Bruce Nauman made his foray into 3-D video with Contrapposto Split (2017), which marked the latest chapter in the artist’s career-long engagement with self-portraiture with its debut in his 2018 retrospective at MoMA PS1. On view at Sperone Westwater, “His Mark,” showcasing a new 3-D video installation with that title, builds on this lineage of self-documentation through a simple, repetitive action that Nauman deftly stretches into three dimensions to mesmerizing effects.
The series comprises three iterations of a two-channel video installation projected onto the gallery’s walls at larger-than-life dimensions. Playing on each channel is a continuous shot of Nauman’s hand as he runs a finger along a pockmarked wood surface, tracing the letter X. The camera slowly rocks back and forth, perpetually disorienting as it roughly echoes the artist's movements. The project’s spark was an X signed by an Indigenous Blackfoot chief on a treaty drawn up by the Canadian government on behalf of the Queen of England—a document replicated in a history textbook gifted to Nauman by his grandson. (Nauman’s seemingly apolitical adoption of a historically fraught document may signal more than the exhibition’s accompanying text lets on; it’s rare for Nauman’s work to reference any explicit political angle.)
The first video pair, stacked vertically, reaches up into the gallery’s atrium; upon donning 3-D glasses, this orientation becomes immediately dizzying, as if you're dangling upside-down in front of a cliff-face—and, unexpectedly, it’s exhilarating in that way, too. In the next space, the channels appear side by side, separated by the right angle of the room’s corner. Upstairs, the third variation, rendered in black and white, situates the channels on opposite walls.
Across all three versions, the closer you stand to the projections (and you should go closer), the more jarring of an experience it becomes to see these gigantic hands—none other than Bruce Nauman’s, flecked with spots of discoloration, hairs, patches of dry skin and so on—sweeping by, seemingly just inches from your face. Yet it’s also at this juncture of illusory physical contact that the iconic artist’s identity becomes obfuscated; his hands grow larger, more distorted and then suddenly immaterial, dissolving into light and air. Therein mortality looms. All that impermanence leaves much unspoken for, opening a future of possibilities. —Rachel Summer Small
Bruce Nauman, His Mark, 2021 (still). Six 4K 60fps 3D projections (color, stereo sound), continuous play, 114 x 203 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Sperone Westwater.