she falls on the floor. He turns around to pick up the
chair, and as he bends over, she's standing up, and she gooses him. He turns
around and yells at her - calls her names. She grabs the cocktail glass and throws
the drink in his face. He slaps her, she knees him in the groin and, as he's
doubling over, he grabs a knife from the table. They struggle and both of them
end up on the floor.
(Quoted in Simon, p.148.)
In the installation, the short sequence described above is repeated in three other versions: the couple exchange roles; it is played by two men; it is played by two women. Each version has been edited with slow-motion, colour change, and the addition of footage filmed during the rehearsals in which the action was deconstructed by a man's voice shouting out instructions. The four looped videotapes are played on twelve monitors stacked up in four columns of three. This results in a wall of staggered action, sound and motion which intrudes aggressively into the space around it: 'The images are aggressive, the characters are physically aggressive, the language is abusive. The scripting, having the characters act out these roles and the repetition all build on that aggressive tension.' (Nauman quoted in Simon, p.148.) The viewer is presented with a hypnotic repetition of pointlessly cruel and destructive violence which is both seductive and alienating.
Bruce Nauman, exhibition catalogue, South Bank Centre, London 1998, p.41, reproduced p.166 (colour)
Kathy Halbreich, Neal Benezra, Bruce Nauman, exhibition catalogue, Walker Arts Centre, Minneapolis 1994, pp.99-104 and 113-4, reproduced p.105
Joan Simon: 'Breaking the Silence: an interview with Bruce Nauman', Art in America, September 1988, pp.141-8 and 203