100 Live and Die - Bruce Nauman
This piece is installed in a large circular room at the center of the Benesse House Museum in Naoshima, Japan. The room is the height of the entire museum and can be entered by visitors on the basement or ground level. These two doors are connected by a curving ramp that wraps halfway around the room. There are no windows in the sides of the walls and there is only natural daylight coming in from the skylight with some light coming in through the doors. The entire room is grey concrete, black banisters and brown doors. Directly in front of the artwork there are two chairs. Off to one side are another two chairs where the view of the piece is at about a 45 degree angle.
The reason I describe the entire room is because the impact Nauman’s neon messages has is enhanced by the setting they’re placed in. The various “____ AND DIE” or “_____ AND LIVE” phrases lit up one by one seem to be the burning core of the room, and by extension the museum.
It was almost the first piece I viewed after entering the museum and I had to revisit it again before leaving. I sat there unblinking, not in the slightest thinking about anything else, for what seems like quite a while. I held my breath waiting for the moment all 100 were finished blinking on and off one by one and all 100 lit up together, emblazoning their dire and optimistic messages.
Photo by Carey Ciuro (found on Flickr)