BY MADS BAJARIAS | It’s always exciting to view a work that pushes the boundaries. The stupor of humdrum life is cast off and one's senses come alive. One becomes more observant and critical as a way of respecting the artist's exertions.
In Wire Tuazon’s
What’s new about it? For starters, it asks its viewers to google “Nauman” and “Beckett” when they get home! Also, "Nauman and fleeing deer," "Beckett and bed," and "Beckett + Nauman + deer + Rubik's Cube." Do I appreciate being told by an artwork to look things up in Wikipedia? In this case, no, I don’t mind. I’m a bit of a nerd anyway.
In his collection titled “Talisman Bomb,” Tuazon used stainless steel, various paints, a firearm (to shoot bullets into the steel), found objects and, messages in Braille. But perhaps the most important ingredient here is the confidence with which he mentions Bruce Nauman and Samuel Beckett in the title and Braille, respectively, as a kind of challenge to his viewers and critics. A gauntlet thrown. A serious signal of intent.
Why Nauman and Beckett? What conceptual and philosophical treasures do they represent here? Are these names essential in getting an understanding or enjoyment of Tuazon’s work? Or are these names thrown into the mix as a kind of conceptual joke and not meant to be taken seriously? Was Tuazon sincere in the metaphorical sense or ironic in a philosophical sense when he decided to employ the names of Nauman and Beckett in his work? Are we even sure that the Braille text reads as Tuazon says it reads?
One more question: Is it a good sign to bring up the names of giants like Nauman and Beckett into your works? An artist who does this treads on thin ice. Nowadays, if you look hard enough, everything references something else. But heavy-handed references could be viewed with suspicion as crutches to prop up a middling work.
After doing my research (Oh, okay, a rapid read-through in Wikipedia, sue me!), I learned that Bruce Nauman is an artistic icon best known for his spiral neon sign which reads: “The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths.” He did this goofy (or profound, depending on your state of mind) neon statement in 1966.
When he was asked if he believed that statement set in neon? Nauman replied, “I don’t know; I think we should leave that open.”
Nauman used witticism and word-play to mix levity with deep philosophical explorations on the nature of language and communication. For example, in his work “Drill Team,” Nauman lined up drill bits. In “Eating My Words,” a man eats food bits shaped like letters of the alphabet. In “Bouncing Balls,” Nauman used images, um, of human testicles. “From Hand to Mouth” is a literal representation of the distance between one’s hand to one’s mouth.
Nauman utilized sounds to add an aural dimension to his conceptual works. Tuazon could be paying homage to that by adding the Braille element to engage the sense of touch (Did Tuazon contemplate adding sounds as well?).
There is a spirit of fun in Nauman. An unpretentious and jokey appeal underpinned by serious investigations in communication.
Beckett is perhaps better known than Nauman. Beckett is famous for “Waiting for Godot,” that dark comedy where nothing happens. Beckett’s name is oftentimes used as shorthand for minimalism and absurdist art. Like Nauman, Beckett’s dark explorations were enlivened by humorous touches here and there—a humor (gallows humor, but humor nevertheless) that comes from the natural.
Big names like Nauman and Beckett carry connotations and when these are left like clues or guideposts in an artwork, a certain expectation is set in the mind of the viewer. For me, it is the lack of Nauman's and Beckett's playfulness that puzzles me the most about Tuazon’s “After Bruce Nauman...”
The more I look at Tuazon’s work, the more inclined I am to view it as a shifting set of analytical propositions. He uses text, image, the title, bullet holes, and the Braille message (each element not necessarily having any logical connection to the rest) to create a cacophony of possible meanings and a range of interpretations. If the text, image, title, bullet holes and Braille message are notes, they don’t add up to a grand symphony, orderly and beautiful. They just add up, in a jangled wall of sound—which isn’t ugly, either. Dissonance has a peculiar beauty.
At this point, it’s perhaps best to echo Nauman’s own words when asked if he believes the statement he made in neon: “The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths.”
“I don’t know; I think we should leave that open.”