Bruce Nauman has been the most influential American artist in contemporary art in the last forty years. His work raises existential questions of life and death, love and hate, pleasure and pain. The recurrent ideas in his work deal in such concepts as body and identity, the role of language, spatial awareness, the artistic process and the participation of the observer. By means of a strict and revolutionary approach Neuman explores varied expressive avenues – neon walls, sculpture, photography and film, video, installation and painting. Nauman is also considered one of the pioneers of installation art.
In the piece “Anthro/Socio” 1992, a man’s head revolves on its axis and sings in changing tones:
“Feed me/Eat me/Anthropology”
“Help me/Hurt me/Sociology”
“Feed me/Help me/Eat me/Hurt me”
The cries heard from different directions relate to the most basic physical needs of the human body and pose a doubt regarding them. The repetition of the cry, and multiplication of video images of the figure crying, create a most distressing feeling which involves the viewer in the work, and bestirs him to consider the relationship between subject and object, man and society.
The piece examines the role of language as agent in the most basic human physical experience. The figure appears trapped and torn between inseparable existential states: anthropological or social body, phenomenological or cultural body, abstract or material body.
How should one regard the human body – as a neutral biological phenomenon, a natural form which has not changed in the course of history, or alternatively as an object laden with cultural and linguistic meanings, linked to questions of race, identity, pleasure, religion and ritual, and changing our approach to nature? These are two sides of the coin in the exchange of roles which lies at the bottom of power politics.