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Performing for the Camera

Artists break the molds of video and film, and broaden the boundaries of art.

Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square

Bruce Nauman
(American, born 1941)

1968. 16mm film transferred to video (black and white, silent), 10 min.

In his black-and-white film, Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square, Bruce Nauman does just that. Placing one foot in front of the other, he walks forwards and backwards, with a pronounced swinging of his hips, around the edge of a square of masking tape affixed to his studio’s concrete floor. The silence of his studio is broken only by the rapid clicking sound made by the rolling film, which calls attention to the camera itself. Rather than ensuring that it follows his movements, the artist leaves the camera fixed in one place. As a result, he sometimes disappears off-screen as he treads the parts of the perimeter outside of the camera’s frame.

Nauman made Walking early in his career and at a time when the notion of turning the camera exclusively onto oneself was still relatively new. During this period, he and many other artists were increasingly broadening the definition of art by incorporating themselves and the activities and materials of daily life into their work. While the film may seem simple on its surface, with it, Nauman broke with the conventions of film, television, and art making itself. It offers little narrative or illusion; what’s more, it takes viewers into a space they would not typically see: the private realm of the artist’s studio. Walking is based on a premise Nauman developed shortly after completing his MFA, in 1966, which underscores all of his work: “If I was an artist and I was in the studio, then whatever I was doing in the studio must be art. At this point art became more of an activity and less of a product.”1

Bruce Nauman, quoted in,
Bruce Nauman, quoted in “Bruce Nauman: Make-Work | ‘Exclusive,’” Art21,

An unreal, deceptive, or misleading appearance or image.

1. A series of moving images, especially those recorded on film and projected onto a screen or other surface (noun); 2. A sheet or roll of a flexible transparent material coated with an emulsion sensitive to light and used to capture an image for a photograph or film (noun); 3. To record on film or video using a movie camera (verb).

General agreement on or acceptance of certain practices or attitudes; a widely used and accepted device or technique, as in drama, literature, or visual art.

A spoken, written, or visual account of an event or a series of connected events.

Just Make Something
Some of Nauman’s works—including Walking—stem from days in the studio when he was struggling to figure out what to do. Speaking of his need to be in his studio making something, despite sometimes feeling blocked, he once said: “I’m an artist, I want to be in the studio, I want to be doing something. And you just get desperate, and so you just do whatever’s at hand, and you don’t even worry about whether it’s going to be interesting or not interesting to anybody else or even yourself. You just have to make something.”2