Artist: Bruce Nauman
Title: Fingers and Holes (Black and White)
Size: 30 x 40 Inches
Medium: Lithograph and Screenprint
Edition: Edition of 50. AP #7/10
Notes: Hand Signed, Dated and Numbered by the Artist in Pencil. Printed by Gemini Gel #36.34. From the collection of Brook Alexander Gallery, NYC.
Fingers and Holes, a captivating artistic exploration initiated by Bruce Nauman (American, born 1941), originated from a unique challenge he set for himself. Using his non-dominant hand, he drew his right hand, and vice versa, meticulously annotating each sketch with the count of holes formed between the fingers. This seemingly simple endeavor evolved into a profound study of algebraic topology, a mathematical field investigating fundamental properties of distorted objects, such as solids and voids. Nauman ingeniously translated his anatomical sketches into this abstract language.
In this realm of mathematical inquiry, seemingly dissimilar objects transform into one another. A coffee cup and a doughnut, for instance, are considered equivalents due to their shared characteristic of having an unbroken surface surrounding a single "hole," a concept known as homeomorphisms. Nauman's deep dive into topology revealed connections between disparate elements, encapsulated in his statement, “Things that don’t look alike morphose one into another.”
However, Fingers and Holes goes beyond mathematical intricacies. It delves into the realm of transformation—topological, visual, and linguistic. The iconic "three fingers, one hole" gesture, a symbol of sexual intercourse in what Nauman referred to as "kids’ sign language," served as a pivotal motif. This gesture reappeared in various forms within the series, including daisy chain formations and overlays on clowns' handshakes, which Nauman identified through his exploration.
The clowns in Nauman’s work epitomize ambiguity, embodying a spectrum from humor to threat. Their double handshakes, simultaneously obsequious and aggressive, mirror the complexities of human interactions. Nauman found inspiration in this ambiguity, appreciating the clowns for their enigmatic nature. By integrating the "three fingers, one hole" motif into the handshake of his clown prints, Nauman blurred the lines between innocence and sensuality, simplicity and depth, urging viewers to contemplate the intricate interplay of gestures and meanings within his art.
Intriguingly, Nauman's fascination with hands, particularly his own, is not a newfound interest. He had previously explored this subject in various forms and mediums. The evolution of the "three fingers, one hole" gesture from his earlier work, such as the neon piece Human Sexual Experience (1985), to its incorporation into Fingers and Holes, exemplifies his enduring curiosity and innovative artistic process.
Thus, Fingers and Holes stands as a testament to Nauman’s ability to intertwine mathematical concepts, symbolic gestures, and human complexities, inviting viewers to unravel the layers of meaning within the seemingly simple act of drawing hands.