Laurel Nakadate

Only the lonely

Text by Christabel Stewart and Ajay RS Hothi

We first saw Laurel Nakadate dressed in a Girl Scout uniform and pink sandals, sitting on the roof of her apartment building. We sat with her and watched the World Trade Center collapse in the near distance. That film, Untitled (2002-2005), was shown in the exhibition Greater New York at MoMA PS1 in 2005, the same year she took part in the curatorial project I Was Only Acting at Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid.

Nakadate makes work in which she is front and centre, though not always the subject. She is best known for a series of films in which she instigates relationships with men who have approached her randomly in the street. In Happy Birthday (2000) she turns up at one man’s house in a party dress with a cake and celebrates her (fake) birthday with him. In another, Oops! (2000), she goes to men’s apartments and dances to Britney Spears songs she plays on a Hello Kitty boombox.

Her work can be described using art’s dirty words, “optimistic”, “superficial” and “trivial” – but that would only be a fraction of the story. Nakadate explores a terrain very few people see: that of the emotionally exiled. We are shown the houses of lonely men, or the artist herself hiding in public, crying, as part of her year-long photographic study 365 Days: A Catalogue of Tears (2011), first seen in her mid-career retrospective, Only the Lonely, at MoMA PS1 in 2011.

It’s no surprise that Nakadate has been compared to artists such as Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger and Louise Lawler, those great postmodern feminists. She creates an intensely personal dialogue, both with the subjects of her films and with her audiences. She deploys the multimedia gaze of the 21st century to interrogate common assumptions about the privileged existence of attractive young women. The Village Voice has called it “slutty, back-alley exoticism”. That goes to show how alien and even disturbing many still find the idea of a woman-as-hunter, and it only helps demonstrate just how isolated a person (even one who’s often the centre of attention) can be.  § 

Images: Still from Exorcism in January (2009).Still from Don’t You Want Somebody to Love You (2006).

Still from Greater New York (2005). All courtesy of Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York.This page, from top; Still from Exorcism in January (2009). Still from Don’t You Want Somebody to Love You (2006).

Still from Greater New York (2005). All courtesy of Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York.

  • Laurel Nakadate