Bruce Nauman, Days, 2009
There is a beautiful simplicity to Bruce Nauman’s Days at the ICA. The space is empty but for two rows of plain white squares suspended at roughly head height. Walking between the white panels – seven in in each row – it’s clear that they’re loudspeakers and that from each a voice can be heard speaking the days of the week. So far, so simple. The space is almost empty and what’s in there is simplicity itself – my liking for art that’s minimal and preferably white can be no secret to anyone who’s been reading this on even a semi-regular basis – so predictably enough I’m in favour of Days from the start.
In the end though what intrigues me more than the visual emptiness is the confusion of hearing something as simple as the days of the week spoken in the wrong order. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday is so deeply ingrained that anything else is incredibly jarring (indeed I’m even a bit baffled by diaries that start with Sunday). And, with a different voice coming from each speaker, passing through the space means a constantly shifting soundscape in which at any one time one voice dominates while thirteen more contribute to the background cacophony.
I’m not sure that Days really goes much beyond highlighting how easy it is to confuse people (well, me anyway) when what we see as a natural order is turned to chaos, although it does bring up some interesting questions about the nature of sound as art. The visual aspect of the installation here is important – as is also the case in other sound works such as Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet or Susan Hiller’s Witness – and that and the way the sound changes depending on where you are in the space means that the work in some way becomes a kind of sculpture.
As exhibitions go it doesn’t take much time – there is another show in the upstairs galleries (which I have yet to see) and SOUNDWORKS which can be listened to either in the gallery or online (handy given the ICA’s closure during the Olympics) – but nonetheless it’s a work that will stay with me a long time I think.
Bruce Nauman: Days is at the ICA, London until 16 September 2012 (the ICA is closed during the Olympics, reopening on 18 August)
SOUNDWORKS is accessible online or at the ICA until 16 September 2012