Politics, sex and things that people don’t want to talk about. Nakadate’s films and photographs do that, but they’re also real-world brave, too. For the past decade, the American artist has made projects with strangers: usually isolated, socially awkward middle-aged men who try to pick her up. The situations she invites them to act out with her on camera have included psycho-killer fantasies, pretend birthday parties, making like cats and dogs and, in one particularly disturbing split-screen work, reading their way through lists of violent, misogynistic abuse while she cavorts in her undies. These thrilling, disturbing, funny and ambiguous works both play into and turn the tables on pernicious stereotypes, probing the gap between men and women, age and youth, social outsiders and the better-adjusted.
She has recently created two feature films, too, with a focus on girls’ worlds: the small town portmanteau piece, Stay The Same Never Change, and the teen road movie, The Wolf Knife. Fresh from enjoying a 10-year retrospective at MoMA’s PS1, her first UK show will see her debut a new film this autumn.
You’ve mentioned the attraction of putting yourself in challenging situations. Is that still a motivation?
“I think that all of my work is about trying to make connections, to create worlds on camera and to explore disconnection and the desire to belong. I don’t think any of us ever feels like we totally belong and I doubt that that will ever change. The early videos certainly took place in challenging situations and were thrilling to make. Now, I’m interested in different ways of exploring disconnection.”
How have the qualities you look for in your collaborators changed over the past decade?
“I am always attracted to people who might teach me something. In the early work it was about working with people who had time in their lives for me and who I found mysterious and therefore fascinating. I think I still cast that way.”
The line between giving someone a window to the world and exploiting them is an obvious question raised by your films. What happens after?
“I’ve been friends with some of the men for over a decade. Some of the men I only met briefly and wouldn’t know how to find now. I believe that there is too much emphasis put on wanting relationships to last forever. I value five minutes with another human in a video as I value five hours with them. The value of a connection isn’t based on a length of time. A 30-second exchange with a person can change your life.”
Laurel Nakadate’s solo show, Sep 29-Dec 11; Zabludowicz Collection, 176 Prince of Wales Road, NW5
by Skye Sherwin