The video plays on the fact that ancient artists came up with contrapposto to solve a problem: how to depict movement in a static sculpture, how to make inert stone or bronze look alive. Among Nauman’s new works, Contrapposto Study i (all works 2015/16) and Contrapposto Study ii are presented contiguously on a long wall at Sperone: A video projection of the septuagenarian artist repeated in four frames, wearing blue jeans and a white pocket tee, just as in 1968, sauntering in the identical pose, is followed by four frames of Nauman in negative, which render his jeans a yellowish white and the T-shirt dark. The unfurling frames call to mind another ancient technique for capturing movement, the frieze, which was used to capture the flow of a story. And it’s storytelling, I think, that most distinguishes these recent works from the earlier Walk.
That piece’s style served other ends, which Nauman talked about in a 1970 interview. Referring to the group of video works that includes Walk with Contrapposto, he discussed how “an awareness of yourself comes from a certain amount of activity and you can’t get it from just thinking about yourself. You do exercises, you have certain kinds of awareness that you don’t have if you read books.” The video pieces of 1968, “were specifically about doing exercises in balance…dance problems without being a dancer.”
The studies of the last two years are also exercises in balance. In some frames, Nauman briefly loses his equilibrium; in others he momentarily drops his hands from behind his head, as if from exhaustion. Study iii and Study v, which play on opposite sides of a small room, offer side views of the artist, this time with four negative images on top of four positive; Study iv, depicting rear views in the same configuration, is displayed on the wall between them. As the projected video pieces accumulate, and as we see, and thus learn, more, the contours of a narrative become clearer. It hints at how time deconstructs us physically, while splintering our sense of self. From the side view, for instance, you can discern the faint outline of a device beneath the artist’s shirt, a remnant of a recent bout with cancer. In these further studies the images themselves break sequence—sometimes the top half of the body faces a different direction from the bottom half; at points Nauman leaves the frame altogether.