Good Boy Bad Boy was Nauman's return to video as a narrative support after a break of twelve years. This work was originally exhibited as part of the “Chambres d'Amis” at the Haus Esters Museum in Krefeld (Germany), but was edited shortly afterwards as a standalone piece. Nauman remarks that he wanted to use video because neon lettering -one of his favourite supports during the first half of the Eighties- imposed too many restrictions on him for him to be able to use it to narrate complex fictions. In addition, he employed professional actors for the first time rather than playing a part in the story himself, as he wished, in his own words, "to eliminate myself as an object." The work consists of two monitors, each of which sits on a pedestal and each of which shows a different video. The left-hand monitor shows the bust of a black man; the right-hand one shows that of a white woman. Both characters appear against a neutral dark background and recite the same text: "I was a good boy. You were a good boy. We were good boys. That was good. / I was a good girl. You were a good girl. We were good girls. That was good..." There is an evident intention to include the viewer in the piece. The actors stare at the camera and insistently repeat the pronoun "you"; they want to involve the person looking at the work, even though such participation is denied to the viewer due to their forced passivity. The situations and actions alluded to in the text -being kind-hearted or wicked, being alive, having sex, loving, being bored, hating, drinking, eating, defecating, urinating, sleeping, paying and dying- are common to everyone. The long passage is repeated five times, with a gradual change in tone. The actors, in particular the woman, gradually become more violent in their intonation. The fact that they read their text at a different speed means that the videos do not progress in unison, and the woman ends after the man. This lack of synchrony creates an unquestionable tension. The tedious simplicity of the account is added to by the clear confrontation between race and gender, accentuated by the space that separates the two monitors and hence the two characters. The text is an almost scientific dissection of the fundamental actions and attitudes of life. Its weary repetition does not suggest passion or intensity but half-heartedness and, as the reading progresses, violence. The characters' insistence as they talk does not suggest the values that we are taught but the dogmas with which we are indoctrinated. Some of them are pure social convention, such as good or bad. However, the final phrase is a sentiment common to all of us: "I don't want to die. You don't want to die. We don't want to die. Fear of death." An immense and revelatory contrast between a series of commonplaces on happiness and the inexorable presence of death is generated.
Works that may interest you