Changing Light Corridor with Rooms 1971 can be installed in several ways but always consists of a long, walled corridor, about thirty centimeters wide, from which two side rooms (one rectangular, the other triangular) can be reached half-way down. The darkness of the corridor is interrupted intermittently by harsh, flashing streams of light coming from the side rooms. The flashing occurs at a specified rate: in the rectangular room the lights are on for ten seconds, then off for four seconds; and in the triangular room they are on for seven seconds and off for two.
The work was constructed in Nauman’s studio in Los Angeles. Nauman began constructing intentionally discomforting corridors and environments after making his first Performance Corridor (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York) during a short stay in New York in 1969, just before moving to Los Angeles. Describing how he conceived of the corridor pieces Nauman has said:
A number of those corridor pieces came out of a dream. It was about being in a long corridor and there was a room at the end of the corridor. The light was a yellow-grey colour, dim. There was a figure on the left, unidentified. I had the dream so many times and I kind of figured it must be a part of myself I hadn’t identified. It seemed important to objectify myself.
(Morgan 2002, p.41.)
The work is a manifestation of the artist’s fascination with the affects that physical environments can have on people, especially the feeling of unease that comes from being in a space that is too compressed or too large. The structure of the work invites viewers to interact with it and to step into a space that could be physically or mentally disorientating. Once inside, viewers find themselves in a situation that simultaneously lures and repels. The side rooms offer a brief sense of liberation from the narrow corridor, yet they also produce a feeling of alienation and self-consciousness due to the intense, flashing light and confined space. Any sense of isolation, however, is affected by the possible presence of other visitors, which may heighten the viewers’ feelings of self-consciousness.
Activated by the presence of a moving body, Changing Light Corridor with Rooms requires viewers to become participants in the work, obliging them to follow the rules of an experimental situation established by the physical parameters of the space. The predicament in which this places the viewers may be compared to the situations endured by the protagonists in the writings of Samuel Beckett (1906–1989), such as Not I (1972), in which a woman is buried up to her neck in sand or Waiting for Godot (1953), in which two characters wait for a third character who never appears. Nauman’s interest in the writer’s work is made explicit by the very use of Beckett’s name in the title of the artist’s piece Slow Walk (Beckett Walk) (1968). In Changing Light Corridor with Rooms this influence manifests itself through the artist’s capturing of a sense of life’s agitating yet comical perpetuity, his use of the absurd and the feeling of being watched or the tension of waiting for something to happen.
Paul Schimmel, Bruce Nauman, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 1994, p.77.
Robert Morgan, Bruce Nauman, Baltimore 2002, p.41.
Carlos Basualdo and Michael R. Taylor, Bruce Nauman: Topological Gardens, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia Museum of Art 2009, p.102.