Raw Material ‘MMMM’ is part of a series of six video installations in which Bruce Nauman combines the movement of the body and vocal exercises. A projection and two monitors, one atop the other, show the artist’s head slowly spinning, now upside down, now the right way up, in changing colours of blue, green and yellow, while emitting a piercing murmur (Nauman was filmed by a fixed camera turning in a spinning chair). This series sees the artist returning as the main protagonist of his video works after the filmed performances of the late 1960s. He is at once artist and material, perceiver and perceived, manipulating his own body in order to transform personal subjectivity into an objective demonstration. The motif of the suspended head spinning like a mad top also recalls the wax head sculptures made by the artist in the 1980s and his Carrousels of animal sculptures turning mechanically in an endless round.
Following on from Nauman’s researches into the questions of the body as sculpture, of sculpture as defining space, and of the video device as modifying our spatial perception, Raw Material ‘MMMM’ plays insistently on the sound element that, since then, has become preponderant in his work. Pulled into the space of the installation, viewers are made almost dizzy by the endlessly repeated action and sound, in a blind face-to-face made even more complex by the multiplication of the image. The decisive material here is indeed the one signalled by the title of the installation – ‘MMMM’, a sound that is not music nor yet speech, a sound that refuses to communicate anything more than its own space of utterance.
In 2004, when he was invited to make a work for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, London, Nauman reprised the sound from this video, along with that of twenty-one other works, to make a vast installation, Raw Materials, in which sound, but also the bodies of the viewers moving around the space from one aural source to another, constituted a sculpture.
Peter Plagens, Bruce Nauman: The True Artist, Berlin, Phaidon, 2014.
Emma Dexter, Bruce Nauman. Raw Materials, exh. cat. London, Tate Modern, London, Tate Publishing, 2004.
Jörg Zutter (ed.), Gary Hill, Bruce Nauman. International New Media Art, Canberra, National Gallery of Australia, 2002.