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Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square

Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square

Bruce Nauman

USA, 1967-68

Credits

Review by Paul Garcia

Posted on 01 March 2006

Source VHS

Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square represents a microcosm of the fundamental themes rooted in Bruce Nauman’s colorful aesthetic: circularity, repetition, minimalism, body awareness, and post-structural linguistic theory. These themes are ingrained into what is essentially a ten- minute performance of epic banality; : Nauman deliberately traipsing foot over foot along the perimeter of a makeshift masking tape square several times, alternating between forward and backward movements. It’s anti-film in a sense, the camera reductively operating only as a simple recording device, stripped of its power to manipulate the image and pared down to its base function as a dispassionate observer. All pertinent information is laid bare from the start; the title of the piece describes the entirety of the task that Nauman rigorously performs ad nauseam, simultaneously giving and taking instruction.

The mise-en-scene is rather barren, composed of the angled white square, sheared off at the edges and foreground, a masking tape square-within-a-square, a shabby stool, an upright mirror butted up against the wall in the rear, and small piles of artisanal bric-a-brac and studio debris occupying the shallow space in the back of the room. The flatness of the image is given breathing room by the mirror, set up in such a way as to reflect a tantalizing glimpse of the mysterious, inaccessible area off-screen, expanding the spatiality of the studio within the frame.

The slo-mo fluidity of Nauman’s movements are juxtaposed with moments of seeming stasis as Nauman disappears along the edge of the frame, continuing his meticulous ambulation along the mapped outline of the square, before reemerging into the camera’s line of vision and restarting time.

The circularity and repetition of this determined exercise in tedium results in a hypersensitivity to minutiae: the slack of Nauman’s arms, the bunching of his thin white t-shirt during the twist of his torso, the tremble of his foot as he strains to maintain balance. Tension is built and the tiniest of unexpected gestures become checkpoints in this non-narrative structure. Error, fatigue, etc. all become factors, and they serve to build suspense, adding an internal logic to the configuration of the film. Thus, the action of walking in an exaggerated manner gains a heightened sense of importance as it is the only anchor, the only sense of motion within the work.

The artist’s body is on full display, shackled in an elaborate prank of perpetual redundancy of his own making. Nauman is a blank slate, programmed to perform this pedestrian ballet without end. Although he plays the anonymous body-as-object straight faced, short bursts of vulnerability are evident throughout the duration of the performance. The fragility of these isolated incidents tinges the proceedings with a sense of humanity, eliciting a sympathetic, personal response to the form. It also serves as a conduit for various strains and the inner workings of language; here, linguistics materialized through the visual/physical form and enacted through the language of kinetics (instructions visualized and executed).

Nauman has stated that the proper way of exhibiting this film is to endlessly loop it, again drawing back to his predilection for the concepts of circularity and repetition. This desire to stretch temporal and spatial boundaries to their limits, to eliminate forward progression, discard beginnings and endings, and to question the nature of traditional compositional elements all have musical precedent in La Monte Young’s theories and Theatre of Eternal Music and Terry Riley’s loops. Nauman has fused these elements into Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square, incorporating them into a minimalist cinematic piece that bluntly addresses and examines the concepts and themes that are threaded throughout his monolithic body of work.

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