Whether experiencing a Bruce Nauman work for the first time or with a prior understanding of his oeuvre, there is always a sense of an adherence to phenomenology at play in the works. With his earliest training in mathematics and later succession into the arts, Nauman’s practice is the embodiment of many different forms, and stakes its claim firmly within the command of the Minimalist and Conceptualist movements.
Although by nature Nauman’s works are often void of a geniality that one might associate with human subjectivity (rather his works are steeped in an anti-aesthetic), they maintain a playfulness where human nature and physicality are concerned. This fact is nowhere more evident than in the performative scenarios Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square (1967-68) and Revolving Upside Down (1968).
Given how widely studied and critiqued as Nauman is, naturally there's a plenitude of approaches to his life’s work. As author Travis Jeppesen states in context of a 2010 retrospective of the artist’s work at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin “…we still have no good idea as to the purpose behind this (Nauman’s) ironicisation of sincerity”. The pendulum of humour present in Nauman’s works – constantly swinging somewhere between sincerity and cynicism – is not lost in the experience of entering Room With My Soul Left Out, Room That Does Not Care. Here, however, is a work more profoundly imbued with a sense of loss and disorientation.
“Abode where lost bodies roam each searching for its lost one. Vast enough for search to be in vain, Narrow enough for flight to be in vain. Inside a flattened cylinder fifty meters round and sixteen high for the sake of harmony. The light. Its dimness, Its yellowness.”
-- Samuel Beckett, The Lost Ones (1970)
This passage of Beckett’s is referred to in the introduction to the work, located in Hall 5 of the Hamburger Bahnhof’s Rieckhallen. Not only do we see a relative association in the physical properties of this excerpt of visual poetry (Nauman has adapted the harmony of the 50 meters into feet), but the feelings conjured are of a paralleled disquieting nature. Inspired by a dream that Nauman had, Room With My Soul Left Out, Room That Does Not Care was realised in 1984 as the height of a succession of major site-specific installations as part of Dream Passages. As with the earlier corridor constructions and performance architectures, spatial fields are organised to create energy forces where the axis conjugate. In this and The Centre of the Universe – an outdoor site-specific work which, in keeping with Nauman’s often absurdist existential claims, positions Albuquerque in New Mexico to be the centre of everything – two intersecting corridors and one vertical passage are constructed to produce a semi-open, semi-obstructed vessel.
Rough concrete slabs marry with the artificial lighting of neon tubing, two material points of departure used extensively in Nauman’s practice. Perhaps their meeting in this work is purely coincidental, but one can’t help but read further into the paralleled emotive responses they evoke. Essentially what we’re confronted with in this work is a cross-sectioned tunnel, a series of lights positioned in oblique harmony and that which exists behind the tunnel, which to put it plainly, is nothing! The act of walking through one opening and out the other, only to be met with the rough patina brick work of the galleries interior, instantly positions the viewing as a living subject in a long line of Nauman’s ridiculous, yet inherently poignant performative declarations. Where do we go from here? Well, we go out the way we came in. It’s simple really.
Room With My Soul Left Out, Room That Does Not Care, in corroborating some of the artistic intensions of Mike Nelson’s space that saw (see review), prompts the viewer to make of the space and their experience within it what they will. Both works provoke a similar suspension of space and time, albeit of a stark aesthetic resounding. The spatial characteristics of both these works are precisely how they ought to be, in order that audiences are able to consciously consider relationships that they know, but often aren’t encouraged to recall.
Room With My Soul Left Out, Room That Does Not Care is permanently housed at the Nationalgalerie Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin.
 Jeppesen, Travis. Whitehot, June 2010