Laurel Nakadate, "Love Hotel and Other stories," Apr. 9-May
14, 2005, at Danziger Projects, 521 West 26th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001.
On the planet Heterosexual
there is a race of men who lack the ability to seduce women and whom women
never attempt to seduce. Their numbers are unknown, although, in some metaphysical
way, all males may carry their recessive gene. Nevertheless, these men
make feeble, sometimes touching, often offensive, but always failed attempts
to lure women to them. Typically, these women are much younger than they
Enter artist Laurel
Nakadate, the half-Japanese 29-year-old 2001 Yale MFA photography graduate
and standout in the current "Greater New York" exhibition. Nakadate
puts herself into a position to encounter these men, allowing herself to
be partially drawn into the webs they hope to weave. They "hit on" her,
then she strikes like a trap-door spider, responding with her own counter-proposal.
Arranging to go to their apartments or elsewhere, she arrives with a video
camera and convinces them to enact strangely suggestive but asexual scenarios
In the video Lessons
110 (2001), she poses braless in a tank top and pink short shorts
atop a table as one of these men draws her. As he looks at her, she --
the "object of the male gaze" -- looks directly at the camera,
letting us know that she knows what's going on. It's all incredibly twisted.
She turns from a baby doll into an avenging angel and a wolf in baby
doll's clothing. Nakadate has staged birthday parties in which men sing "Happy
Birthday" to her while she feigns delight. On some cosmic level,
Nakadate is always "faking it." Sometimes she'll play dead
while they snap pictures of her, other times she has them place a stethoscope
to her chest or trace the curves of her absent body in midair. There's
always a gaping hole in the center of Nakadate's world, something that
echoes the disaster of prescribed sexual roles.
and hostility merge with gullibility, cunning and folly in Nakadate's work.
Not only is this creepy, it's confusing and complicated. The roles of hunter
and hunted are blurred. Nakadate turns the tables on these men and also
on herself. No one comes out of these Lolita-complex revenge fantasies
The centerpiece of this
exhibition is a three-channel video. Nakadate's work hasn't changed much
since her first exhibition in 2002; if anything, it is simply more focused,
impudent and annoying. As in a horror film, you sporadically want to yell, "Get
out of there, you idiot." Interestingly, you want to yell this at
the men as much as at her. In one section of the video, Nakadate toys with
these would-be lotharios in their own lairs, having them either crouch
in cages or crawl on the floor like dogs while she imitates a cat. The
men are always off balance in these wicked games, careful not to transgress,
but visibly tempted to go further. Nakadate is off balance too, but in
different ways. She's always in control, a kind of aggressive "Olympia" presence, artificial,
at risk, and dangerous simultaneously.
Nakadate is melding
disparate bits of artistic DNA to crackerjack effect.
On a visual level she's combining the force of Barbara Kruger's use of
pronouns like you and we by getting us to think about her and them.
She crosses this with the way Louise Lawler's photographs essentially say, "Look
at the way 'they' hang 'their' art in 'their' museums," then introduces
the socially constructed sexual roles in Cindy Sherman's "Film Stills." Nakadate
combines these hardcore feminist photographic essences with the taboo gutter
love of Robert Melee and the anti-feminism that lies at the dark heart
of Vanessa Beecroft's amazingly complicated and compelling art. To this
Nakadate adds her own slutty, back-alley exoticism, her vulnerability,
insight and isolation.
On the Heterosexual
planet men rule through a combination of upper-body strength, institutionalized
discrimination, hogwash and sheer arrogance. Women are always in danger.
Nakadate isn't, at least not in her work. She clearly chooses her subjects
as carefully as they choose her. She could never do this with "normal" predators.
If a young male artist preyed on women this way he'd risk being kicked
out of the art world. Either way, Nakadate exploits female sexuality as
ruthlessly as any man.
In Where You'll Find
Me she acts out suicide scenarios. We see her "dead" in
various locales. Here, Nakadate represents primal neediness, the fantasy
of "They'll know how much they love me when I'm gone." Then
out of nowhere and completely anomalously, she suddenly comes close to
the camera, looks from side to side, pulls her shorts to the left, stands,
and pees while looking directly at you. It's weird and very feral. In Love
Hotel, a similarly narcissistic and conflicted caprice unfolds as
Nakadate writhes almost naked on various beds. As alone and pitiable
as the men, she's seeing what she would look like if she could
actually be with a real person. It's onanistic exhibitionism, very peculiar,
strikingly devoid of real feeling, and disquieting.
A seeming absence of
feeling is one of the touchstones of Nakadate's art. In the chilling, tear-jerking
video We Are All Made of Stars Nakadate appears on her roof dressed
as a Girl Scout as the World Trade Center smolders behind her.
She stands, stares at the camera, teary eyed, and says nothing. Nothing
needs to be said. It's uncanny to think about an artist making art that
morning about that morning. Nakadate is a damaged unit and a loose cannon;
she's clever, attention-grabbing, and slightly mad: a very promising combination.