Response to Bruce Nauman’s “Instructions for a Mental Exercise” (1974)

Part I

Of course I take this as an opportunity to think about death and sinking into a shallow grave.

Of course I panic and want nothing more than to get up once I’ve laid down.

Of course I can’t stop thinking about how I’m not REALLY anywhere near the ground, I’m four stories up.

Last week I stumbled into our pathetic excuse of a grad office (to scrounge together my pathetic excuse of an exam essay) to find that a different Bruce Nauman exercise had been taped to the wall. I wryly said “huh” aloud and did not read it. The last line said something like “this exercise may produce feelings of sexual excitement.” Or maybe “Caution.” I remember thinking, “Ugh. Artists.”

(It was a difficult day.

Said Audrey every day this year.)

CONCEPT. conceptum; something conceived.[1]

Cherrie says I have a play in me in this room we agreed we said I would take playwriting with her next year the problem is my follow through the problem is I never keep going “the trouble with you is” the only story in me seems to be the one of my own solitude.

“Radical Audrey” we coined last night, me and Jenni. That’s not “internal”, technically, but it feels that way, I remember when my psychology teacher in college offered a formulation of the self that was completely made up of other people inhabiting you. I was so happy/ freed/ relieved.

I want to send Becky a photo of that poem, the first in the Andrea Cohen collection I just got from Clarissa. Where is Clarissa now? What is she doing I wonder.

Am I hiding in the dark places because they are so familiar?

Goal: Try to live a day without feeling exhausted.

It finally started to feel like my limbs were sunken into the floor towards the end of the thirty minute session I did a week after the assignment was due. I did want to take my time coming out of it, like Nauman said I should. Reminded me of “the violence of killing time.” Thanks, Jisha, for your disturbing profundity as always.

Part II

Bruce Nauman, you fuckin’ piss me off.
You are the scorn for those of us invested in feeling, not research.
You laugh boomingly, and with shaking belly full of Barthes and
(A metaphorical belly; I’m sure you subsist on an ascetic bowl of
bran flake perfection, thrice daily. I’m sure you have a bowel
movement each morning.)
I clean out my earwax and it’s proof I’ll never be as conceptual as
you, will never be as minimal or as post-minimal, no matter how many
bags of clothing I leave on the street corner I mean donate, I’ll never
stop falling asleep to Bon Iver or Eminem/Rihanna when I’m depressed,
leaving the ear bud in, producing ever more earwax by the next morning.

Bruce Nauman why do I have so much anger for you?
I’m on your side!
Before I even knew you were a big enough deal for Marina Abramovic
to want to reperform you,[2] you[3] made me think of that drop-in class I took at
PIT[4], the one where the jackoff professional improviser and I had a
improv scene together as ourselves, when he confessed to binging SVU on Netflix
& I admitted I’d done the same with M.A. and Rob. Wilson. Was I that delusional
in thinking we could bond? (“Oh,” he said, bunny-eared fingers by his cheeks. “
‘Art.’ ”)
ASSHOLE! No not you Bruce. Well maybe you Bruce. What is it about you?

You’re too clean, spare. You have too good a work ethic. Maybe if I take a
class with you I won’t find you so intimidating.
Maybe if I leave the academy I’ll stop thinking I either need to
scorn you or blindly love you (But if not for the ivory tower
how would I’ve ever found you?)
I think you mean that title about mystical truths more than you’d have us believe.
It’s just not the same definitions everyone thinks.


My buddy and I like to play this game. It’s called “Performance artist or asshole?”
It’s pretty self-explanatory.
We saw this person in Town & Country fully covered, with a white mask,
black trench, and parasol.
I saw him walk into Trader Joe’s.
“What’s he doin’ in there?” my buddy asked.
“How on earth should I know?”

* * *



[2] Body Pressure (1974), in Seven Easy Pieces (2005)

[3]And by you, it’s true I do not mean YOU as I imagine you in the day-to-day, bran-eating you, but the you I read about on and through your “purely mental exercise.” It was just that I was so certain that if I finally got onto some concrete like Elke and Tony did, I would finally have my “epiphany” and so could start to write, but instead the storage room that is supposed to be available to all residents would not unlock with my room key so I was resorted to seething at you in the lounge on the white board in orange marker. See?


[4] People’s Improv Theater. Would not recommend.
That was mean. But warranted.