Critique of Bruce Nauman, Slow Angle Walk (Beckett Walk) (1968)

I went to see “Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image”, December 10, 2010 – Indefinitely Rotating Exhibition, American Art Museum, Washington D.C.

“In this rotating permanent gallery dedicated to the media arts, the museum takes stock of the cutting-edge tools and materials used by video artists during the past 50 years. This installation features key artworks from the history of video art and works by a new generation of artists on the cutting edge of new media art practices.”

 There, on your right when you enter this little exhibition room, the second screen displayed will show you Bruce Nauman”s, Slow Angle Walk (Beckett Walk). It is a 60 minutes single channel video, in black and white, with sound.

The film shows Nauman in is studio, tracing the space of the camera’s frame. The camera is fixed, turned on its side and records the artist repeating a laborious sequence of body movements: Hands clasped behind his back, he kicks one leg up at a right angle to his body, pivots forty-five degrees, falls forward hard with a thumping noise, extends the rear leg again at a right angle behind, and begins the sequence again. The movements of the body resemble exercises repeated unendingly. Sometimes, he walks off-screen completely while the sound of his footsteps continues on the sound tracks. Progress, even by a meter, seems to be a tiresome and complicated process.

The film creates a kind of tension and some suspense, because Nauman always risks to loose his balance and fall (which also happens). I was attracted to this film because of its title, which explains the work: The walk is meant to echo the repetitive, futile, meaningless behaviors of Samuel Beckett’s characters.

I love Beckett’s bleak, tragicomic outlook on human nature, which is often coupled with black comedy and gallows humor, so I was curious to see how it could be conjured up through an avant-garde film. And I think this performance is very interesting, as the artist perfectly successes in recalling the writer’s silent, precise, and absurd language. Indeed, as he executes his movements with deep concentration and conviction, he emulates Beckett’s highly obsessive characters. Using banal everyday movements in such a raw way, he give them back the interest and power which they had lost through habit.

Overall, the result is as powerful as it is absurd, just like Beckett’s language.


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