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Bruce Nauman

Violent Incident. Man-Woman Segment, 1986

Video | colour | sound


Violent Incident: Man-Woman Segment(1986) shows us how a practical joke at a romantic dinner turns into a spiral of violence, and speaks to us of our human inability to understand one another. As he had done previously, the artist used professional actors,filmed in a New York studio, to perform a sequence of actions that begins with a couple meeting to have dinner at a table for two. The man pulls away the woman’s chair as she is about to sit down, causing her to fall on the floor and setting off a violent verbal and physical exchange. She takes a glass from the table and throws the drink in his face. He slaps her, she responds by kneeing him in the crotch, causing him to double up and clutch the table then grab a knife. The scene ends with both of them on the floor fighting for possession of the weapon. Nauman structured the script very precisely indicatinghow the action was to be filmed in 18 seconds, rising in tone as the characters become physically aggressive, the language becomes abusive and the images increasingly violent.[1]The action was shot in a single take, tracking around the table and then spiralling upwards to intensify the sense of violence in the scene.

This same sequence has also been filmed in a further three variations: the man and the woman swap roles, the scene is played by two men and by two women. The aggressive and abusive tone of the images is maintained in the different identical versions. The effect is multiplied by the presentation of the four versions of the same scene on twelve monitors mounted as a four-by-three grid, as is usually presented by the Tate Collection. Cal Cego has a signed Parkett edition with an excerpt from one of the four versions, in which the man pulls the chair away from the woman.

The artist has always been interested in the repetition in folly, manifested in the repetition of profoundly banal gestures which at the same time reveal the existential difficulties of social interaction. As Nauman has said: ‘My work comes out of being frustrated about the human condition. And about how people can be cruel to each other. It’s not that I think I can change that, but it’s just such a frustrating part of human history.’[2]

Carolina Grau

[1]Neal Benezra, ‘Surveying Nauman’ in Bruce Nauman, exhibition catalogue and catalogue raisonné,  Walker Art Center, Minneapolis & Wiese Verlag, Basel, 1stedition 1994, p. 41.

[2]Joan Simon, ‘Breaking the Silence. An Interview with Bruce Nauman’, Art in America76, New York, No. 9, September 1988, p. 148.


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