Elke Allowing The Floor to Rise Up Over Her, Face Up, 1973

NTSC, sound, colour

For this video and its counterpart Tony Sinking into the Floor, Face Up and Face Down, recorded at the same time, Bruce Nauman designed a series of mental exercises which he asked professio nal actors to execute. Here, he instructed a performer to remain on her back on the floor and imagine that the floor was rising up above her body. These two video tapes represent his first attempts to work with actors in the context of a pro fessional studio. Unlike his previous films and videos, which were mostly shot with fixed camera angles, live and in black and white, here he uses colour, with two cameras, and makes use of certain optical effects. This process contrasts wit h the apparent immobility of the scene and enables him to fade from one shot to the other throughout the performance.
The image shows a woman lying on the ground who bends and unbends her legs and waves them about. From time to time, she turns her head from left to right and flexes 1 her fingers. Her breathing and panting are audible, as are certain barely perceivable groans. She is agitated and has trouble remaining in place. Bruce Nauman asked her to imagine that the molecules of her body were being mixed with the molecules of the floor until she lost herself and became part of "somet hing else". During the performance, at a time of extreme tension and concentration, she became frightened and, because she couldn't breathe, had to interrupt it three times.
However, these details are not perceivable on the screen. The slowing of the performers' movements attenuates the extent of their muscle contractions. They seem to be sleeping peacefully. The fact that an internal process is not necessarily visible from the outside and that an extremely concentrated person may seem to be resting interested Bruce Nauman. In these works, he examines the contradictions between the concept and the reality, between what we see and what we know theor etically.
With these last two videos, produced before the 1980s, a connection, a veritable interaction between the psychological and the physical was established. the important thing for the artist was to be capable of creating in the participant a me ntal situation such that he/she ended up feeling it physically and psychologically.
It is in these two works, as in a series of performances staged by Bruce Nauman in 1969 in the form of instructions for a performer, that the techniques used by Gestalt therapy were clearly presented. These videos, based on exercises propose d in one of his performances, are also reminiscent of a photograph from 1966: Failing to Levitate in the Studio. But here the experience is inverted: Tony has to sink into the floor while the floor rises up over Elke. Another performa nce from the same period involved a mental exercise in which the performer had to execute a series of actions that would enable him to imagine his body as a cylinder and as a sphere. This concept of the body as a prison for the mind and the idea of controlling the surrounding space are also present in a series of photographs from 1967 : Light Trap for Henry Moore, No. 1 and No. 2.
When making these videos, Bruce Nauman was very surprised by the extent to which the participants in his performances took his instructions seriously and were able to put them into practice. For Bruce Nauman, and for them, this experience wa s intense. It was this which convinced him of the predominance of the mental over the physical property of things.

Cristina Ricupero

1 A gesture taken from dance.