Video Trajectories (Redux): Selections from the MIT List Visual Arts Center New Media Collection Bruce Nauman, Slow Angle Walk (Beckett Walk), 1968

Small TV sitting on the floor of a gallery with an image of a man on the screen.

Installation View, Video Trajectories Redux, MIT List Visual Arts Center, 2007. Archival Slide

Bakalar Gallery
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Video Trajectories, an exhibition presented in the MIT List Center’s Bakalar Gallery, was organized by MIT Professor Caroline A. Jones (October 12-December 30, 2007).

Selections from these works—considered masterworks from video art history—are being presented to a broader public on The Media Test Wall.  Bruce Nauman’s Slow Angle Walk (Beckett Walk), 1968 is the first presentation in a five-part exhibition series. Other subsequent works that will be featured are:  Dara Birnbaum, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, 1978-79, (October 13-November 14);  Bill Viola, The Space Between the Teeth, 1976, (November 17-January 2); Nam June Paik, Video Synthesizer and “TV Cello” Collectibles, 1965-71 (January 5-January 30); and Gary Hill, Soundings, 1979, (February 2-March 6).

Video is used as a medium by different kinds of artists. All the video artworks in this series were made by artists coming out of theater or dance communities, Conceptual art, Minimalism, performance art, sculpture, sound engineering, and avant-garde music. Some focused on the strange new medium of video itself. Like audiotape, videotape could be recorded, played back, and re-recorded almost instantly. Like photography and film, it faithfully (if electronically) represented anything put in front of it. But unlike film, there was nothing to “see” on the tape itself—it was dependent on the electronic apparatus to be scanned and seen. Moreover, video art was born in the context of a fully commercialized mass medium—television.

Particularly in the U.S., early video artists crafted their tapes with a strongly dialectical eye on “the boob tube.” Above all, artists of the 1970s wanted television viewers to wake up to the media world in which they were already living, and to develop an active rather than passive relationship to the medium. Artists working with early video technology attempted to intervene in the intimate psychological relationship that could develop between the average person and his or her television set. Later in the 1980s, home video systems gave every family of means the ability to “be on T.V.” but by the 1990s the intimate phase of video art’s history was over. Video became increasingly spectacular and it has evolved into present day technologies that allow the projection of high-resolution signals onto a screen, a wall, or the vaulted ceiling of a Renaissance church. Video Trajectories stays with pre-spectacular video, allowing earlier phases of the medium’s surprising infancy to come into view.

For Bruce Nauman, the video camera is an indispensable studio tool and witness. Barely edited, a characteristic Nauman tape from the late 1960s shows the artist laconically following some absurd set of directions for an extended amount of time within the vague purview of a video camera mounted at a seemingly random angle in relation to the action. Slow Angle Walk is a classic of the genre, reflecting the artist’s interest in Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, whose characters announce, “Let’s go!” while the stage directions say, “No one moves.”

Excerpted from “Video Trajectories” by Caroline A. Jones, as published in Sounding the Subject/Video Trajectories, Cambridge:  MIT List Visual Arts Center, 2007.

About the Artist

Bruce Nauman (born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1941) lives and works in Galisteo, New Mexico. Working in video, sculpture, and installation since the 1960s, Bruce Nauman began working in film while teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute. He produced his first videotapes in 1968, using his body to explore the limits of everyday situations. He has participated in Documentas IV, V, and VII in Kassel, Germany, as well as the Whitney Biennials, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York in 1984, 1991, and 1997. Solo exhibitions include Bruce Nauman: Work from 1965 to 1972, organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York (1981), and Bruce Nauman, a traveling retrospective organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C. (1997–99). He has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1968); the Max Beckmann Prize, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany (1993); and the Aldrich Prize, Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut (1995). He was awarded the Leone d’Oro Prize at the 48th Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy in 1999.