Linguistic Ambiguity

Linguistic Ambiguity

From 24 July, Bruce Nauman (b. 1941) becomes the next focus of the ARTIST ROOMS at Tate Modern, London. Sited within the Switch House, the exhibition represents the breadth of the American artist’s career and includes a variety of influential neon sculptures that confront viewer’s perceptions as well as altering relationships with the space.

Often combining humour with a paradoxical sense of intensity, Nauman has consistently investigated ideas such as language, space and human psychology.  Fascinated by the nature of communication and miscommunication, the pieces on show utilise linguistic manipulation as well as bodily consciousness to convey a powerful physical quality. VIOLINS VIOLENCE SILENCE (1981-1982), for example, comprises coloured neon tubing which lights up in sequence, appearing playful and poetic yet simultaneously unsettling through the implication of hostility; a work bound up in its own contradictions, not least through the suggestion of both music and silence.

Meanwhile, Enforced Perspective: Allegory and Symbolism (1975) utilises 36 steel slabs, the geometric design creates the illusion of movement. Directly occupying the audience’s space, the piece exists within a sculptural field that has the potential to alter, subsequently affecting and challenging actions within the space. La Brea/Art Tips/Rat Spit/Tar Pits (1972), Raw Material with Continuous Shift – MMMM (1991) and Good Boy Bad Boy (1985), are also selected from the wider canon of hypnotic and catalogic works, a

In addition to ARTISTS ROOMS, the captivating installation Raw Materials returns to fill the Turbine Hall this May. Commissioned specifically for the site in 2004, Nauman uses sound to both inform and perplex the viewer as they progress through the space. Collected over 40 years, 22 fragments of speech are transmitted, each through individual speakers, which range from tranquil to threatening. A discord of voices relay incessant thoughts, exclamatory commands and rhythmic chants.This sonorous landscape encourages the viewer to be immersed in an alienating environment, marrying the public with the private and reassesses the impact of language as a source of intimidating, comforting and alienating musical phasing.

ARTIST ROOMS: Bruce Nauman opens on 24 July at Tate Modern, London. For more information:

1. Bruce Nauman, VIOLINS VIOLENCE SILENCE (1981-1982). Courtesy of the artist and Tate.