Say You Love Me

Exorcism in January 2009, Laurel Nakadate. Type C-print. Courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York.

Exorcism in January 2009, Laurel Nakadate. Type C-print. Courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York

Laurel Nakadate thrives off of meeting strangers. Old, lonely, creepy and sexually repressed men fascinate her, to the point of making them the subject of her videos.  She’s had these men beg for their lives, perform exorcisms, sing happy birthday or pretend to have a telephone conversation, all while in the same room with her. The eight video installation Laurel Nakadate: Say You Love Me at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, is bound to make you feel dirty and in need of a shower (at least, the first time you see the exhibition, not so much the second or third time).

Happy Birthday, 2000, Laurel Nakadate

Ms. Nakadate makes exceedingly difficult work that explores and pushes the boundaries of voyeurism, exhibitionism, and vulnerability. The grittiness and raw video quality in her work adds to the discomfort that perhaps many people feel, when confronted with the creepy and awkward situations Nakadate places herself in.

Good Morning Sunshine, 2009, Laurel Nakadate

In “Good Morning Sunshine,” Ms. Nakadate casts three women who play the role of teenagers and coerces each one into taking their clothes off. Nakadate shows us that a little pressure and sweet talking goes a long way. “Stand up and let me look at you…you know you’re the prettiest girl right? Take your shirt off…” she says in a silky smooth, alluring voice. “You know you’re so pretty right? Let’s see your panties…” We squirm and cringe as we watch each woman succumb to the pressure. It is as if we’re about to watch a casting couch video.

With Laurel Nakadate, we hold our breath anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop. We expect something naughty to happen following a situation where some sort of sexual tension is explicit or implied. At times, Nakadate leads us into thinking that what we’re about to see are clips of some sort of fetish sex tape. But it isn’t, which allows for a more thrilling voyeuristic experience.

Beg For Your Life, 2006, Laurel Nakadate

Nakadate is always in control of the situation, but I think she does not always come across as being genuinely interested in her subjects. There are times, particularly in the video Beg for Your Life, 2006 (not the video still shown above, but another segment within that same video) where Nakadate’s body language is that of a person thinking “I’m taking advantage of this old, creepy, emotionally unstable guy and he doesn’t even know what he’s in for.” These men are lonely and they need to be loved. Perhaps they see these performances as a means of being loved, but who knows? Regardless of Nakadate’s true intentions, her work is thought provoking and intense.

Lessons 1-10, 2001, Laurel Nakadate.

Her videos are compelling in part thanks to a great soundtrack that includes songs like ‘Devils and Dust” by Bruce Springsteen, “You Were Always on My Mind” by Elvis Presley, “All I Have to Do is Dream” by Roy Orbinson and Neil Diamond’s “I am,” I said” among many others. These songs further underscore the loneliness, vulnerability and hope that present themselves as recurring themes in Nakadate’s work. Her videos may be uncomfortable to watch for some, but they’re also touching, empathetic and funny. These qualities make all the squirming all worth it.

Knitting Nation at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston

There’s something really wonderful happening right now in museums across the country. Within the past year or so, fashion exhibitions like Cocktail Culture: Ritual and Invention in American Fashion 1920-1980 at Rhode Island School of Design’s Museum of Art; Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Arnold Scaasi: American Couturier at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston— have all broken attendance records further stressing the demand for more fashion exhibitions in museums.

On Friday November 25th, the Institute of Contemporary Art hosted a performance by Liz Collins entitled Knitting Nation Phase 8: Under Construction, as part of the museum’s latest exhibition Dance/Draw. A textile artist, designer and professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, Liz Collins’ work also falls within the realm of fashion and installation.

Performed in its first phase (Phase I: Knitting During Wartime) in May of 2005 on Governors Island in New York, Knitting Nation employs an army of volunteer knitters who operate vintage knitting machines, and produce lengths of vibrantly colored fabric. Phase 8: Under Construction, is the second phase of Knitting Nation performed in a theater setting. The first phase, Darkness Descends, 2011 was performed at the ICA on October 16th.

Knitting Nation Phase 8: Under Construction, featured 14 female knitters wearing white shorts over fishnet stockings, short-sleeve shirts, over-the-ear headphones and gray Dr. Marten Boots. It also featured 8 knitting machines, and 80 pounds of brightly colored polyester-cotton yarn.

I was reminded of the “mill girls;” the young Yankee women who worked at the large textile mills all over New England under strenuous and unsafe working conditions. While the “working” conditions at the ICA do not in any way resemble those of the textile mills of the 19th and early 20th century America, the repetitive and tiring work the knitters performed did.

Weaving in and out of the installation, I caught about an hour and a half of this ten hour long interactive performance.  Watching these knitters finish one color and start the next was exhausting, yet I caught myself unable to pull away from all the action. The body movements, the sounds created by the knitting machines, and the never-ending lengths of brightly colored yarn had me hypnotized. I lost all sense of time as I am sure the knitters did too.

VIDEO:

For You I Feel Lucky

Boston painter and performance artist Jessica Gath, known to many of us as The World Famous Secretary, has been exploring performance as a means of making people feel loved. “For You I Feel Lucky,” her latest work in the series entitled “For You,” was performed on Tuesday November 8th at The Hallway Gallery in Jamaica Plain. The goal of this performance was to “create in a room of strangers, a potential for an increased affinity in a short amount of time,” says Ms. Gath.

Strangers formed the core of this work. To participate, personal references were required by the artist who then contacted these via telephone or email. Three fill in the blank questions were asked and at least any one of the three was required from the reference. The answers provided the framework for the performance.

Three rules were also set in place. One, participants were asked to take the time to experience the beauty of what was about to unfold in the gallery. Two, the performance was not to last more than thirty minutes. And three, participants and performers needed to feel comfortable in their own skin. And so it began.

Any anecdotes or insights provided by the references were shared anonymously with the participants. Ms. Gath read these line by line, at times injecting her own remarks to compensate for those people who said similar things about the participants. In the end, For You I Feel Lucky was about celebrating the participants rather than the artist. It was a reflection of the participants and of those that loved them. This performance was also a reminder that each one of us has a very important role to play in fostering a strong sense of community.

For You I Feel Lucky lingered on hours after it had concluded. I felt lucky to have shared this wonderful experience with a friend and with total strangers, because their presence and being makes this world a much better place. Jessica Gath has gained a new fan, and I’m beyond excited to see what else is in the works!

Images of “For You I Feel Lucky” by Mark Sarver, Courtesy of Jessica Gath.