"Art is a means to acquiring an investigative activity. I don't know if you can necessarily change things in a broad sense. You can make yourself aware of the possibilities; it is important to do that". Bruce Nauman
about Clown Torture:
quoted from the PBS art:21 site
Nauman's Clown Torture is a shattering spectacle of color, motion, and sound. Displayed at high volume, the audio level of the five simultaneously occurring videos is an assault on the senses. Heard long before it's viewed, one must bravely enter into an enclosed, darkened room in order to see where all the noise is coming from. Once inside, two pairs of stacked monitors and two wall projections come into view. Immediately one senses that something is awry, as only two of the four televisions are oriented right side up. With one monitor turned upside-down and the other placed on its side, the images become abstracted and disorienting. The videos playing on the monitors record clowns in unnerving or difficult situations. In one sequence, a clown screams at an unseen antagonist. In another, a clown repeats the elliptical story Pete and Repeat were sitting on a fence. Pete fell off; who was left? Repeat. Pete and Repeat were sitting on a fence. Recited with a variety of expressions (happy, scared, mad, etc.), the clown can't help but hide a growing frustration at not being able to finish the story or have it make sense. Two videos show clowns trying balance objects - goldfish bowls and buckets of water - with little success. The final video resembles a scene from a closed-circuit security camera, only it's a disconcerting image of a clown using a public toilet.
Nauman's Clown Torture makes its artifice obvious, from the caked makeup of the clowns' faces to the many power cords that run across the ceiling, walls, and floor. With activity occurring from nearly every angle, the viewer - like the clown - is the subject of experimentation and interrogation. While it's easy to tell that these clowns are only acting-out traumas, it is nevertheless difficult to watch and purposefully so. Clown Torture makes the viewer question his or her own participation in the events on screen. Alluding to difficult subjects such as insanity, political torture, and surveillance, the work makes complex connections between theater, media, and apathy. The makeup, hair, and costume of each clown act as a disguise for the actor or person underneath. Anonymous victims and inciters of brutality and pranks, these scared and scary clowns seem simultaneously real and unreal.
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