Bruce Nauman

Violent Incident


Not on display

Bruce Nauman born 1941
Video, 12 monitors, colour and sound
Unconfirmed: 2000 × 2500 × 900 mm
Purchased 1993


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.

Further reading:
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

Elizabeth Manchester
August 2000

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Display caption

In this simple dinner party scenario a practical joke escalates into bickering and violence. Nauman hired actors to perform it, getting them to play the scene a number of different ways. The variations include one where the male/female roles are reversed; a sequence showing the rehearsals which include the directors instructions on the sound track; and slow motion segments of the chair-pulling action. The wall of blaring monitors, the scripting, and hypnotic repetition all build the aggressive tension. Moral judgements are called into question as the power relations shift and the drama unfolds.

Gallery label, May 2002

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