For Beginners (all the combinations of thumb and fingers)


HD video installation (color, stereo sound), continuous play Channel A: 26 min. 19 sec.
Channel B: 25 min. 59 sec.
Collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Pinault Collection

Nauman’s discovery of Mikrokosmos, a collection of piano pieces for beginners by Béla Bartók, led to his interest in piano pieces written specially for children. This is how For Beginners (all the combinations of thumb and fingers) came about. These two big video projections show Nauman working through all the 31 possible combinations of fingers and thumb. The two videos are identical except for their background color. They are not synchronized, which means that sounds overlap.

The mysterious choreography that is acted out twice, with one projection above the other, follows verbal instructions that Nauman recorded separately–again, without synchronizing sound and image. The volume and the size of the images immerse the viewer in a hypnotic virtual dance. The way in which the positions of the fingers change in response to the words suggests an abstruse exercise in coordination or the forms of an obscure sign language. 

Through this visual alphabet, Nauman may be intent to evoke the way in which children first learn language. Furthermore, through the time lag between sound and image, the work stages the power struggle between words and physical actions: the mind dictates the instructions that the body seems not to be able to fully carry out.

In earlier works, Nauman used bronze cast hands in different positions to make sculptures; in this video installation, they become the actors.