Not too long ago, the conceptual artist Bruce Nauman had a mouse problem at his studio. At nighttime, he would close up for the day, only to return the next morning to find rodent droppings and other evidence of unwelcome after-hours visits. So he set up infrared cameras in several positions in the studio to track these nocturnal activities. The edited videotape became the basis of ”Mapping the Studio I (Fat Chance John Cage)” (2001), a multiprojector installation now on exhibit in Beacon in ”Bruce Nauman,” a revitalized and expanded display of his works downstairs at Dia:Beacon.
Not surprisingly, the six-hour-long loops of videotape (one running on each of four projectors) aren’t all that interesting to watch. On occasion, the odd moth flutters through the space, and from time to time the artist’s well-fed cat moves around. I have never seen a mouse. But there is more going on here, not the least of which is the way the projections have been arranged around the walls of a large empty room so as to mimic the exact position of cameras around the perimeter of the artist’s studio. The result is an elliptical re-creation of the artist’s studio that captures traces of daily activity, evidenced through the progression of things he is working on.
”Mapping the Studio” is fairly typical of Mr. Nauman’s work, insofar as it explores issues relating to the activity of making art and the role of the artist. He started fashioning these kinds of introspective works in the late 1960s, beginning with a series of single-monitor videos of physical duration performances. Several of these are being shown here, depicting the young artist hanging upside down, repeatedly stamping his feet or walking in a contrapposto pose or sometimes backward along a diagonal line. They are like deranged exercise videos — Jane Fonda meets Freddy Krueger from ”A Nightmare on Elm Street.”